… is the constant worrying.
… is feeling like you’re overreacting.
… is overthinking every little encounter.
… is always imagining and therefore expecting the worst-case scenario.
… is feeling like it’s just you. You’re tiptoeing around in a cage while everyone else can walk, run, and dance around freely.
… is not being able to explain how or why anxiety affects you. It’s taken me years to put the experience into words, and even now I can’t always articulate it when the time comes. The best I can do is this: It’s like you’re running up a flight of stairs and just as you’re about to reach the top, another flight appears. And you keep running; you never stop.
… is being told “Anxiety isn’t real” when in fact it feels more real than anything else in your life.
… is having prominent media personalities question the very existence of your illness, perpetuating the stigma.
… is waiting for weeks to be assessed, then having to travel miles away for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions, which get cut short due to lack of funding and resources.
… is praying you don’t have a bad relapse because of this (which makes you more anxious).
… is watching the government light up buildings in green for Mental Health Awareness Week, even though they’ve cut funding for mental health care by £105m in real terms since they came to power.
… is wondering why you find some things so difficult when everyone else just seems to dive in without hesitation.
… is feeling like it defines you, when it’s only a part of you.
It took me so long to decide whether or not to publish this that I missed Mental Health Awareness Week entirely. I’ve posted it anyway, because mental health issues don’t stop just because the week is over, and I would like to start talking about these issues more openly—both online and in real life. I mentioned anxiety briefly in a post about yoga and mental health, but I have more to say.
I didn’t get help for what turned out to be generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) until I was 22. In hindsight, the signs had been there since my early childhood. I suffered from a different anxiety disorder, selective mutism, when I was two and started nursery. I would speak freely at home and to the other children in my group, but I couldn’t (literally couldn’t—if you have selective mutism then you freeze and can’t physically speak) talk to the adults. On my last day I said, “Thank you, goodbye” and the teachers nearly passed out.
When I look back, I realise that what I always thought was just shyness and worrying was something more. Being nervous and worrying about stressful events is something we call go through, but finding it difficult to control those feelings and experiencing them on a near-daily basis can be a sign of anxiety, according to the NHS.
Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder can include:
- A sense of dread
- Feeling on edge
- Feeling irritable
- Finding it difficult to concentrate
- Withdrawing from social contact to avoid dealing with anxious feelings
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
You don’t have to tick off every single symptom. I experience dizziness and shortness of breath, for example, but not heart palpitations.
Since that first trip to the doctor, my GAD has been very up and down. I’ve got better at recognising it for what it is and not immediately assuming the sky is about to fall in on me, but it’s a lot easier to say that after a rough patch, rather than during. I have coping techniques I’ve learnt from CBT, such as writing down what I’ve been worrying about, allowing myself time to worry, then rationalising it. It helps put things into perspective. Writing down what I’m grateful for, however big or small, is also useful—my brain likes to think the worst, but a gratitude list helps me see there’s a lot of good in the world, too.
I’ve accepted that GAD is something I’ll need to manage for the rest of my life. Normally I’m a firm believer in nurture over nature, but I think I was born with a tendency to be anxious. I’ve never known anything else, for one, and I was extremely lucky to be raised by loving parents, who didn’t have a lot but did everything they could to make sure my brother and I had a safe, happy childhood. Anxiety doesn’t make sense—but that’s the crux of the issue. Anxiety is irrational; it targets us indiscriminately. It doesn’t care who you are. But know this: you’re not alone.
- The NHS website. I’ve included the link to their Generalised Anxiety Disorder in Adults page, but they have information about lots of other mental health conditions.
- Mind are a mental health charity. They offer information and support, including online resources and three different helplines.
- Time To Change are fighting the stigma that surrounds mental health conditions. Their new campaign, Ask Twice, encourages people to ask their friends how they are if they’re acting differently.
- Young Minds focuses on the mental health of children and young people.
One last thing: This post is about my own experiences, which will likely differ from someone else’s. Mental health conditions can affect us all in different ways, although there may well be some similarities. I’m not a medical professional, so I’ve sourced information about GAD from trusted sites like the NHS.
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Beth, 25, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travel, gin, and the Oxford comma.
I write about cruelty-free beauty, vegan & veggie food, and trying to lead a less wasteful life. I throw the odd think piece in there, too.