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  1. That's right. 'Thoughts of an Anxious Man is back for 2020. For those new here, the series is my little way of sharing the trials, tribulations, ups and downs of living with both social anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder. One of the biggest things I've found with anxiety, indeed mental health in general, is that there are so many more people suffering in one way or another than you could ever imagine. Despite all the positive marketing mental health issues have received over the past few years, many still choose to suffer in silence rather than seek support. I might be a little guilty of that myself. I'm not someone that will go out of their way to open up. People will ask me how I'm doing, and I'll give the usual 'meh, alright thanks.' Instead, I turn to writing - this series is an attempt at articulating my anxieties; an inner dialogue open for all to see. Truth be told, I'm just not too good at explaining it in person. No matter how many times I'm asked what it is that sets me off, even though the answer is often the same, I can never find the words! At this point, I just couldn't say! Writing it down gives an opportunity to really think about triggers, direction and reflection. It's therapeutic. New Year, New Plan The back end of 2019 was a bit of a rough one for me. Despite a few high points, it had begun to feel as if I was slipping a little bit. I didn't seem to be making any headway with my therapy and yet still my symptoms worsened. To the point where I struggled with a 20 minute drive across the country to visit family. I've tried every holistic treatment I could research - hypnotherapy, L-theanine, green teas, meditation, mindfulness, CBD - but nothing seemed to take root enough to allow breathing space needed for the CBT to take effect. I decided it was time to revisit the idea of medication. Having tried a few different SSRI's (and taken a distinct disliking to them), my doctor put me on beta blockers instead. These particular little magic pills slow down the uptake of adrenaline in your system, slowing your heart rate and, in turn, slowing down the symptoms of anxiety. Also - I'm not a doctor (ssshh) so I might have missed a key point or two there. But hey ho - that's my understanding of them! I'd put off taking them for some time, getting anxiety about taking anxiety medication is an irony in itself - right? I just didn't like the idea of something messing with my heart. But, after the way the year ended, I felt I really just needed to get on with it. So I did. And it felt a bit bloody good, I don't mind saying, telling my anxiety to f*** off. 4 days in - I'll let you know how they go.
  2. Following on shortly from my last piece, I went in to see my counsellor. As I'm sure you will have got from S0202, I wasn't in the best of places. A mentally challenging weekend had left me mentally beaten, battered and bruised. I found myself feeling pretty lost and defeated, but still something separate from depressed. And yet somehow, I ended up leaving that session with my spirits lifted, vitality renewed and ready to get back on the wagon. After almost 5 years of varying treatment and talking therapies, I really feel like I'm making some progress. You name it, I've tried it. Hypnotherapy. Private counselling. Hypnotherapy again. More private counselling, as well as three rounds of NHS Talking Therapies on top. The worst bit is having to explain 16 years of anxiety to new people at the start of each course. Often it feels as if you are just talking to a labcoat - someone that is just marking your symptoms off a checklist and giving you the usual spiel on how to get better. My current therapist is different. He was very keen to explain from the start that he himself had experienced and suffered with anxiety for years. Not just anxiety, but almost exactly the same symptoms as myself. And he beat it. I kind of see him as my anxiety sherpa, leading the way to my own success. Despite the recent efforts towards increasing awareness of mental health and the surrounding issues, there are many out there that still feel unable, perhaps even unwilling, to seek help. Mental illnesses are still thought of as being a weakness, a character flaw, something to be ashamed of. That just isn't the case. If anything, the day to day struggles can strengthen your character, and help you see the world in a different light. Personally, I found that my anxiety made me a more considerate person and generally more understanding of others. It encourages you to be more kind in all pursuits, after all you simply don't know what's going on another person's head. They might just need a friendly smile from a stranger to conquer their own demons for that day. Be more kind. After half hour or so of explaining why I was feeling so down and beaten, he asked me a question I don't think I'll forget in a hurry. "Do you feel fulfilled with your life?" I mean, what do you even say to that... It caught me completely off-guard and really provoked some serious thinking. Do I feel fulfilled? My immediate answer was no, and let me explain why. I've been dealing with various forms of anxiety for most of my adult life. It started when I was 14. I'm just about to turn 32. Virtually every decision I've ever made about the direction of my life, has been made under the influence of anxiety. Why did I stop going on holidays abroad with friends and family? Anxiety. Why didn't I finish my studies at university? Anxiety. Why did I keep it a secret from my family for months after dropping out? Anxiety? Why didn't I learn to paraglide when I had the opportunity? Anxiety. Why have I never sat through a friends' wedding ceremony? Anxiety. I was filled with frustration and anger as to how I had become such a slave to my mental health. The weight of the weekend's events felt even heavier. But then I had a light-bulb moment. I do feel fulfilled. I am an extremely lucky person. Sure, anxiety definitely did shape some of the decisions I made, but it also helped shaped me into the person I am now. I might not have become a teacher of languages, but instead I'm a successful accountant. Social anxiety kept me bound for so long, yet somehow I managed to put it to one side and become a part of the Ember team as Community Manager. I met my long-suffering, long-caring fiancée. I felt everything fall into perspective, and it gave me the reassurances I needed to drag myself back out of the hole I'd found myself in, to get back on the wagon and to be answering back to my anxieties with 'F**k It' once more. The thing about Talking Therapies is, once you give voice to a thought, it becomes real. You hear it out loud and you really start to question it. The person you're speaking with hears it and questions it. You get new points of view that you hadn't even considered. To all those unsure of opening up, seeking help or just finding someone to talk to - talking about your mental health really does help. You got this. It gets better.
