I’m putting a content warning on this post because it touches on some sensitive topics such as self harm and death. Please only read ahead if you feel able to do so.
So, it turns out I am pretty anxious.
Despite being a mental health nurse and having an awareness of how anxiety presents and what it feels like, I didn’t recognise any of the symptoms in myself.
I’m outgoing, I enjoy public speaking, I travel alone. I come across as confident. I’m not worried in crowds or of going to the shop alone or in social situations. I don’t have panic attacks. I didn’t really fit my idea of what anxiety looked like.
I also didn’t know that what I was thinking and feeling wasn’t normal, so I didn’t really talk about it. When I started to, it became clear that the way I think about things isn’t the way ‘normal’ people think.
I didn’t realise that other people weren’t constantly preoccupied with death as I have been since I was little, or that they don’t have intrusive thoughts about hurting themselves. These thoughts are not the same as urges to self harm or kill myself, I very much don’t want to act on them, but I can see them clearly in my mind. I am constantly playing out scenarios in my head of me being diagnosed with a terminal illness or being murdered or killing myself.
I have a constant fear of failure and am convinced that at some point the rug of all my achievements is going to be pulled out from under me and my whole life will collapse.
I worry that my friends don’t really like me and that my boyfriend finds me annoying and think about which one of us will die first and how the other one will cope. I think that people don’t think I’m good at my job. I fixate on whether my openness about my mental health will be misconstrued as attention seeking and that people are talking about me behind my back.
Bizarrely, I also have quite an intense phobia of pregnancy and childbirth so despite not having any plans to fall pregnant, I still think about how awful it is and how many things can go wrong with it pretty much every day, to the point where I can spend hours at a time researching all the worst case scenarios of being pregnant and giving birth.
Therapy had taught me that my body is pretty disconnected from my mind in that I don’t physically feel emotions very often. This is another reason I didn’t realise I was anxious. I don’t get clammy or a fast pulse or a sick feeling in my stomach. I don’t get that rush of adrenaline or shake or feel tearful. None of those things happen, so I couldn’t possibly anxious, right? It transpires that because of this, I need to pay extra attention to my thoughts, because they give me cues about how I am feeling that my body just doesn’t give me.
It’s been interesting to discover this about myself and certainly helpful in that I now have an awareness of it and therefore can develop ways to cope with it. But in some ways focussing on these thoughts has also made them more intense and difficult to manage.
Learning this has also made me feel a bit silly – how can this literally be my job and yet I was so oblivious? But I have always found it easier to read other people more than myself.
To be clear, I have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder nor am I diagnosing myself. I don’t think I have anxiety, but I am anxious a lot of the time.
So where do I go from here? I start using the skills that years of treatment have given me. I start being more honest. I challenge those thoughts at every opportunity.
I fight them with everything I have.