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How I Explain What's Going on With My Anxiety

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Baking and cake decorating calm me. I don’t know why. I didn’t do it prior to my “implosion” last year, yet it is without a doubt my calming technique.

Sadly I know there have been comments by people questioning how I can do all my baking and set up BuBakes when I am “sick,” and to those people, I can only say that they perhaps don’t understand the kind of “sick” I am. That’s absolutely fine — I didn’t understand it before, and I still can’t fully get to grips with it now.

That’s exactly why I want to try to articulate some of what I experience. This is not an attempt to preach, to educate or to self-promote. It is simply a step for me as I aim to do my bit to reduce the stigma around mental health.

I will try to keep it succinct, relevant and clear. I just hope this gives an insight into the ways my anxiety has affected me over the past 12 months.

It is important to remember anxiety is not one-size-fits-all; people have different triggers, ways of coping and struggles. These do not always make sense, and they cannot necessarily be pinpointed. I still can’t speak to someone I know on the phone without it becoming a real ordeal, yet I can go to a foreign country and speak to a sales assistant there. Go figure. The following is all purely my experience, and while there are similarities between people I would never profess to be speaking on behalf of all those who experience anxiety.

Here goes, some things that are going on in there…

1. It’s exhausting just “being.”

My mind is concocting 100 possible scenarios for every passing moment and they all seem to need processing. It’s like cramming for an exam and trying to work through textbooks full of information all the time. Not just for a few hours — we are talking about every waking moment. No matter what.

2. When told not to worry about something, that isn’t actually an option.

Logically I may know it’s not worth worrying about, but that doesn’t change my feelings. Embellishing on this point — there is no logic. This is torture for someone who likes things to be black and white. Until now I have rarely dealt with gray, let alone a whole spectrum ranging from charcoal to silver, or mercury to light black.

An example of this irrational worrying was when I was sitting in a Starbucks recently. I knew, when I chose to leave, it was highly unlikely I would slip over, trip over a bag, fall through the door and get outside to find someone waiting for me with a gun — all as a pigeon shat on me. However, even though I knew this, I did not feel this. The fear I had was gripping, as though it were a guaranteed series of events. Knowing and feeling are not connected for me at the moment. Frustratingly, this means I know they aren’t connected, but I can’t do anything with this knowledge to regulate my feelings.

3. While I am great at playing devil’s advocate, please don’t assume I’m negative.

Yes, I may not be able to stop myself seeing many negative outcomes, but that doesn’t mean I am a pessimist. In fact, I always try to be optimistic and strive to help my friends see and achieve the positive, and I am incredibly grateful for everything I have.

4. “Friendship” is so much more than a word.

I am floored by how amazing some people in my life are. I know they don’t all fully “get” what is going on with me, yet they love the “me” behind all this confusion.

Recently in Vegas, I had a “bad day”. Even looking at our room door left me shaking and in tears. I was pretty freaked out myself, so I can only imagine how my friend felt. Not only was she faced with a crying incomprehensible wreck, but also she was on holiday and this inexplicable situation was stopping the two of us going out. This friend did the best thing possible — she just sat and held me, then she tucked me up and ventured downstairs to the shop to buy us snacks. What she may never understand is the real comfort was that I knew she didn’t expect or need an explanation. She just let me be.

The knowledge there are people like her in my life is the single greatest comfort I have. This also brings trust to a new level with them, meaning when they say it will be OK I am able to blindly believe it. I may be able to argue against them with examples and facts to the contrary of what they say (devil’s advocate striking again!) but with this select few, I am able to accept they must be right.

5. Sometimes I am still a badass!

I’ve always been of the “grow up and get over it” mindset, which I have discovered doesn’t mesh well with anxiety. It’s simply not possible. Really. It’s not. I tried – and I used to be so good at it! That said, I do occasionally have moments when “Grrr Liz” strikes.

On Monday I went to a networking meeting for the first time. I. Was. Terrified.

Rather than try and put up a front, I tackled the meeting as myself — I opened up about my anxiety at the same time as introducing my business, and I found people accepting both of me and what I was doing. I couldn’t have asked for a better or nicer group of people. The support and inspiration I found was above anything I could have expected; I have received more messages of support and encouragement since the meeting, and I am delighted I went.

When I left I was shaking, and I know, when I go to the next meeting, I’ll be dreading it. This is because my anxiety will heighten. Bigger than this knowledge is the fact I also know that while I may always struggle in social situations, it doesn’t mean I have to avoid them forever.

Accepting who I am and what my boundaries are is something I have struggled with before, and the fact I am learning to do so now is badass enough in itself.

6. I have had to accept there is no shelf life to my situation.

There are good days and bad days. Heck, there are good hours and bad hours. Sadly I can go for a lovely meal with Mr. BuBakes, have a wonderful evening with him, and then go to bed and lay awake for hours wondering if it was all a smoke screen for the fact he actually hates who I am.

The only way I can think to explain this is to compare it to the morning after a heavy night. Imagine the following…

It’s 11.30 a.m. and you think you have gotten away with not feeling after-effects. You’ve gone into town for a walk and a cuppa, and just as you get to your table with your coffee a wave of nausea sweeps over you. You have no choice but to concentrate solely on not being sick, and you can feel yourself starting to sweat. You know you are nodding blankly at the person talking to you, and all you can think is whether you can make it home or not — and how to excuse yourself.

That feeling of “how on Earth did I think I had gotten away with it” is similar to my thinking “how did I think I was going to have a good day that would last”. Although you know you will be OK again eventually, you can’t feel in any part of your body or soul that the hangover will ever end.

It must be a frustrating thing for those around me, and every part of me thinks that they must be bored of me and my bad days by now. It makes it very scary to tell someone if it is a “bad day”, just in case that might become the last straw for him or her.

7. I don’t believe people with anxiety deserve some sort of pat on the back for having “it.”

It is not heroic to have a condition; what is important is to do what people do all over the world in so many different situations, and make the absolute best of what you have.

Acknowledge limitations, but don’t allow an illness to limit your potential. Adjust your focus to accept factors in your life and then keep going.

8. If someone with anxiety asks you for help then that’s a huge compliment.

In my case, not only am I ridiculously proud, stubborn and afraid of failure, but also I fear that — if I were to ask someone for help — they would feel obliged to help me or listen to me. They may be bored and wishing I’d shut up … you can see my train of thought gathering momentum here. If someone has reached out to you then be proud – you really are trusted.

9. I have felt anxious before; that is not the same as having this anxiety.

It’s natural to feel anxious about something bad that could happen, but it is not the same when you are anxious about multiple unlikely events at once, and remember this is the case all the time.

I liken this to a moment you almost have a car bump/step into a road when you shouldn’t. You gasp and it’s like you actually feel your heart jump. That “jumping” feeling doesn’t go away for me, I am constantly in that moment of “gasp.”

10. This is not a choice, an easy way out, laziness or a way to get attention.

It saddens and pains me to have to even point this out.

There are so many other things I could say — I do worry I am boring you all though. I guess I would just say that, if you know someone who is struggling with anxiety, this is not a be-all and end-all guide. Just know the fact you may not be able to fully understand their situation doesn’t mean you can’t help them deal with it. Perhaps seeing if any of these points ring true could be a way to open communication with them.

If you life with anxiety and you have any ways in which it affects you that you think others should be aware of, then do please share them if you feel happy to do so. My interest in the condition reaches far beyond my situation, and I would be honored if you would give me an insight into your battles.

Thanks for reading, and take care everyone.

Bu xx

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Unsplash photo via Cassidy Kelley

Originally published: April 20, 2017
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