  3. It's been a while since I last posted, sorry about that! I've been going through a bit of a tough time lately, both physically and mentally; it's been hard to find the words to share what's going on inside my head. To be perfectly honest, I'm in two minds about posting this one. It shares a little bit more than I would like, but that's the thing with anxiety. There's no middle ground. I was feeling quite positive at my last point of writing. The 'F**k It* ideology is an interesting one, and something I felt I could really get behind. Unfortunately, things haven't quite gone to plan and I feel I've actually ended up taking steps backwards. Like I said last time, I find it difficult to express myself at the best of times. I try and try to be the positive change I want to see in other people, but can often be found contradicting myself, opting to isolate myself and enjoy solitude, instead of clamping down on my issues. Anxiety and depression can be... overwhelmingly powerful. The past couple of months have been all about weddings. A time to celebrate and enjoy the moment, right? That's the bit I'm struggling with. I had two events this weekend, visiting a wedding venue for Mrs-Sausage-To-Be (she will legitimately kill me for calling her that) and myself, and the other one being watching one of my close friends from college get married. Our group has reached that age, where everyone is now getting married or having their second (or third) kids. It's something I look forward to, but at the same time dread. Now don't get me wrong, super excited for both events. I wouldn't have proposed if I hadn't wanted to do it. Perhaps that's why it came as such a surprise to friends and family... But I am completely and utterly filled with dread at the prospect of standing in front of people during the ceremony, having attention thrust upon me during a speech, or even in having a stag do. So much so, I might have to the latter a miss. I just don't know if I can handle that - the travel, the activities, the drinking.... I'm 31, pushing 32, and have never sat through anyone's wedding ceremony. To give you an idea of how the spiraling descent into madness goes, I kept a mini diary through the week: One week out Easy. You got this. Two days out Oh boy. Here come the heebie jeebies. 'F**k it' becomes F**k. The day before I went straight down to the gym in the morning, as I do every day, but anxiety is waving now. Oh hello meticulous planning, the thoughts of 'do I even want to be there' and 'Will anyone actually notice if I'm not there?' F**k becomes F**K. Event day The day of travel, and I woke up to a vicious bout of IBS. It's true what they say, its linked to stress and anxiety, and my intestines are letting me know that. My head is full of thoughts of cancelling, about how I'm going to manage a small 1h20 drive, about what we'll do when we get there. Already I feel myself panicking, and I don't know why. Or moreover, why I can't push it all to the back of my mind. I find myself thinking not of this trip, but of my nephew's christening, of just how the hell am I EVER going to beat this. This is where the depressive cycle kicks in, I begin to feel worthless and guilty, not for my own issues, but for dragging my long suffering fiancee down with me. I'm desperately telling myself the positives, how great it will be, how much I deserve a fucking break, that I hold worth. See how today goes I guess. I'm in the gym, trying to beat it out of me. F**K becomes F**K F**K F**K. Of course, it all works out in the end. Anxiety is nothing more than getting yourself worked up over hypothetical outcomes that will likely never happen. I know that, and yet in the heat of the moment, I cannot come to believe it. You can tell yourself over and over again that it will be ok, but you have to believe it's going to be. So where do we go from here? I'm going back to my therapist later today to talk options. I think I'm going to give medication another try. I'd much rather not, but I just want to get a grip. In the meantime, if you are struggling, please drop me a DM. My door is always open for a confidential chat. I've also found listening to podcasts a tremendous help - in particular The Hilarious World Of Depression - a series where comedians and public figures go on to talk about their experiences with mental health issues. It's well worth checking out.
