I think part of the problem with my current level of anxiety is managing my expectations of myself and coming to understand what amount of emotion (or lack of) is normal. When I take my daily medication (sertraline) I am always so aware that I am purposely opting in to changing my brain chemistry. The more I think about it the more I freak myself out and then I end up overthinking about what is normal and how do I know what I am doing is right, and how do I know this is making me better and not just numb or placid.
When I am anxious (which I am pretty much all of the time) I am SO tense. I remind myself constantly “breathe properly” “loosen your shoulders” “relax! Stop being so uptight and on edge” “Just sit down for a bit and do nothing”. I do those things… but before I know it I’m back at the edge of my seat with a tight chest, checking the time constantly, checking my phone constantly, pacing around doing productive things and then rushing around because I simply cannot sit still. I have become a terrible car passenger… I cling to the door, I panic over any potential threat and thud down hard on my phantom foot pedal… I often arrive at my destination flustered, relieved, sick.
To someone not suffering with anxiety it can make them think you are just neurotic, inexplicably uptight, over emotional, irrational, flaky, unreliable, and so many other things. Yes to a degree I am all of those things and more, but I am also kind, caring, thoughtful, fatigued, guilty, sad, and many other things. It’s so hard to explain to someone who doesn’t understand and it is easy to lose friends. I know… I won’t drive on motorways.. that is just one of the things my anxiety prevents me from doing. I have a few close friends who are so empathetic towards these things and really cater to make sure I can still feel a bit “normal”.
I get a bit obsessive about touching buttons and handles that aren’t in my house. I am fully aware of how ridiculous this sounds… but this doesn’t stop that feeling of panic. Much like the panic I feel when I am in a busy shop… the tannoy is going, there is hustle and bustle, my child is crying, her feeding pump is alarming, and I have 100s of thoughts running through my mind. The lights seem to bright suddenly, someone bumps into you, your child starts to cough.. it can sometimes only take one little trigger to send you into a bit of a breakdown. I am getting much better in those situations now though thankfully. It has taken a lot of effort and energy. I see a lot of memes about anxiety and getting stressed about getting stressed – and it’s totally true. Even when things are absolutely fine in that moment I am still panicking inside worrying if my parents are okay, if I locked the door, if Amy will need more surgery.. anything and everything. It is an all consuming monster.
Medication has been a saviour for me. Going to the doctor is not weak, it is quite the antithesis. For a while it felt like admitting defeat but actually it was foolish of me not to have gone sooner. Finding the right dosage hasn’t been easy… I have tried a couple of different medications with varying outcomes and some nasty side effects. I think the side effects I hated most were the headaches, nausea, numbness, seeming distant to others and the jaw grinding. I seem to have got myself to a place where the benefits outweigh the side effects and I think the dose is right. Though I am convinced that overeating is one of the side effects and I am now having a battle with the bulge worse than ever before. I’m not on maximum dose, I was offered it – but for now I would like to keep it where I am so I know that if things get desperate there is scope to increase it.
I also started CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) recently. My health visitor and various other professionals have been imploring me to for some time now and the stubborn part of me is still a bit adamant that I can get through this myself. I am a very open person, I wear my heart on my sleeve and have no issue talking about my problems. I find a lot of my issues are circumstantial and that my anxiety has been exacerbated by things out of my control. So I didn’t feel that CBT would be a benefit.. but then the panic attacks came back. I have had a few in the last few months and they are a very real and very frightening thing. As soon as they appeared in my life I knew it was time to seek extra help.
My first session was okay. Not what I expected. For some reason I was expecting the archetypal illustrious looking office, a bearded psychologist, a maroon chez long sofa for me to drape myself over. Perhaps an antique effect globe, large overpowering bookshelves towering over us… teeming with various books with the titles written in gold on the spine. Ha. I don’t know why I expected to find this in an old NHS building. It was more like a cold room with circle shaped wall stickers, a fresh green painted wall, and a CBT lady probably the same age as me. It was awkward.. I feel like I spent the whole time just rambling and saying what I felt I was meant to say. I felt too aware of the fact this was therapy. I left with homework which irked me as one of my main reasons for my anxiety is my inability to keep up with phone calls, paperwork… you know.. admin typed stuff.
