The last time I felt anxious was just this morning. The catalyst for this concern? A phone call.
I had to make a call to a really nice guy (whom I know quite well) about some potential freelance work (at a place I have worked several times before). And yet, because I wasn’t sure how the conversation would pan out and the fact it had been awhile since we last spoke – it became ‘A Thing.’
It started with a small voice in my head, like a very persistent passive-aggressive friend ‘Oh so you’re speaking to Nick today? But what if there isn’t any work available after all. Emb-arrassing! Or what if he has? You haven’t worked in a while – are you really up to it? And you haven’t even sorted childcare yet? It’s a long day – is it really fair on your daughter . . ?”
As the irrational train of thought hurtled on, the physical symptoms kicked in; my breathing got shorter and quicker and a confused cloudiness descended in my head as the voice got louder. My stomach started turning in on itself and my mind, in a desperate bid to pull down the shutters and make it stop, began asking “Wouldn’t it be easier to just not call, to let it slide and avoid the aggro?’
I resisted and managed to talk myself down. I rang him. And of course it was absolutely fine. It was more the fear of the act than the act itself.
But it is bloody exhausting. And frustrating. Surely as midult I should be more confident? I know more ‘stuff’. All my life experiences should make me a more strident version of my younger self. But I am increasingly feeling the opposite. I don’t have the swagger and naivety of youth, moreover I am conscious of time being finite – of getting it right and the importance of actions and consequences which feed into the unrelenting unease.
I learnt from an early age about life’s curve balls. In my teens I came home from school one day and my mum had left. Later in my 20s my step mum died suddenly followed by my dad the year after. However these harsh life lessons didn’t make me fretful or controlling, quite the opposite, I realised that ‘shit happens’ and to deal with it was to roll with it.
But this laissez faire attitude began to dissipate when I began to accumulate responsibility in the form of mortgages, career progression. Then at 40 I had a baby and my anxiety extended to worrying about another human. Not just any human, my favourite being on the planet.
I know, however, I am fortunate. My anxiety is low grade, it isn’t extreme, and I am able to function. It doesn’t prohibit me leaving house, manifest itself in panic attacks nor has it spiralled into depressed. But nevertheless it does affect my everyday, trying to erode my confidence and derail my ability to see things and deal with them in a rationale way.
My anxiety tends to fall into 4 categories :
- A concern about what I haven’t done – usually in the form of negative comparisons to other people.
- The stress of something I am about to do – invariably scenarios outside my comfort zone
- A nervousness of the unknown – the big stuff ; life, the future, the evolution of the world
- The illogical irrational day to day concerns of pretty much everything else from holiday packing to missing a birthday.
If depression is ‘the black dog’ then I think anxiety is the ‘white rabbit’ running around in a constant state of high alert, trying to avoid what could be round the corner.
But I am fighting being frightened of life. I remind myself I cannot direct how the future pans out but I can try to regain power over how I deal with it.
So I try to tackle the fears head on. I try to play anxiety at its own game by embracing its suggestions and asking. “So, what if you are right, what is the worst that can happen? Taking it to the extreme removes the catastrophizing and hyperbole and helps me rationally talk through (in my own head) how I would best manage that scenario or accept there will be times when control is out of my hands.
Being physical also seems to help my psychological state. Running really clears my head. I am lucky enough to live by the sea in Brighton and there is something about being on the edge of the island looking out into the horizon which gives you a unique sense of perspective.
The joker in my pack though and the key to keeping the fear under control is being able to talk openly about it. To not have to hide it away. I am very thankful that I have some fabulous and fantastically flawed friends who know me and all ‘my perfect imperfections’ and are happy to share stories about their own demons and untidy lives. In this Insta perfect world just being allowed to feel okay about not being okay gives me one less thing to worry about.