  4. I've never been one to show emotion publicly, always erring on the side of some things are better kept personal. But ever since I started writing 'Thoughts of an Anxious Man,' I've found the whole process somewhat therapeutic, and really cannot recommend it enough. Writing is an excellent way of venting frustrating and sharing things you might otherwise find difficult putting into words. It's been a particularly trying couple of months for me. A rollercoaster of emotions that, for once, I have really been struggling to keep in check. Some will remember how we left at the end of Season 1 - verging on the edge of *radical acceptance* as a means of getting past anxious thoughts. To summarise - rather than fighting the anxiety every step of the way, the theory is that you just accept it. You accept that this is just the way you are, make your peace and live with it - the idea being that once you start to go with the flow, then there is less resistance and therefore less anxious thoughts. I started reading a couple of books which centre on this ideology. If you get chance, I would highly recommend checking out 'F**k It - The Ultimate Spiritual Way.' Things were going great, and I was finally happy with the progress I was seeing. But then, I hit a bit of a stumbling block. As some will know, I've had some health concerns over the past couple of months, been poked, prodded and examined and had been told that I have a condition that basically affects what and when I can eat. Food is my life. Being told that I should avoid all the things I actually enjoy, and eat all the things I don't like, was honestly a bit crushing. Alcohol isn't really allowed, which means my significant stash of beer/whiskey must now be given away! But I'm trying to take it in my stride, so we'll see how that goes. I was a nervous wreck for a long time, doing the one thing you should never do and Googling my symptoms. I woke up several times just thinking 'F**k. This is something really bad.' My anxiety skyrocketed and I didn't leave the house for a good couple of weeks except to go to the doctors. I found myself shaking like the metaphorical shitting dog, whilst I had to repeatedly go through all these consultations. One on one situations are one of the worst triggers for me mentally, so going to the docs over and over and over again...well it wasn't fun! Luckily for me, it ended up not being anything too serious, yet serious enough that I would have to make some lifestyle changes. Fair. My dim outlook suddenly got a whole lot brighter, and I began to make ground on my confidence again. AND THEN. And then. Right when I was finally feeling positive, I cracked a f**king tooth. Sitting in the dentist's chair is one of the worst situations I could possible ever find myself. It's a serious anxiety trigger and even as I write this I can feel my hands shaking. Last time I had to go to the dentist, I had to have a filling. Normally takes 20-30 minute procedure - nice and simple eh? Nope. Mine took one and a half hours, simply because I cannot sit still in the chair for longer than 5 minutes at a time. I mean no, it's not the end of the world. Some people might read this and laugh at my inane fears, but to each their own. I'll likely be sedated, embarrass myself in a drunken stupor, and laugh it off for the next couple of weeks. But if anything, this whole episode has served as a reminder that life is too short to worry about things you cannot control. I'm more determined than ever to crack on the road to recovery. Anxiety is, and likely will always be, a part of me. So what can we do? What can we say? 'F**k it.' We take small steps. We do the things that we want to do, with the people we want to do them with. F**k anxiety. It might seem like the biggest obstacle you will ever have to overcome, but don't ever let it get in the way of your physical health, or you enjoying life. No matter what your head tells you, whether its worrying that you're going to vomit in front of someone, that they'll laugh at you or that you will embarrass yourself. Just try saying 'f**k it.'
  5. I'm back with a brand new rap. Well, it's not so much a rap, as a renewed sense of well-being. For the past two weeks, I've done a tremendous amount of soul searching, trying to figure out where I am, where I want to be and what I want to do. One of the few positives that comes with anxiety is that it gives you a unique perspective on yourself, those around you, and other anxiety sufferers. You begin to realise what makes anxious people tick and you can relate to them. You create a silent bond. For years, I felt alone and isolated. My triggers are quite specific and in all that time, I had never met anyone that suffered in the same way. And then one day, I spotted a post in the /r/anxiety subreddit. This person was going through exactly what I was going through ten years ago. Reading it was like looking into a time machine. I could see all the decisions they had made to lead up to that point, and all the decisions I had made thereafter. I felt I had to do something, I had to reach out to them and tell them not to keep treading the same beaten path. It felt good to finally connect with someone who knew what it felt like. It felt even better to be able to tell them where I went wrong and what I had learned from my (many) mistakes. It turns out I'm actually really good at sitting and listening to others, lending a helpful ear or shoulder to cry on when needed. So I'm planning on becoming a counsellor. Giving back to the therapy services that have given me so much. My DMs are always open to anyone needing to vent or chat. I'm also trying out a new method of dealing with my own anxieties - radical acceptance. That is, "about accepting experiences, beliefs, and perceptions, often without offering judgments or believing that things should be different than they are" (GoodTherapy, 2015). The idea is straightforward. Rather than seeing your anxieties as entities you want to be rid of, you simply stop fighting it. Anxieties thrive and feed on negative thoughts, so you simply accept that this is just the way things are now. No judgement. No self-criticism. No self-berating. Go with the flow and stop constantly trying to wrestle control back, because in the end, none of it matters. We are insignificant specks on a living rock, hurtling through time and space. Recently, I've been doing some dog-sitting for my parents. They have the most amazing view over the Blackmore Vale. One evening I was watering the plants and was struck by the thought of 'I wonder how many leaves are on this hedge. Thousands? Millions?' I looked up, seeing trees and fields for miles, and asked myself the same question - 'I wonder how many leaves are in my field of view right now? Billions? Trillions?' And this was only a miniscule proportion of the world. Existential ponderings do wonders for straightening a mind out. Now, whenever I feel my anxieties rising, I go back to that thought about leaves and remind myself that the worry, the need for control, is all so insignificant. None of it really matters. I could drop dead tomorrow. None of it matters. Why worry about something you cannot control... Of course, it is so much easier to write or read, than to put into actual practice. It's a hard step to take. Believe me. I've only been practising this theory of acceptance for the past week or so and it is incredibly hard to break such an ingrained routine. But I feel I'm on the right track. I finally feel like I can make some difference, to myself and to those around me.
