I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had anxiety in my life to a lesser or a greater degree. Anxiety has, at times, left me unable to eat solid foods, take routes to different places that don’t involve crossing road and has developed in to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that, at times, threatens to overwhelm my life.
I manage my anxiety though how well I do it varies from day to day. If I want to do something badly enough then I will do all I can to do it. What should be an enjoyable treat can often turn out to be disastrous and energy draining. Social functions where there are a lot of people I don’t know suck all my vivacity and the little bit of functioning sociability I do have runs away at a high speed.
I don’t believe that anxiety just happens. I think free floating anxiety is a myth and that all anxiety comes from something. We may not know what that something is and the origins can be locked in the past in an unforgotten incident but there is always something. Fears are passed on from generation to generation – we learn to fear from those who should be teaching us to be unafraid.
I check, double check, triple check and then check all over again when I’ve been cooking. On occasions my food has gone cold as I stand at the hob checking that the plates are off, that the socket is switched off and that it’s safe to leave the kitchen. This comes from two incidents that could have ended really badly. I have memory problems which are rather more than the usual human forgetfulness that comes with age. My memory difficulties are turbo charged by Bipolar Disorder. I forget to turn things on and can find myself eating at midnight instead of hours earlier because each time I went into the kitchen to cook something I forgot why I was there and the cooking just didn’t get done. These memory problems also mean that I forget to switch things off. I daren’t even think about cooking with gas because I really couldn’t guarantee not blowing myself up. I have started a chip pan fire because I didn’t turn the hob off when I’d finished cooking. I was lucky that the only damage was the soot that the smoke left and a couple of coats of paint made things look better but, had it happened just before bed time, I may not be here writing this blog now. I have never tried to fry chips since then. On another occasion I left a thick glass ashtray on an electric hob and switched it on. Luckily I wasn’t stood near it when it exploded. Shards of glass that had to be dug out of the ceiling would have, at the very least, left me badly scarred. I am obsessed and anxious about switching things off because I have seen what happens when I don’t.
Once I get out of the door there is a seemingly unstoppable routine of turning the door key, rattling the door and trying desperately to let go of the door handle. If someone is with me it’s easy not to do this because I reason that if I didn’t lock the door then the other person will remind me. I need reminding and being reminded gives me the confidence to ignore my anxiety and reclaim the time I waste. I have gone out and left the door unlocked more than once. The feeling of opening a door that hasn’t been locked and not knowing what you’re going to find is desperately dreadful. When you can’t remember if you locked the door or not to begin with it’s quite devastating.
Having got out of the flat brings the bigger fears that I find it harder to cope with. I have a fear of being knocked over by a car or a bus. I have been knocked down by a car and have had a few near misses so it’s an anxiety that has very deep roots. This fuels my anxiety about crossing even the quietest roads and since I’m the type of person who enjoys walking long distances then even the shortest walk has peaks and troughs of anxiety.
I don’t have many social skills so if I see somebody I know coming towards me I worry about what to say and how to say it. I talk too much at the best of times and my memory means that I can start a sentence and have no idea how to finish it. The anxiety of not being able to manage social situations is made many times worse by appearing to be a senile idiot with an IQ in minus figures.
I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and anxiety will only ever make it worse. The only thing I can remember with any certainty is where the easily accessible loos are in Bristol!
I won’t say I live a pretty decent life in spite of anxiety. I live a pretty decent life to spite anxiety. I take photographs every day. Time with my camera absorbs me and lets me take my hermitage with me wherever I go. It creates a safe space around me and, in a mindfulness kind of way, it keeps me in the moment and anxiety cannot take control if I live in the moment.
I continue to make plans for little trips and have managed to overcome the anxiety of being away from home and spend a few nights away from home a few days each year. This is a huge leap forward.
I hear about people who have anxiety at such a level that their lives are frozen by it and I’m glad I’m not like that but equally it is often intimated that I’m not really in the grip of anxiety because I do live a life. The difference is that I’ve learned to manage it. I’ve learned to choose to challenge my anxieties and have the experiences that I need to enrich my life. I’ve learned to medicate myself so that IBS is less of a problem and to take sleeping aids with me when I go away so I’m not awake worrying about what may be going on at home. I practice mindfulness and have done for many years and it is the one single thing that has enabled me to face challenges.
I fear, I am afraid but, and I’ve learned this the hard way, the only way to conquer fear is to be, at least temporarily, fearless.