Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Emma Madge, 34, in the United Kingdom. She works in finance and says she has had different forms of anxiety since childhood.
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Growing up in my family, we were not very happy. There were lots of arguments and I think I felt that I had to stop them. This need to control quickly turned into obsession. I remember laying on the landing upstairs trying to listen through the floor to hear if my parents were fighting. No physical fights, just lots and lots of unhappiness and arguments.
As I grew up this obsession with trying to control or prevent certain situations spread to other scenarios and worries. This anxiety was always present, and would then come out in different ways. Sometimes it would be a feeling of general anxiety, sometimes overwhelming guilt for no reason, or sometimes fear of what might happen to people around me.
In my early 20s my anxieties began to severely affect my lifestyle and relationships. I struggled to keep friendships, couldn’t relax enough to enjoy time with my partner, and became very anxious to the point of panic attacks at work. At that point I left a nursing degree, and was diagnosed with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
When I am anxious, I will often have little ticks and movements that help me to concentrate. This concentration is to try and complete whatever daily activity I am doing while “ignoring” the anxiety. This can be clicking, humming (a lot), jiggly legs, and tapping my foot or fingers. On bad days, where anxiety can’t be ignored, I sleep most of the day. I will regularly have pain throughout my body on those days, and be shaky when I am awake. I mostly retreat on these days, back to bed, as my body will be tired and feel run-down.
Mentally I find my anxiety very draining. When anxious, I find it very hard to concentrate as I have a million anxious thoughts circling in my mind that stop me from being able to fully concentrate on one task. This means I am often confused, overwhelmed and mentally exhausted. It can make me feel stressed and useless, and ultimately lead to panic attacks, and what I refer to as “shutdowns.” This is where I am so mentally overwhelmed that it is almost like my mind wants to turn off, and I become so tired that I can fall asleep anywhere.
At its worst, anxiety will completely consume me for the day. This usually means a day in bed, as if I try to get up and carry out even basic daily tasks the anxiety will affect my OCD, which in turn heightens my anxiety. It’s a circle that I feel I can’t get out of that day. I’ll be very tearful, and my appetite will either be massive or none at all. The only relief I can get is sleep. Sometimes, that is perfect as I am so mentally exhausted that I’ll fall into a deep sleep. But sometimes my anxiety will push me the other way and there is no way I’ll be sleeping that day. These are the days where panic attacks happen, and it feels like they are continuous. I’ll spend my time trying to distract myself with TV, audiobooks, pacing and music. Nothing will stop the anxiety, but if it can stave off another panic attack it helps.
My go-to coping mechanisms have changed over the years. Now they mainly focus on prevention, with me trying to recognize triggers or early signs of anxiety, and using distraction, coping and outright confrontation of what is making me anxious. Why is it making me anxious? Can I stop it? Can I change what it is about it that is making me anxious? Distraction techniques for me include moving to a different activity, changing location; even just moving room can help, or taking a break to do something fun. One of the best coping mechanisms when I haven’t fully been able to calm the anxiety is talking. My husband really helps with this. I’ll tell him I am feeling anxious and he is normally very good at knowing if it’s something I need to talk about or if it’s better to take my mind off of it. He doesn’t know how much he prevents panic attacks on occasions.
Anxiety is not always rational, but that doesn’t mean the person is crazy or stupid. When I am anxious I am often fully aware of how irrational or unnecessary the anxiety is, I just can’t choose to stop it, or “pull myself together.” It would be amazing if I could, and honestly, if I could I would never have anxiety again. If people could understand that no matter how irrational or unnecessary my anxiety can be at that moment, it is also compulsive and uncontrollable at times, so please don’t get frustrated with me. Or if you can’t help being frustrated, don’t take it out on me, believe me, I am already frustrated enough with myself.
I also wish that more people suffering from anxiety knew that it is okay to have the anxiety, and to not hide it. You are not bad, crazy, ill or weak. It is normal and it is more prevalent than we think. There are many, many different ways of coping with or managing your anxiety. Some ways will not be for you, but don’t give up, as you will find the ways that work for who you are.