  6. One step forward, one step back. After last week's thoughts, positive thinking and planning a course of action to recovery, I hit a stumbling block. Which is annoying because, even when I'm doing so well and forcing myself to move forwards, the smallest setback feels like being hit by a ton of bricks... I was in Liverpool for a stag do - a college friend and former work colleague was having his big blowout. Friday and Saturday morning went by without drama I'm pleased to report. Many drinks were had, much mini-golf was played and a slight hangover inevitably followed. But, with all the drinking, I mistakenly thought it would be a good idea to skip my meds. For those that don't know, I'm currently on some anti-depressants to help reduce anxiety, acting as a crutch to aid the cognitive behaviour therapy I'm currently undergoing. I think if I had been at home, or somewhere quiet, it would have gone without incident. But no, I was in a busy, bustling city and my anxiety was very keen to remind me of that! Dinnertime came about and we went for a meal over the road. Something didn't feel right and I could myself getting more and more worked up about nothing. A two minute walk away from where I was staying turned me from a calm, collected individual - ready for another night of boozed up debauchery - into a sweating, itching, fidgeting wreck. I tried to get a couple of beers down me to calm me down, but the off switch was nowhere to be found. I tried and I tried and I tried.... It's so unbelievably frustrating to sit there, slowly feeling yourself losing control and not be able to do a damn thing about it. I became the very stereotype of mental health problems - someone smiling on the outside, trying to have a good time, whilst on the inside the walls were closing in. After about 40 minutes, I cracked and had to excuse myself. Fresh air, and a welcome wave of relief rushing through my body but, from that point on, I couldn't stop berating myself. Why? Why are you like this? What is wrong with you? Nothing sums up anxiety like this. In the heat of the moment, I think I'd prefer to be in a vat in the garage... The night went on with the rest of the guys continuing on their crawl. I forced myself repeatedly to get back out and meet them somewhere, but each time felt completely and utterly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people on the streets and the noise. Every time I felt on the edge of an attack, I'd have to leave the group and try again later. In the end, I decided to just call it a day. On one hand, I was happy that I'd forced myself to keep on trying, but at the same time disappointed that I hadn't been able to see the night through, and that I'd actually let my closest friends see that part of me. But it's not all bad. I survived the weekend. I spent time walking with my worst triggers and lived to tell the tale. It's encouraged me to go back and continue my research into mindfulness and meditation. No matter how bad things feel, they will always get better. It's hard to remember that ,mid-attack, but that's where mindfulness helps. It creates space between yourself and your anxiety, being able to take a step back and calm yourself - instead of getting caught up in the whirlwind. I know those guys read this, one even going so far to tell me that he could completely relate to everything I had written previously, so - thanks for understanding. And thanks for the great weekend, it was a blast. To those that have experienced similar moments, it gets better. I promise. My door is always open for a confidential chat. Don't suffer in silence. Don't worry if you don't know what to do, I've spent a little time in worried shoes, I wore them out through walking, It wasn't any use, Don't worry if you don't know what to do. Frank Turner - Don't Worry
  7. Today I had an epiphany. "Nothing in this world can torment you as much as your own thoughts.” I tend to spend so much time in day to day life, trying to control the things around me. Trying to reduce their impact on my psychological well being and ultimately, trying to reduce the possibility of things going wrong. It never really works. Sure, some days are better than others, but they always come at a cost. An opportunity missed out on, so I can feel safe and secure in my bubble of self-contentment. Like many people say, "you are your own worst enemy." Every time you give a little ground to avoid anxiety, you take a step further down the slope. The more you avoid, the steeper the slope becomes, and the further you find yourself from the top. Today I decided enough was enough. It's time to let go of that control, because we are never truly in control. It's a goal we chase but never really achieve. So why add additional stress? And you know what? I feel better already. I don't expect the feeling to last all that long. My anxiety is so deeply rooted, ingrained, that it's become second nature and involuntary. “Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.” I'm going to start doing things I want to do, rather than the cop out things that make me feel comfortable and safe. Being given the role of Ember Community Manager has opened so many doors for me, and I really want to create something magnificent with it. It will no doubt push me to being a nervous wreck, but perhaps if I can make the small steps now, the bigger ones won't Not one for baby steps, I'm diving straight into the deep end by signing up to volunteer at this summer's TwitchLDN event. I'll be on the SpecialEffect stand, spreading the word about the amazing work that they do. So if you see me there, please do say hi. It will have taken me a lot effort to get to that moment and I guarantee I'll appreciate it! You might even learn something! I'm going to try and travel more this summer with my partner, another key trigger for my anxiety. It might only start with a few 20 minute drives from home, but it's a starting point. I want to reach 45 minute drives by Christmas. Either way. I got this.