I didn’t attend my second session. I had a huge emotional breakdown that morning and I just wanted to stay in. It was Amy’s respite day and all I wanted to do was cry and wallow in my own silly self pity. I got sent a new appointment the other day and now i am panicking as I haven’t done a shred of the homework and nor do I want to. I think maybe this isn’t the help I am after… but I am going to stick with it because heck, I’m not a quitter… and if it does somehow fix me in some way then job done.
I have already tried hard at meditating, and mindfulness techniques and whatever else you find when googling ways to cope with anxiety. For me it hasn’t had the tremendous impact I had hoped it was. You see I am quite observant, I don’t take any moments in life for granted… part of my problem is in fact the opposite… I over analyse absolutely everything, I find it hard to switch off and detach. I think a lot of people must suffer this problem but I do feel that sometimes I feel my emotions to the extreme and agonise on a thought which then darts off on a tangent and leaves me consumed by my own thought. It is quite literally infuriating.
I have always been an anxious person… it sort of runs in my family.. a long with depression too. I am never ever late, I am over polite, I worry about others not being happy and so on. Then I had a huge birth trauma resulting in a little girl who is severely neurologically impaired. I was suddenly thrust into this world of tube feeds, suctioning, standing frames, wheelchairs, appointments coming out of my ears and so on. I eventually had to give up work and become a full time carer. I will talk more about this some other time but I did just want to give some insight into why my anxiety status is so poignant right now.
Leaving work was a difficult but inevitable decision for me. I have to do what’s right for Amy and I am very honoured to be in a position to be able to do that. I am so lucky I get to be around her all the time. Parenting is hard.. this is next level… but the rewards are tenfold at least. I was brought up wanting to pay my way, make something of myself, earn money and work hard. So letting go of that when I was building a career felt like a big set back at first. I still cringe when people ask what I do for a living because I am so sure they translate “full time carer” as “full time mummy” as in “I don’t want to work”… and they probably don’t think that, but that’s how it feels. (That is not a dig at any full time mums by the way.. we all do what we do and I have huge respect for everyone that is doing what they have to do to raise their child etc).
So I had to totally reevaluate what I thought the purpose of life was. It’s enough to throw you into a bit of an existential crisis and that’s easily done when you have a brain like mine. In the end I decided that the reason for life is to help people and make people smile. It sounds so pathetic and cheesy I know.. and obviously there are people out there being surgeons, doctors, mechanics.. all very important things… and I don’t want to undermine that. But for me.. right now.. the purpose is give Amy every opportunity and make sure I make as many people happy as I can. I can’t be happy when others aren’t. Once Amy is settled at nursery, and we have resolved her feeding issues (another issue for another time!) and various other things… I hope to look for either volunteer work or a very small part time job. I am not even remotely materialistic but I do want to have a little money just to help pay towards running the car and bills… and of course coffee shop trips. I have a lot planned for the future. A lot of pressure on myself for a lot of things. I really want another child too but two miscarriages and now an issue with an ovary in addition to a birth trauma has me a little perturbed by the whole thing. I won’t let it stop me but for now it is a waiting game. Our housing situation is a waiting game too. We are told our little house isn’t adaptable for a wet room, hoist tracking etc so we will need to sell our house and join a social housing waiting list… another difficult thing to digest.
The last two years has taught me more than I learned in my whole life thus far. 3 years at university was fantastic, but it has nothing on the life experience I have gained since having Amy. I love the special needs world. I have met some of the most amazing people ever and been inspired and in awe of so many people when I hear their stories. In some ways it has helped with my anxiety and I know that as time passes I will continue to become more resilient. Last year if someone asked me what was “wrong” with amy I would have been quite hurt by the wording.. whereas now.. on a slightly different perspective I see it as an opportunity to raise awareness and educate people. The more awareness we raise the more understanding and the more inclusion we get. The more inclusion we get the more likely we are to live in a world where a ramp into a building isn’t a luxury or a guilt trip but standard so EVERYONE has access to things. I hope that in my life I can help make life easier for people and for myself.
I could actually garble on and on incessantly about anxiety related issues all day but I shall leave this here for now.