Anxiety No.02: A Week In My Head

So, I thought I’d document what I consider to be a bad week regarding my anxiety. It was actually a recent week, and it’s fresh in my mind, so I feel like you’ll get a thorough account of my thought process, behaviour, and coping mechanisms. I know that I said in my previous anxiety post that I’d work my way forward chronologically. However, sometimes the writing urge happens, and it’s time to type, so here I am. I’m not going to apologise for any of the following; I’m making a conscious effort to stop doing that, and it’s very freeing…

If I could sum up the week I’m writing about in short; I’d say that it was saturated with anxious thoughts, peppered with friendship, help, and advice, with a drop of bravery regarding my comfort zone. But, this wouldn’t be a very interesting read if I was to leave it there, so I’ll continue (with as much clarity as I can muster). When I’m out the other side of a challenging mental health period, it feels a little blurry, and I often find it easier to look back on things, weeks, or even months, down the line. I thought I’d try something a little different this time though, especially as some of the emotions are still whirling around my head every now and again, like an annoying fly.

I woke up on Monday morning, and knew I was in for a tough time (it’s Friday now by the way). Before I’d even opened my eyes, I felt nauseous. My chest felt tight. My mind was racing; hundreds of unrelated thoughts which all concluded that I was shit, and nobody liked me, and I was failing at life, were all having a “we hate you Fay” get-together. Meanies. I had slept for 7 hours, but it felt like I’d had no sleep at all; I was already drained, and the thought of my busy week ahead was overwhelming. I managed to sit up, and in that time, I had come to the conclusion that about four worst-case-scenarios would happen by Friday. Heart palpitations and clammy hands accompanied me to the kitchen where I made my tea. By the time I was adding milk; I was losing my paid work, my husband found me unbearable and wanted a divorce, and all my friends and family were over my bullshit, and were ready to cut me out of their lives.

I felt panicked as I sat at my desk, I started to type; however, when your brain is racing and full of personal attacks on yourself, it’s really hard to write uplifting content. I emailed my boss to explain that I’d have to miss my deadline, thinking it might ease the pressure of my day a little. It didn’t. My nausea got worse, I was feverish and panicky, and I even managed to twist his kind words into something passive aggressive, veiled in fake niceties. Even the smiley face emoji at the end of his message seemed like it was masking annoyance and his regret that I worked for the company. Self-mind torture is commonplace when anxiety hits, and I was already at the Tudor/medieval level of pain infliction.

I was hit with a migraine and had to try and sleep it off for a few hours. Although my headache had left by the time I’d woken up; I still felt nauseous, and then the guilt and anguish about not having completed any work for the day hit me. Freelancing isn’t always the best choice for those with anxiety, especially as there’s no sick pay or paid holiday time, so I’m very aware of how much every hour costs, especially when I don’t feel like I’m utilising them effectively. I managed a shower; this is where I usually have a little breakdown, and it mainly involves crying under the water because I’m frustrated, worried, and everything feels like a struggle. By the afternoon, my anxiety was still pummelling me; it was non-specific, other than things felt bad. I guess the feelings epitomised the sense of impending doom. I had to head out in the evening with my husband to babysit for a few hours; I almost didn’t go, and told him I was unable to several times, before changing my mind again.

Anxiety makes my body very tired because my mind is racing non stop. I was anxious about what would happen if I did venture out, but equally dreading staying in on my own with my thoughts. So, I went. Even arriving to see close family and those I love, makes me anxious on bad days. I ended up micro-analysing everything; looks, body language, what I’d said, what they’d said. Anxiety can truly suck any joy out of what are meant to be lovely moments, it taints many memories for me, and simple, straitforward situations, like babysitting, can be an ordeal inside my head. I went to bed as soon as I got in. I told my husband that I felt like I was getting ill, but I just meant that I felt anxious, and was riddled with it from head to toes.

Tuesday started early; I was up at 5:30am to try and claw back some of the work I’d missed the day before. I managed to type for a few hours, but my head started pounding; I was again convinced that everyone hated me (yes, it’s really that non-specific) and bad things were coming. God, typing this stuff is so difficult sometimes, but also I can’t help but laugh at myself: “Bad things are coming”. What bad things? Who bloody knows?! At the time, it’s all so consuming, so much so that I actually vomited twice on Tuesday (nothing like a feeling in the pit of your stomach, until it literally comes up and out). After the second time I’d been sick, and hours of silent torture; I decided to reach out to a friend. I needed some words. I couldn’t bear the thought of meeting up or ringing anyone, because they might say no, and I’d have annoyed them, and ruined their day, and they would hate me forever (welcome to my brain guys). WhatsApp was a safe option. And the response was what just what I needed…

I was so glad I’d sent that message, euphoric even. For an hour or so anyway. It was someone I trusted, and who knew my mental health history. I am so lucky I have people who I can be honest with, and who I know will message me just what I need to hear. I managed to get some more work done, I had a bath, and my dinner. I didn’t feel sick for the rest of the day, but I was exhausted, and the feelings were all still there, they had just died down a little. I went to bed that night with chest pains and palpitations though, I sobbed quietly, and fell asleep.