  8. Holidays. Downtime that everyone looks forward to, right? Wrong. Travelling and sharing spaces are two of the major triggers for my anxiety, so holidays have now become something I dread. I haven't been abroad in years, due to the sheer terror brought on by the thought of spending at least two hours cooped up in a tin can, 35000ft in the air. This week is no exception. On Thursday, I will be travelling up to the Peak District with my (long-suffering) girlfriend for some peace and quiet, up in the wonderful heights of central England. We booked it earlier in the year, in a fleeting moment of a excitement about finally getting a few days away together. It's much like the christening example I gave in Part III. The 'normal' side of me, the side I share with virtually every other person on the planet, was excited. The prospect of some much needed time away in the Great Outdoors, with the one person that does actually make me happy, was something I just couldn't say no to. But then, as soon as I had hit the 'Pay Now' button, I was struck by this sensation of ominous doom. That, is what anxiety feels like. The weight of what I had just committed to came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks. A 4 hour drive each way, going somewhere I'd never been before, total lack of control - a living nightmare. Pre-trip... The week has been a short and arduous one. Despite only being in work for two days, and taking part in an amazing talkshow - there has been only one thought on my mind. That ever so brief trip at the end of the week. It's been eating away at the back of my mind for a while now, like a pitch black hole moving gradually closer to swallowing me up. Of course, the logical mind knows nothing bad will happen on this mundane drive - but try telling the black hole that. It grows slowly as the date of travel gets nearer, devouring every single thought of possible enjoyment I might get out of the trip. At this point, it's almost as if I'm resigned to the fact that it's going to be a terrible trip, rife with anxiety and the lack of desire to get out and make the most of it... Post-trip... The day of the trip came, and it was a difficult one. No matter how I tried to distract myself, I kept on coming back and worrying about the trip. I don't even know why I was worrying - it wasn't even a long drive really! I did all I could to keep myself preoccupied; went to the gym, cleaned the house from top to bottom, went to spend some time with Archie - but I still found myself clock watching. As ridiculous as it sounds, it almost felt as if counting down to a jail sentence, the last moments of freedom. Anxiety can be a self-feeding spiral of despair. The more you worry, the worse it becomes. The worse it becomes, the more you worry. Friends and family will remind you again and again that there's nothing to worry about, but once that anxious thought has taken root, it's very hard to rip out. We spent a couple of days hiking and I loved it. Being outdoors, away from all the stresses of day to day life, was a welcome relief. Whilst I did cave in to my anxiety on more than one occasion, I did manage to battle my way through a fear of heights, wandering across some gorge cliffs to enjoy some truly beautiful views. I was a shaking mess, but it was worth it. I even managed to pop the question to my better half and, strangely enough, that was the least anxiety-inducing moment of the entire trip! Jerry's Regal's Final Thoughts One of the most crucial things to remember as an anxiety sufferer is that anxiety will always peak. If you sit and endure it for long enough, your body's 'alarm system' will eventually deactivate, you will feel better and return to being relatively calm. It's something that got me through the highs of hiking, and the lows of travel. The fight or flight adrenaline rush will only ever last a few minutes at max - so if you can wait it out, find your happy place and brave the coming storm, the anxiety will reduce on the other side. Your body simply cannot maintain that state of heightened tension. I managed the trip and back, conquered some fells and managed to find myself coming home with a fiancée. Anxiety or not, it was a pretty good trip. Always find the positives.
  9. Another week, another roller coaster ride... Let's start with the positive. Last week - my life changed indefinitely for the better. I became an uncle for the first time, to 'an absolute pounder' (his dad's words) of a nephew. I've never been one to get excited about newborns or young children - I've always felt a bit awkward and 'umm - now what' around them, but this time was certainly different. Archie, named long before the Royal Archie came along, was a bouncing bundle of joy and happiness, so it was hard not to get caught up in the moment. It was also weird seeing my parents, newly crowned as grandparents, interacting with him. My mum's reaction was that of being utterly smitten, as you might expect, but it was my dad's reaction, someone who has always kept his emotions close, that caught me off guard. So many smiles, photos and joy. It was weird to see, but enjoyable nonetheless. "One of the most frustrating things about having an anxiety disorder; knowing as you're freaking out that there's no reason to be freaked out, but lacking the ability to shut the emotion down." From the peak of happiness, came the conversation about christening young Archie, and the crushing realisation that I would likely be involved in some way, shape or form. I'm already a godfather to my cousin. An experience that many would accept with pleasure. Don't get me wrong, I'm honoured to have that role, but standing up in front of 50-60 of my close family and relatives was nothing short of a nightmare. Being centre of attention as I recited my lines, was an experience that continues to haunt me - even when I know there's no reason whatsoever to be feeling that way. So much so that the last christening I went to, even though I wasn't involved, I couldn't physically sit in the ceremony. It's the irrational fear of needing to get up and leave during the ceremony, having all eyes on me, just thinking about it starts my heart racing. It sounds so self-centred when I write it down. Me, me, me. But that's the difference between the rational and irrational, the 'being there for someone' and 'the fervent need to avoid a situation.' On one hand, I would love to become a godfather again, but on the other I just don't know if I can go through that situation again without utterly embarrassing myself. “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” This week also brought another first - I've started a round of talking therapy with my new, friendly, neighbourhood Spiderman therapist, Jim. Starting anew has its ups and downs, but I like to think of it as a new opportunity to make some ground, and get that little bit closer to 'levelling out.' After a lengthy discussion sharing my history, triggers, worries and previous diagnoses, Jim was very quick to relate. It really is a breath of fresh air hearing someone on the other side say that they know exactly what you have been through. He pointed out that I , like himself, may have generalised anxiety disorder. We went through the symptoms for it. Panic attacks. Check. Phobias. Check. Social anxiety. Check. Huh - hello there! I had what I can only describe as a wave of relief at that point. It felt as if we had finally pinpointed my problem, and from there, there was hope that we could begin to try a few different techniques that had worked for Jim in the past. The next session should be fun, as we start to try rewind therapy. Who knows. Maybe we'll make some progress. The sun is shining, it's a beautiful day, and I'm finally feeling optimistic about regaining some element of control...
