Thursday, 6 February 2014

Anxiety Diaries | Time To Talk Day

Time To Change is a programme dedicated to breaking down mental health stigma, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Today marks Time To Talk Day, during which thousands of people are starting conversations about mental health, offering support and a friendly non-judgemental ear. With this in mind I thought I'd write up a special Anxiety Diaries post, touching on the mixed emotions I've been experiencing recently towards anxiety. Talking is so important when it comes to mental health, so don't be afraid to reach out and start a conversation, whether you suffer from a mental health condition yourself or know someone who does. It's #TimeToTalk

For the past few months I've been feeling ashamed, angry, irritated. I could barely bring myself to say the word 'depression' and I cringed every time I heard the word 'anxiety'. 

I didn't want to be associated with anxiety anymore. I didn't want anxiety to be associated with me anymore. It had ruined enough experiences in my past to make me angry with it, and the spark for my sudden strong anger was realising that not everyone is so receptive to hearing or speaking about mental health issues. Not everyone understands, and rather than accepting this and carrying on speaking about my experiences I decided this must mean I should be ashamed. I should shut the hell up about it. I should stop writing about it. 

Anxiety is a thief. Anxiety is a liar. It robs me of confidence and determination and it tells me I'm stupid, pathetic, incompetent. It tells me there's something wrong with me. It tells me I desperately need to change, that other people recognise I need to change and that I won't ever succeed until I change. I closed the door on acknowledging anxiety and decided it didn't exist anymore. I hated it, so I'd make it go away by refusing to think about it. 

Social situations began to exhaust me. 'Where are you working at the moment? 'When do you finish your degree?' Every question felt loaded. I began to panic about being asked anything about my life, which made me feel even angrier. 'Where are you going to live now that you're married?' 'What's your plan?' 'When are you going to have a baby?' Every time I'd scramble around for an answer I'd remember how anxiety had taken a wrecking ball to so many opportunities in the past, and I'd panic silently about how many opportunities it could destroy in the future. 

Ignoring anxiety felt like the best option. I was sick of it. I felt exhausted by it. I grew angrier. 

I've written a lot about anxiety generally in the past but I've never really pinpointed in detail what my anxiety is all about. I have work related anxiety which means I'm afraid of going to work, of holding down a job, of being in an office environment. I'm afraid of working under the direction of others, of being given too much independence, not enough independence. Of being bad at the job, good at the job, bored with the job, feeling trapped by the job. Of never reaching my potential, of never finding a 'vocation'. Of never being good enough or passionate enough about something. Of people thinking I'm incompetent, too quiet, pathetic. Sounds a little self-centred, right?! Anxiety can be quite the delusion generator! 

I worked as a Learning Support Assistant for four years from the ages of 19-23 and battled anxiety throughout. I'd panic that it wasn't the right role for me; that I couldn't discipline students properly; that teachers thought I was incompetent; that I was wasting my potential as I wasn't given enough freedom. I moved to a well paid role as a Careers Information Officer at a university last year and panic set in almost instantly. I felt overwhelmed with the workload, frustrated by being in an admin role, anxious about answering the phone every five minutes. I panicked that colleagues thought I was too shy, too quiet, not qualified enough. I felt as if I kept making a string of annoying mistakes. I felt permenantly embarrassed. 

Every evening for the first two or three weeks I came home and cried. I felt so, so sad and desperately missed my previous job. I began having panic attacks at home after work and during the day at work. My heart rate became permanently elevated, I had the shakes constantly and I would cry on and off throughout the day, always hidden in the toilets. I would clock watch constantly. Eventually my brain sort of disengaged and I couldn't concentrate on anything. I went to my doctor in tears and was signed off for two weeks. Two weeks turned into four, and then four turned into never coming back. 

I immediately threw myself into a new role as a Teaching Assistant in a primary school. Pretty much from the get-go the same anxious feelings returned, and I lasted little over a month. The kids were amazing, so sweet and engaging, but I felt useless, bored, frustrated, trapped, and as if other people thought I wasn't up to the job. I had a big panic attack on the way into work one morning and quit after being threatened with being fired for poor attendance. 

Urgh. I'm cringing as I type because I feel so embarrassed at how the last year or so played out. I'm worried it all sounds so self-indulgent and ridiculous. I really would like to return to the workplace now, after having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions and talking therapy but I'm still scared and I'm worried about how I'll feel when I get there. I applied for a Christmas job, scored an interview, and then didn't show up. I felt so angry with myself and so ashamed. Had I really made no progress over the past year? Was this really my life still? 