Wednesday arrived with a wallop. The morning was a struggle; much the same as Tuesday, but some of the weight had been lifted. I was having waves of worry and icky feelings, rather than a constant sense of doom. Then, the following message came though…

What a boost that was. I re-read the messages from yesterday too, and cried some happy tears. I was super tired and drained, but I knew I was coming out the other side. The rest of the day was fine. “Fine” with anxiety, for me, is a day where I still have sickness and the pangs of extreme worry and irrational fear, but I’m able to carry on with everything, maybe just a little slower than normal. I didn’t sleep well again; my heart started racing when I thought about a launch party I’d said I would attend the following night. It was the same as the babysitting situation regarding what I’d feel if I didn’t go (and let everyone down) vs what I’d have to deal with if I did go (including the aftermath of analysing every detail). I managed to drift off around 2:30 am; it felt like my brain had run out of imaginary worst-case-scenarios.

My alarm went off at 6 am on Thursday, and, I felt okay. I had a slow start because I felt exhausted. I started my work and sipped tea; I knew the little thoughts of dread that were popping in and out of my mind would increase throughout the day, so I made the most of being able to function.

Do I go to the event later? If I go; will something terrible and awful happen that will mean I can never leave the apartment again? What if I say the wrong thing to someone? What am I even going to wear? Surely, everyone will judge me (for reasons I haven’t even thought of yet). That’s it! I’m staying in. It’s safer.

Oh god, I can’t stay in! What if I disappoint everyone? People are going to sit and pick me apart and discuss all my flaws. I’ll miss out on something crucial, and will regret it forever more. People will judge me (for more of those reasons that don’t even exist). I’d better bloody go.

I showered and dressed. Obviously, I cried intermittently throughout the process. I started and stopped doing my makeup about 8 times. My mascara was the decider; applying mascara is a major commitment, so I told myself that once it was on; it meant that I had to go. A little push of encouragement from my husband and friend Fiona, also helped. I knew that Laura would be there, who was very aware of my anguish, so I took a deep breath and went. Arriving was a total blur, and always is; I have to get in the venue and find a corner, without panicking, even though I’m pretty sure that people can see my heart pumping out of my chest (I know, they can’t). Normally, a drink will calm me down a bit, but I was off the booze, so anxiety immersion was at its peak. I managed not to pass out, have a panic attack, or need to leave in a rush. I found familiar faces, and actually had a lovely time, even if I wasn’t fully relaxed. I’m glad I didn’t drink, as this often leads to anxiety doom the following morning, even if I’ve been out with others who were equally inebriated. My senses were heightened as I left; I always feel like I’m being watched, or judged, or something horrendous is about to happen on my way out. The non-anxious and rational part of my brain (it’s there, I promise) is telling me off for being ridiculous. I’ve actually triggered a panic attack in the past through telling myself off in my head (welcome to the exhaustion folks).

I went to bed analysing a few things I’d said, some people’s reactions and body language, and had a cringe at myself in general, but I managed to get to sleep, which is a pretty successful night for me, on a challenging week regarding my anxiety.

Wooooohoooooo! I’d made it to Friday. I was meeting a friend to head to a social media cafe, where there’d be other bloggers and those in the know from around Birmingham. I left the apartment with an average amount of nervousness in my stomach, but my head was in a good place. I read a message sent from my friend yesterday, regarding said outing…

I knew I needed a coffee, and that I was looking forward to a great Good Friday ahead. Even though I felt a bit battered and bruised from the previous few days; not over-analysing every single detail, and not worrying about imaginary scenarios, felt absolutely glorious. The physical effects are always noticeable when I’ve been through a week like this; my chest stops feeling tight, my shoulders and arms don’t ache from tensing, my jaw relaxes because I’m not clenching my teeth anymore, and, I’m less tearful. Anxiety for me is definitely just as physically draining as it is mentally, so the relief I feel is the best.

I then headed to Yorks at IKON with Fiona, we co-worked, and I started this blog. I’m now finishing it, as I sit in an apartment in Malcesine, Italy, after a week of joy. I’d be lying if I said that anxious thoughts weren’t started to affect my relaxed state after a week away, but, I’ll deal with them on the plane home.

Mental health advice is often so easy to dish out and take on board when you’re not in a dark place. It’s finding the strength to put plans into action when the anxious bastard does turn up. The best thing I can encourage anyone to do, is to reach out. Those messages I shared got me through that week. No question. Having anyone you trust to be open with is such a privilege, and I feel so lucky to have those who don’t judge. If you have anyone like that; send a message/call/leave a voice note. Reach out to an internet friend, who you know has similar challenges. I will read messages from friends months after they sent them, because I know they’ll still feel the same, and they can lift me out of the dark pit. Here are a couple more from a close friend, just to reiterate how much I value those sources of help and relief…

I hope that’s been insightful, or helpful, or, at least a little interesting.

Peace, love, and WhatsApp, Fay x

I’d also like to pop in and say that I realise that not everyone is at a stage where they feel they can open up or talk to anyone about their struggles. And, that is totally understandable; I’ve been there too. Focus on you, and your most basic needs, so that you can find a tiny bit more strength over time. Fiona Thomas has written an article for the Metro here, on not being able or ready to talk about your mental health (I’m in there too). I know it seems like I keep pushing opening-up onto those who read my posts, but that’s only because I’m currently benefitting from doing so. On the flip side, and for balance; I also understand that it’s not always possible.

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