  10. " Anxiety is knowing however much you plan ahead, you still expect the worst to happen." What is the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the word 'anxiety?' Attacks? Stress? Sweaty palms? Nervousness? For me, its the meticulous planning that comes with living a life around social anxiety. Lets say I need to go to the supermarket for a weekly shop. Before even stepping out of the door, I would need to plan for how I get there, if the shop is going to be busy, queues at the checkouts etc. Planning helps provide a little peace of mind in the lead up to the event, but at the same time increases anxiety - because you are thinking of all the bad things that could happen and trying to account for them. Last weekend I went to a local beer festival. I'd been looking forward to it for AGES - as many of you will know, beer is my one true love. As excited as I was, I just could not shake this feeling of anxiousness. I spent most of the week before planning, looking at the itinerary trying to figure out the exits. The rational part of me constantly berating the irrational side with the same question - "why?" It was only a 20 minute drive from home, and yet I was anxious about driving with my (long-suffering) girlfriend in the car with me. Everything just seemed to pile up. We got there, parked up and went into the site but, try as I may, I just couldn't let go. There's two things I really struggle with: too many people, and queues. The festival was packed, and it was a 5-7 minute queue for a drink. Inside, I was screaming. The 'Wild Beer Co' Beer Festival "It feels like your brain got switched from 40 mph to 140 mph and your body can’t keep up. You can’t breathe or think or run away." It's hard to describe the physical and mental rush of symptoms when you trigger. Something seemingly insignificant can cause you to go from fine to a quivering wreck in a matter of seconds. When it hits, it's as if you are frozen to the spot, trapped in an invisible prison with your mind the only guard. You tell yourself over and over "I'm ok. It's fine," but the symptoms do not relent. For me, it's at this point I have to physically get up and move out of the situation - be it at a doctors appointment, out for a meal with friends, or at a beer festival. Luckily for me, my partner is super understanding. She knows when I'm fighting and will often make the decision to move, simply so that I don't have to feel guilty about making it myself. Needless to say, I'm a little disappointed I wasn't able to see this one through, especially after looking forward to it as much as I did. The thing with anxiety is that it has its highs and its lows. Your emotional state may peak for a while, and the symptoms will be rough, but eventually it will level out and the anxiety begin to decrease. Your body simply cannot keep it up for too long - it's exhausting. Exposure therapy revolves around this, each time you stay in the triggering situation that little bit longer, waiting for your body to tire and the anxiousness to decrease. This time around, I let it beat me. But I didn't go home and wallow in self-pity. I took myself straight back out into another triggering situation because I wanted to take something positive away from the day. Keep pushing yourself and you'll get there. One day at a time.
  11. One of the hardest things I've found as an anxiety-sufferer is how best to explain it to non-sufferers. Those people that manage to get by in life without, seemingly, a care in the world. What do you say to someone, whose first response is often 'Oh it'll be fine,' or 'You've got nothing to worry about?' So how about this: "Anxiety is having a wonderful day ahead of you but not enjoying it because you’re thinking about that 2 minute phone call you’ll have to make in five days." Imagine one day, you wake up to find a fat, succulent, bacon sandwich waiting for you on the breakfast table. It's Spring, the sun is shining and that film you've been waiting a year to see is released. Except you can't enjoy it. You want to, but you can't. Why? Because there's a little demon called Anxiety, sat on your shoulder, reminding you of that innocent, little situation coming up that you've been dreading. You're sat there, with a plate of bacon in front of you, its aroma wafting through the air - and all you can think of is that thing you have at the end of the week. It's beyond nerves. Your mind becomes convinced something terrible is going to happen there, something completely and utterly out of your control. On one hand sits the rational part of your mind. Deep down, this side of you knows nothing is going to happen. It knows life will go on as normal. But on the other hand sits the irrational part of your subconscious - that ancient part of you that still cares only for one thing - your safekeeping. It's a pure, animalistic, flight-or-fight reaction, under inappropriate circumstances. A spiral kicks in - the more you think about this particular trigger, the worse you imagine the outcome to be, the more you worry about it and so on, and so on. Sound familiar...? "Anxiety is always knowing where the exits are." Different people have different triggers. For me, it's certain social situations and interactions where it might be awkward for me to get out of. These are typically one-on-one situations, such as a trip to the doctor, dentist or barber, where I would feel awkward or embarrassed to leave. Yep, my anxiety stems from being too damn polite. It's because I think I would be wasting those people's time if I needed to get up and get out. It's the same when driving in a car with others - and to this day I would rather incur a petrol cost and drive myself to an event, than to car pool with friends. I hate it. That said, I'm learning how better to deal with it. I'd spent years in conflict with my anxiety, often seeing it as something I wanted to expel permanently - but one of the biggest turning points was the realisation that, in order to move forward, I had to accept that my anxiety was driven by a subconscious desire to keep my body and being safe. My mind was simply looking out for me, and that I really should be thankful for it. I've gone from being in an internal struggle to a coalition of sorts. Now we're working together and I finally feel like I have some element of control back.