What if I can't cope? What if I feel so self-conscious and paranoid again? Or seem so shy and quiet and withdrawn? It's doubly frustrating because I'm really not actually that shy! Outside of work I'm pretty confident and assertive and articulate. Anxiety leaves me tongue tied which makes me feel even more angry with myself. And even when I recognise the truth behind fears, such as recognising that no job is forever and that actually, I'm not incompetent, and that worrying so much about finding a 'vocation' is exhausting, and that I really, really need an income, the physical symptoms of anxiety always seem to win. 

The worst part of anxiety is that it makes me sabotage paths to my one true dream and goal, which has always been to marry the love of my life and raise a family together. How can I possibly be a good wife or a mother if I can't hold down a job and bring in some sort of income? If I can't be an example to my children of someone who works hard? Thinking about this makes me feel so angry with myself. If I want a family so badly, why do I keep sabotaging myself?  

That's anxiety talking right there. I'll always be like this, I'll never have a job, I'll never have children, I'll never be a good wife or a good person. But, you know, anxiety can go fuck itself. On good days, days where I do my CBT homework and practice mindfulness and take things one step at a time, I can see something beyond anxiety and its beauty is what keeps me going. I see building a home with my husband, paying off my credit card bill and overdraft, gaining satisfaction from my job and raising children. I'm still working on how to get from here to there, but surely there's a way? There must be a way. There is a way and I'm the one who has to make it happen. 

 I'm looking into volunteering to get used to the workplace again, and I've referred myself for another course of CBT to tackle specific workplace anxiety. I'm developing two new blogs and pouring my heart into writing, and I've started keeping a diary again which is really helping me track my thoughts, behaviours and anxiety patterns. I've set myself the goal of doing one small thing a day, just one small thing when I'm feeling super anxious, to move me forwards. Yesterday I contacted my local IAPT team for information on further CBT sessions; today I'm developing my tarot website on Wordpress. Physical proof that I'm not in the same place as yesterday, as last week, last month, last year. 

I know I shouldn't be ashamed. So many people, too many people, fight anxiety and depression every day and there is nothing shameful about it. It is often a complicated, frustrating illness, but it can be overcome and I won't be in this situation forever. During good days, like today, I find strength in this and promise myself I am doing OK and making progress. I don't want to be so angry with myself anymore. If someone doesn't understand or has no interest in understanding, well, that isn't my problem, it's there's. Don't feel you should be silenced by stigma or ignorance. Sometimes people really don't understand or they feel uncomfortable for their own reasons. Encouraging conversations about mental health brings it out into the open and creates a safer, less threatening and less scary environment for everyone. 

 I haven't wanted to write an Anxiety Diaries post for a long time as I was determined that anxiety wasn't a part of my life anymore. But it is and that's something I'm slowly coming to terms with. It might be a part of my life forever, but that doesn't mean it will rule my life. There is no shame in talking about how you're feeling, or in asking a friend how they're feeling. I'm grateful for Time To Talk Day, as it's made me realise I don't need to be quite so angry, or quite so silent, anymore. 

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Find more information on Time To Talk Day here


  1. A lovely post and I can totally relate to a lot of what you have said. I've suffered with depression and anxiety for almost 6 years and I still struggle with it. It is a daily fight to be like "normal" people but I'm determined to not let it take a hold over my life and my ability to have a relationship and raise a family x x

  2. Oh my god I actually cried a little there...brilliant post and it really captures how crippling and intoxicating anxiety can be..but you are right it Does Not have to rule your life...Talking can be such an emotional release for pent up feelings. I honestly hope that you continue to move forward and wish you nothing but the best from life x

  3. This is such a brave post hun, well done for posting it, it has given me confidence to post mine. My anxiety is not work based but it has affected work in the past - how can you call in and say you cant come to work because you are afraid you might die? You just sound crazy! Love your blog and your openess about your experiences. Go You!!!!! xxx

  4. At time of writing this post you seem to have gotten your strength, which proves how strong you truly are. It is so difficult to talk about such issues. I hope that knowing you have, and have received such lovely comments as a result makes you realise that people aren't judging you and I wish you every luck in the world.


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