My first blog entry was on October 21st of 2015. A further 427 entries have followed, and most of them have flowed from brain to keyboard freely and with pleasure. They have focused my mind and given me the satisfaction of having created something. This 428th entry is entirely different. It concerns me. Frightens me. Makes me, in fact, feel anxious. Those of you who read to the end of this entry will soon discover the huge irony in this. It is now half past midnight, and I am defying my anxieties, because this entry is not only written for myself, but for other people. I am writing it with open arms of friendship and support, and dearly hope that it will bring a modicum of comfort to someone, anyone out there who feels as I do.
I live with something called GAD, which stands for ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’. It moved in some time ago, but my GP only told me its name quite recently. It is a mental health condition in which the person experiencing it feels bombarded by anxious or worrying thoughts, to the extent that it affects their mental and even physical well being. Like many illnesses it varies in severity, and can present as anything from mild anxiety (feeling ‘a little on edge’) to ‘crisis’ (EPIC anxiety of a dreadful nature). It is thought to have several causes, which range from a chemical imbalance in the brain to a delayed reaction to a traumatic past experiences, and can occur at any time. I have been a ‘worrier’ and an over thinker for as long as I can remember, but the unwelcome visitor known as GAD arrived for me three years ago.
GAD decided to make my acquaintance in 2015, and has made itself at home, despite my varied and repeated attempts to tell it I don’t want to be friends anymore. This revelation may come as a surprise to some of my friends and family, or perhaps not. Maybe I have shown it a little? Maybe not. You see, like many GAD sufferers I have become very skilled at concealing my anxiety, and very rarely talk about it. Which is actually at the core of why I am writing this now. After being plagued by anxiety and worry for as long as I can remember, I have decided to be open about it. In fact, I genuinely feel that I have a duty to vocalize it, so that it may reach others who suffer in silence. To anybody who is currently feeling ‘anxious and anonymous’ I say to you, loud and clear…YOU ARE NOT ALONE. IN ANY SENSE. Guess what? There’s at least two of us!
I am also writing this for the friends, colleagues and families of people who are anxious, whether those co-workers, nearest and dearest etc have chosen to share their anxiety or not. Awareness and understanding are essential. All I can offer you is a description of what GAD does to me, in a bid to explain something which delights in robbing calm explanation. I truly feel that mental health should be openly and positively discussed by everybody, be they experiencing it or witnessing it. Here are my thoughts, written with love and openness.
I can only describe my anxiety as a presence. It feels tangible, like a cold wind at my neck or a sudden shiver or muscle spasm. It invades my thoughts. At times, it is akin to a nameless dread behind me. Just out of vision. Do you recall turning off the light at the bottom of the stairs as a child, then bounding up? That feeling that something is behind you? That is my GAD. At other times, it wafts in to my thought processes like the ghost of Christmas Past, seeping out from the corners of my vision. That isn’t fun either. Occasionally, it takes the form of an incubus, crushing my chest, making my heart thump and my legs twitch. Burying me in quicksand. All of this happens in my brain, which then sends signals to my body that jerk my flabby self around like a marionette. It is horrible. Enough.
So what can be done? How can GAD be confronted? Well whether you are reading as an anxious person or know, or suspect you know, of a person living with anxiety, I recommend this. BE KIND. Counter the anxiety with things that make you/them happy. Feed your brain/ their brain with positive signals, whatever they may be. For what it’s worth, here are my three antidotes to GAD. I want to practice what I preach, and end this on a positive note. Before I do though, I want to sincerely thank Laura Evans, who has given me the courage to share my experiences. It was reading something that she wrote that has spurred me to share this. Thank you Laura.
THINGS THAT ARE BAD FOR THE GAD
- Focus on something that brings you pleasure, and enjoy it. Some call this mindfulness. For me, it is going outside. Today, GAD arrived with its familiar mental greeting of ‘SURPRISE, FUCKFACE!’ , and I fended it off with a discovery in the garden. In the dank, dead branch-stump of my apple tree (bear with me), some crocuses (croci?) were sprouting. I found much solace and hope in this image. I’m going to check in on them from now on. How htey got there I have no idea. Perhaps the squirrels who have stripped bare my hazelnut tree fancied a garden. Maybe they have GAD?
2. Be kind to your body. For me, this means avoiding alcohol and sleeping sensibly. More and more I find that booze and sleep-deprivation fuel my GAD. Beer and screen-time may work as temporary distraction, but are counter-productive in the long run. I’m spending 2018 as a teetotaler, and trying to leave phone and computer both downstairs, turning instead to a book to calm my thoughts. My side of the bed now looks less like a beeping, humming intensive care bed, and more like a Japanese library. After just 29 days, I feel a lot calmer for it.
3. Find a symbol/comforter/memory inducer for when anxiety strikes. My wristwatch is the exact colour of Cornish waves , and when my GAD farts in my face, I look at that blue colour and it soothes me. It is a simple yet effective way of resetting my brain, and seems to become more effective the more I do it. It evokes the memories and experiences I have had in water, which I have always loved. It also reminds me that any wave of anxiety will pass. Time is a healer, and GAD flows and fluctuates like a tide. Things get better.
I will sign off with a plea. Please, if you feel comfortable with doing so, then share these words. They are written to be read, in the hope that they will provide a little solace. If nothing else, then they might give a person some quick distraction. Who knows, they may even inspire someone else to share their experiences, as Laura’s have inspired me. Farewell, and be kind.
Copyright Tom Tide 2018