  12. Recently I've started a huge venture for me online, doing Youtube videos or streams and cosplays etc. and I've just started earning a little money from doing it from my Patreon account. You'd think this would give me a huge confidence boost, right? Wrong. As soon as the first pledges came through and people actually wanted to pay a little to see some of the extras in the shoots and VLOGs etc I tried to quit. I messaged Ben that I was going to take the sites down. He was a bit confused but reminded me that I've done this before with my book and then alter with my streams. As soon as things start to get good, I throw it all away. So I sat down and tried to understand why I would get this huge PANIC to just close down every social media account I have and live forever in my house under my fluffy blanket, eating cheese and drinking Lara's Ribena cartons. Then it hit me: I feel like a fraud. I don't feel like I'm good enough at any of the things that I do to earn anything from them. I don't feel like people should have had to pay for my book that took a year to write, or to see any of the hours and hours of work I did on my clay modelling, photo restorations or my cosplays or my Twitch streams or my Youtube videos. I don't feel worthy enough. That's why I quit my Twitch really, it wasn't time. That was an excuse. Once I got Affliate status and people could pay I quit because I didn't feel it was worth anything. That's why I took my book off Amazon once it got to 3000 downloads and it's why I always sabotage everything that I do. In case I disappoint someone from it. I'm fine with other people's work, but when it comes to my own, I am my worst damn critic. With great hair. Can't even begin to recall just how many things I've stopped myself from doing because I don't feel like I deserve that kind of happiness. Even as a young girl I could never imagine having a life past my teen years, not in a suicidal way in the slightest but when I looked forward it was always black, I didn't feel like I deserved one. Ha. Like I would just cease to exist after that point! it's only recently that I've been able to decode my own brain like this. No bloody wonder I've got anxiety now. The hardest part of figuring this out was then realising that the only way to stop it would be to face it head on, keep everything I'm doing and push through. I've had a really long fortnight of anxiety as people begin to up their pledges or message me and tell me they love my cosplays, photos or videos and I've had to stop myself from legging it and becoming a hermit with one of those Gandalf hats and a long pipe with nothing in it because I don't smoke. I've never sweated so much in my life and I workout 4 times a week. My stomach is now a mess and I'm off to the doctors to deal with neck tension and tinnitus because given how high my anxiety has been, it's all come back with vengeance! I'm assuming this can be quite common amongst others with depression or anxiety and if you've dealt with this and carried on then fucking well done, it really isn't easy! I gave up creating things before I even started my adult life because of it. So I've got a few years of catch up to do now, ignoring that annoying little bastard in my head and just going for it. So if you see me around, be kind. I'm broken. Have a great week, guys. NX
  13. So I've been told that it is mental health awareness week over here in the UK and it's come at the right time for me. I'm currently sat here writing this during my second day on diazepam for a flare up of my 10 year long neck issue that my doctors swear is muscle spasms caused by the tension of my overwhelming anxiety. I literally can not play bowling with my daughter or bend down to go on a slide with her a lot of days because it will cause another agonising flare up and I'll be sofa ridden for days. Purely from being so consistently tense that my muscles don't relax, they spasm. Then there's the stomach acid and IBS issues I've had since my preteens - again caused by anxiety - that will leave me unable to eat, drink or move if I don't get on top of the treatment quickly. All this was happening while I was telling myself that I do not need treatment for anxiety any more, I am fine. Turns out I wasn't fine - the 13 unread messages on my Facebook or the 7 on my Insta that have been there for over a week should have told me that. So, once this week on diazepam has passed, I will be returning to the doctors to discuss a long-term solution to my general level of tension, which absolutely stems from my anxious little brain. So, a little cautionary tale: if you are feeling shitty in any way shape or form, GO TO THE DOCTOR. I know sometimes you can be so used to feeling this way that you seem to think you're doing well when you're not, but if your physical body is crying out like mine is, chances are you could use some extra support. I guess sometimes I forget that mental illnesses affect your body just as much as your mind. Take care of yourselves everyone. NX Photo by Akshar Dave from Pexels
  14. It was a new day. Was it? Had a day actually passed? It could be a new day. Suddenly I find myself in the kitchen staring at the coffee pot slowly sweating as it got hotter. I stare further into one small droplet and I’m transported into a memory of the swimming pool I used to go to as a kid. I used to love swimming, most of the time I would go alone but not always; other times I would go with my sister or some of our friends. But I loved to go alone. I always believed that if I could breathe underwater I’d always be so much more at peace; an empty swimming pool is sometimes better than an empty book store, like staring at your ceiling in the dead of the night, it opened up the walls of my mind and let my imagination loose. I hovered in the chlorine water, miles from the surface, and suddenly it wasn’t chlorine at all but salt water. I was in the sea and amidst the dark shone the beautiful bright bioluminescence of the Jelly and Angler fish that swam as still as corpses. Then the darkness disappeared and my eyes were greeted with hues of violet, turquoise and saffron. I didn’t need to breathe. A pod of Orcas made their way calmly passed me, with the two smaller ones coming close to inspect this not-fish floating in the ocean before the clicks and higher pitched calls of their mother called them back to the pod ahead. I stare at them and felt a small amount of happiness before a very large feeling of dread. The sea became furious and red. The pod of Orcas fought with all their might to fight the