It’s hard to explain how you know, but you just do. You wake up and know you have a visitor with you for the day. I refrain from giving that visitor a nametag with a negative connotation (albeit tempting) because that is not the way I would treat anyone in my inner circle and your mental health is well and truly in your inner circle.
My visitor’s name is Irene. A name bestowed upon my anxiety by my (then) Mr 9 as we took turns in naming our temporary visitors who took up uninvited residency in our brains from time to time. (1.)
Fast forward 4 years – Irene and Boris (Mr 9’s visitor) don’t visit so much anymore and if they do, that’s ok. We’ve learnt to invite them in and sit with their presence, reassured by the notion that more often than not, they are only here for a short term stay.
We have worked hard to get to this place, to change our way of living and to lead a richer, more purposeful and connected life. It has paid dividends, returning copious amounts of love & happiness. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the world’s current state hadn’t played some havoc with our (mostly my) mental state.
Without the public voice we give to mental well-being, people risk suffering in silent isolation.
I’d like to turn the volume up on that voice.
Anxiety provokes fearful thoughts and we must remember, thoughts are not real.
A few that come to mind; “Is it only me?”, “What can I do about this?”, “What is wrong with me?”, “This is unfair, why me?”, “I’m broken, there is nothing I can do”, “Why do I feel like this?”, “How do I make it stop?”
All of us have the ability to move fearful thoughts to courageous management strategies if we or our loved ones recognise help is required. Anxiety is manageable, liveable and if I reflect on how it manifests, I would even go so far to say that sometimes it can be of great benefit.
If you want a risk assessment on anything in life or business, find you friend with anxiety – this is what our brains are wired to do. Trust me!
Full disclosure, the work to get to a place where you accept and manage an anxiety diagnosis isn’t easy. Like any relationship, it requires commitment, hard work and support.
Believe me, it is worth it.
I am a physically healthy – the strongest I have ever been, professionally successful, mother of one. Anxiety can happen to anyone – 1 in 8 women, 1 in 10 men (2.). It doesn’t discriminate.
Without the self-awareness, strategies & support crew (headed by Jo) I now hold close, the days I’m about to describe would end very differently.
Sunday 5th April
I just know. It’s waking up and feeling what I can only describe as irritated and insular. It might be as small as a clenched jaw, but it’s there. A niggling irritation over nothing in particular that starts pinging around in my head. My knee jerk reaction is to silence it. To gain control and distract myself in the hope it will disappear, but that’s a flawed strategy. Given I’ve been here before, I’m acutely aware that distraction, like avoidance, will only make it louder.
In my mind, there is a growing inability to focus on anything outside of my own head.
I become hypersensitive to “messy noise”. Loud or layered sounds become the enemy. A phone notification, a screechy You-Tube voice on the top of people talking, on the top of a blaring TV or a loud radio are like waving a red flag at a bull. I find myself demanding quiet on the outside, to silence the screaming inside my head.
What do I want? I don’t know. Hang on. Yes, peace. Calm. Still. That is what I want, but how?
“What is making me feel like this?” I ask myself in the hope of trying to find that still oasis I crave. I don’t know.
The words are starting to fly around my head without any sensical context. Just words, pinging around like pin balls in an arcade machine. They don’t even make sentences most of the time. It’s like there is a radio in your head and the stations are being flicked through so rapidly you can’t make out what any announcer is saying.
The inertia from the pinging words evolves into “cyclones” like an ominous weather pattern. They are moving so fast I can’t grab onto any word to cement my thoughts or to answer the question – “What is making me feel like this?”
I am starting to feel trapped inside of my head. It hurts. I need to get out.
Today, “I need bananas”, (I don’t really) “I’ll go to the local market”. The outside world offers little relief.
People are awkward. 1.5m social distancing is the new normal and somehow I need to navigate a narrow supermarket aisle. The walls are closing in. It’s too hard. I shuffle out sideways avoiding any person’s gaze which isn’t hard, everyone seems to be doing the same.
I contemplate “Is this who we are now?”. No eye contact, no smiling. Treating each other as though we have the plague. Hang on – that’s not half wrong. It’s exactly what we are trying to avoid, catching this wretched virus. Up yours COVID-19.
My heart rate quickens as does my breath as I make a dash for home, feeling the tears starting to well up in my eyes.
Stop. Drop my anchor.
Remove the outside noise. Close my eyes. Breathe.
What would Jo say?
Don’t fight it, accept what is happening. These are only thoughts. They are not real, nor do they define me. They will pass but for now, Irene is in the house for the day. Go on, invite her in, see what happens.
I sit in isolation, outside in silence surrounded by nature. There is something about greenery, the sound of birds & the fresh smells that have the ability to slow the world down & pull me into the present.
Breathe. In for four, hold for two, out for four. One minute, five minutes, ten minutes. It not only slows the heart, it slows the brain, synchronising the two into a manageable rhythm.
Today I’ll wipe the slate clean and expect nothing of myself. A little of investment in each of my treasure chests – exercise for my physical benefit, reading for my mental fitness, connecting for my emotional well-being and if I’m up for it, I’ll write. To fuel my spirit with purpose and create something I can give, without expectation of return.
If this day had happened 4 years ago, I would have put the foot down hard on the accelerator, programmed the robot to do repetitive work in copious amounts and disconnected myself from the world. It would have compromised every part of my world and it did.
I am now grateful for the reset in my life. For those who recognised before I did, that I needed help. It has made me more resilient, self-aware and opened my eyes to the value of one of the simplest treasures in life – our spirit.
In the midst of this current environment of self-isolation, all of us can choose to be generous in some way. To connect how we can, to offer what we have and to create purposeful meaning to share with those who need it most.
Let’s not quarantine our spirit. Those of us with anxiety are counting on it.
Good night Irene.
Sitcheff, Peta (2019) How Does a Family Recover From a Parent’s Burnout Experience? www.ThriveGlobal.com
Cross, Mark (2020) ANXIETY Harper Collins