I have had anxiety issues or generalised anxiety disorder (as it is sometimes referred to) for almost 13 years. It went away for a while, and it came back; it has times when it’s not so bad and times when life is just that bit more difficult.
It's hard to describe what anxiety is. You could say it’s like you might feel when going for a job interview, or take your driving test – but the feeling is there more often than not. I also have experienced an overwhelming feeling of ‘I don’t think I can do that’ about anything and everything.
It can be things I've done before and felt fine about – unfortunately, that doesn’t offer any comfort. They are quite often things I want to do and enjoy and most of the time when the event arrives I am fine: the anticipation is often far worse but it’s so draining and gets worse as the event approaches. I currently have things that are months away that are already bothering me, causing me to doubt I can do it and they are things I will worry about every day until they arrive.
I hate to think I'm letting anyone down...
I hate to think I’m letting anyone down or spoiling plans so if I agree to do something I will pile on the pressure on myself to go ahead. It seems totally irrational: I could just say “I’m afraid I don’t feel well, I need to leave” but that makes no difference to the way I feel. I often feel like I am just waiting for events to be over just so I can relax and think “there, I did it.”
I do try to not let it stop me planning outings and doing the things I enjoy, it’s not always easy and occasionally I have to say no I can’t do that (you don’t always have the energy to fight it) but I keep on trying as I can’t let it beat me. I feel like if I did I would grind to a halt. I have times when this becomes more difficult to do and have over time learned to recognise this.
It's hard to talk about...
I have gradually told some close family and friends about my anxiety, some to a greater extent than others, as it's not an easy thing to talk about. I couldn’t keep hiding it and was worried it might damage relationships if they didn’t understand the way I sometimes behaved.
One of the barriers stopping me was worrying what they would think about me, would they change their views and think I'm someone different. I imagined people would think ‘well I know you’ve done loads of things and you don’t seem like there is anything wrong, why would you say no to doing that thing when you did that other thing that must have been harder?’
But I have got used to hiding it. I felt like I should, I didn’t want people to think I was just being daft and I should pull myself together. Of course if it really was that easy I would do it, it is the thing I would like to do more than anything, go back to being ‘normal’ – whatever that is! I paint a smile on on the difficult days, I keep joking and being ‘myself’. Talking about my anxiety means I have to hide it a little less.
...but talking helped those close to me to understand.
It has helped so much knowing that, even if they don’t fully get it, they understand me a little better. Also, it helps that I can actually just say, “you know what, I can’t do that today”. It takes a little of the pressure off, and in turn that helps the anxiety. I have also found some understand more than I would have otherwise known – since I started being open, some people have told me about their own mental health problems.
I found out about Time to Change towards the end of last year. I thought: if I have the courage to put my story out there, it’ll help me to be honest with more of the people I know, but it might also help others to feel they can tell their stories. I think a lot of people are scared to talk about mental health as they don’t understand it, if this helps more people to understand and therefore able to support someone they know who is struggling, then I think my job has been done.