battering rams of wave after wave. They’re separated and the male is flung up above the surface of the thrashing, frothing waves and tossed against each new hand that formed. It cries for help but the others are being pushed against the current. The last thing I hear of them are their shrill, mournful cries before being taken away by the current. I don’t need to breathe. The storm settles and the vehement reds become olive and chartreuse, algae surrounds me and clumsily tumbles over my skin and through my fingers and toes. It is gentle and kind. A thousand million hands gently guide me forward through the green haze and stillness of the ocean. As I do the sun shines its coruscating light and falls softly on the citron water and I can see all the way to the bottom. Small figures approach. Their backs are cylindrical and their fins barely visible, except for when the curtain parts from the small ripples made from the kicking of my feet. The turtles are two and they approach languidly, one, the larger, with a stick held in its mouth and the other, who was considerably smaller but wider, carried a doily on its back. Both become level with my eye line and blink slowly. I looked at their eyes and see a ghostly blue that is both calming and familiar. They look to be smiling in a both pleased and – once again – familiar way. The male, who was the larger, let go of the stick in his mouth and let it drop lazily into my right hand, I see now it is not a stick but a walking cane. The smaller female picks the doily on her back and watches as it tidily finds itself around my neck. They both blink in a slow nod, give a weak smile before flying through the green mist, upwards and towards the surface world. I don’t need to breathe. The world of colour disappears. Black tendrils envelope the surroundings like ink in water and I have returned to the world of the dark and I am worn out and weary. My heart pounds as strong and as infrequent as thunder. I am falling now and the water becomes cold, and in the cold I fall further and further and falling still, in an eternity seconds pass and I have found the bottom of the ocean. It isn’t the coarse sand I feel below my feet but hard and smooth material, like bone. I can feel the gentle brush of the sea weed and the small crustaceans rush away from the disturbance I have caused. I can’t breathe. Silence. And nothing but. The light had all gone and only the sensation of the gentle current of the Dead Sea remained. I could feel nothing else, and then nothing at all. Tired. So tired. I wasn’t breathing. Silence is followed by a sound, a resonating beat that thuds through the body and snares my attention. Light erupts and all the colours cascade into my mind with reds and greens and blues and yellows, each race through every corner of my mind. I need to… I feel the waves once again, but this time they are gentle; each like a soft hand waking a child. My back was laid on sand. It wasn’t coarse like the kind I knew but soft and inviting. I wanted to … I gasp, cough and splutter the sea water. My lungs burned with the remnants of the brine and I cough some more until they’re clear. I could breathe. The Kitchen remerges and I haven’t move a muscle. My face is damp but it is not from my voyage but from sweat. The coffee pot goes on standby. I hold myself for a second and regard my surroundings. I can see myself in the reflection of the glass cupboards. I can see our family photo when from when we all went on our last holiday to Greece. And I can see a photo of my Grandparents next to each other, smiling months before they passed away. Life’s an adventure Kid, my Grandad used to say. No, not an adventure. An Odyssey.
  15. I blinked and she disappeared, as did the room, and the surrounding area was nothing but inky darkness, that flowed slowly as if made of water or very thick mist. I blinked again and the door to the kitchen had reappeared. Inside the walls and the tiles of the floor were cracked and often, and the only light source was that of a street lamp that had surreptitiously placed itself in the space between the door and the kitchen table. It, like its environment, was in a state of disrepair and the egg shaped bulb that was tucked away behind the fractured glass waxed and waned. I’d be safe there, I told myself. Walking however was not as easy as it once was. Every step was as heavy as the next as if my shoes were filled with cement and my muscles had given in to atrophy. Each time i couldn’t be sure if the shadows for which my feet scraped against would be solid floor or, like the shows would have me perceive, be like water and with my heavy, useless limbs I would fall into the abyss that had surrounded me. It was the light, I told myself. The light would keep me safe. But with each arduous shift of my body the bulb of the derelict street lamp shrunk and the kitchen itself peeled more and more away. If I didn’t get there soon I would be lost. I cried and shouted to the room ahead of me, each time my voice was become more hoarse and monstrous. Fire burned through my veins and pressure filled my head causing blood to pour from my nose and ears. I was steps away one moment then was a league away the next, each time I would drag and drag my feet towards the ever fading light, often pulling my legs by the knees with my arms. I was closer now and my hand could just about touch the door frame. A small amount of hope filled my body enough to push myself harder and make that last step through the threshold. As my right foot was about to land, like the last step of an absurd marathon, the door frame spasmed and collapsed on itself leaving me on my knees in the black smoke of the place that was once her living room. Hot tears filled my eyes and poured from my face as I gave into a sob. My throat was too dry for me to cry out leaving me making sounds that were more akin to that of a croak. “I can’t do it”, I muttered through snot and the bullet-like tears, “I simply can’t”. A hand placed itself upon my shoulder, “Dee”, said a soft voice. I spun around, faster than I could have, and found my self on my knees in a brightly lit room with her in front of me. She smile a soft smile, the kind that never made you feel alone nor ever showed any indifference and, whilst crouching in front of me said quite simply, “You never have to do this alone”. The world returned. The tar that had enveloped me had evaporated and colour returned to the world. She helped me to my feet and kissed me softly. I didn’t let go.
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