As I mentioned in one of my most recent posts, it’s no secret that I have had difficulties with my mental health but it has been a while since I’ve talked about my anxiety.
I haven’t really talked about it on here yet because of two reasons
1. I have been anxiety-free since May last year and there hasn’t been much to report…
2. I have very few positive things to say about it.
I’m an optimist, even in the face of crappy times and I try to find the good in all situations… but I find dealing with anxiety a lot harder than dealing with depression. I would much rather just have depression on it’s own than have anxiety dumped on top of it; feeling low I can handle with but constant terror is completely debilitating and frightening.
Being free of chronic anxiety for almost a year was an absolute blessing (minus one or two minor freak-outs that passed) but I was unfortunate enough recently to have it re-triggered. I don’t want to go into how my anxiety was triggered and what happened, but I will tell you that once it reared it’s ugly head, I felt pure unadulterated fear. My heart was pumping, stomach churning, body shaking, mind racing; I couldn’t sit still for love nor money and I could not focus myself onto anything. I started to dissociate and then my thoughts began to eat me up; “What if it gets worse? What if this lasts forever? What if nothing ever feels real again? What if I have anxiety for the rest of my life?” The worse these thoughts got, the more I dissociated. The more I dissociated, the worse the thoughts got.
Luckily while I was in this bizarre acute state, I had my fella with me. He was an absolute marvel and stayed by my side for three days; he listened to me cry and freak out, talked to me in the bath so I didn’t have to be alone with my thoughts, made sure I ate and slept, took me to see some bunnies, drove us out to the moors and in general just made sure I was okay. It’s very early in our relationship and I am incredibly grateful that I can finally be honest with someone about what goes on in my head and that someone will go out of their way to be there for me if I need them. By the fourth day he gave me the tough love and insisted we go about our separate lives as normal (so I wouldn’t become dependent on him) and we check in later on It’s what we both needed, especially as he works all weekend and isn’t going to quit his job to care for me, so I need to get used to handling being on my own…bit selfish?! (Kidding…)
Three days on from that, I was fine. I was back down to earth and I spent two days on my own in my bedroom making costumes. I looked back at that past week, as surreal as it was, and breathed a sigh of relief that it was over. Okay I lied; there is one positive experience I can take from this; it’s over, it’s done, I can keep on going and I now know that if I relapse I will get over it. I used to be so scared of the day that I would feel this crippling anxiety again. Yes it’s unpleasant that it happened and to know that it could happen again but it’s even better to know that I can get through it and get back to functioning without fear. So how did I do this? To an extent, I got lucky; I have a very caring boyfriend by my side, but in the past I was not so lucky and had to get through it on my own. But company appears to be the way forward! So here are my steps towards tackling anxiety and practising self-soothing.
What happens for me is that I feel pure TERROR: I can’t sit still, I’m restless, I feel sick, nothing is soothing or comforting. You want to run and run and run and cry and you cannot bear it…being concious is agony but you cannot sleep, you cannot eat, you cannot function. What the hell do you do? This is how I bounced back…
1) LET IT ALL OUT – Cry, scream, write it down, run around your back garden for ages, do whatever it is you need to release what’s inside you. For me, crying is extremely cathartic and talking about it out loud helps rationalise it.
2) SEEK REASSURANCE – Try to seek out some company from someone you love, trust and find soothing. This could be in person, over skype or on the phone. Talk it out, cry, scream, just do what you need to do to help you realise it’s not real, it’s all in your head and it will pass. If there is no one around (it might be late at night, everyone you love and trust might be away, perhaps there is no one you think will understand, etc) there are services you can phone (I have never done this but I imagine it might be of some comfort) or you can write it all out in a diary or even an email/message.
3) BREATHE – Inhale for four seconds, hold it for two seconds, exhale for four seconds. Concentrate on this, take note of what you can feel in your body, notice your heart rate slowing; it’s going to be okay, you are alive, you will be okay. If you can, try some mindfulness practise…there are plenty of really good free resources out there.
4) SOOTH YOURSELF – whether it’s with a cuddle or a fluffy object or some nice calming smells, find what works. Enjoy the small pleasures, remember that the bad feelings will pass but these good feelings are constant. Life aint so bad… Sometimes, I like to a pair of gloves that I’ve sprayed with perfume so that if I feel overwhelmed, I can inhale the scent inconspicuously and focus my attention.
5) DAMAGE CONTROL – often when this hits, you have responsibilities; the world keeps on spinning and you have to keep up somehow, which can add even more onto your anxiety. Touch in with colleagues, friends etc, make sure everything is okay at work, re-organise your diary and re-schedule appointments. This will help you feel back in control. In my case, I had to re-arrange meetings and photoshoots I had booked and get some extenuating circumstances for my university work. One of the first things I did was contact my mentors so tat they could help and guide me.
6) ABSORBING TASKS – Do you have a hobby that steals all of your attention? Engage with it. For me, it’s costume-making; nothing is more absorbing and focusing that gluing rhinestones onto a pair of pants or constructing a pair of fans or swearing at my sewing machine for hours on end… it’s a very grounding technique as you are concentrating and using your hands which brings me back down to earth wonderfully. If you’re not into it then try reading, exercising, watching an addictive television programme! Whatever it is the sucks you in.
7) GO OUTSIDE – This is optional and would only be something I would recommend in nice weather… but it’s something that really helps me; I like to hula hoop in the park, breathe the air and notice the trees, flowers, birds etc.
8) SEEK ADVICE – This bit is also very optional but sometimes speaking to a professional can be very very valuable. If you decide you want to do this, I would either advise researching services in your area or speaking to your GP about your symptoms and options and insist on a referral.
9) DEBRIEF AND PREPARE – Check in with yourself; how do you feel? How did you feel? What did you learn? Did you get through it? Could you do it again? Are you ready for face the world? Prepare yourself by making plans, tidying your space, making lists, making sure you have the food you need and that you’re ready for work or whatever the days/weeks ahead have in store for you.
10) CONTINUE WITH YOUR LIFE – Ease yourself back into your routine one day at a time, take it slow and if you still don’t feel right, remember that it will pass, take it one day at a time.
So there you have it; how I dealt with my awful breakdown the other week. This may not be what works for you but this is what gets me through; after four years I’m glad to say I finally know how to harness my anxiety. There’s no step-by-step guide for everyone out there so if this one doesn’t work for you, write your own ❤
Until next time,