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This Is What It's Like to Have Anxiety as a Mental Health Professional

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“It’s been 10 minutes past his usual waking-up time, he still has not called, what if something happened to him in his sleep?”

“It has been 15 minutes since I messaged her and she has not replied, is she fine? What if she has met with an accident?

These are the worries I wrestle with, every single day, each time I am unable to correspond with someone I consider very proximate. Imagine having these thoughts every single time, each day and feeling your heart beat so hard it feels like it will just fall out of your body. Imagine feeling a mind-numbing dread each time your partner is on the road, fearing they will be in an accident. Imagine spending each moment of their transit time praying for their safety. Imagine being hypervigilant and constantly checking the arrival status of the flight your parent is on, even though it is still two hours to their scheduled arrival. Imagine berating yourself for not obsessing over the well-being of your close friend, partner or parent because of the ridiculously misplaced belief that somehow your overthinking will ensure their safety. Imagine constantly thinking about the worst-case scenarios, about the potential loss of the parent every single day and wanting to stop them from leaving your sight for even an hour.

Imagine crying for hours every day because of these worries. Imagine feeling completely powerless and helpless due to the knowledge you cannot control what happens to anyone regardless of how much you worry. Imagine being anxious each time you are invited to a social event because you are already worried about not fitting in and making a fool of yourself. And also, please imagine feeling absolutely ridiculous while sharing these fears with anyone and hence keeping them all to yourself and struggling in constant silence, with only your anxious thoughts for your company.

Yeah, this is what living with anxiety looks like. I live with anxiety every single day and witness myself losing the battle against it each day. I can get anxious over anything and everything, right from a television show to a wedding invite.

The fear of losing my loved ones, is a debilitating fear which fills me with hopelessness. But no matter how hard I try to combat it, the fear does not fade or diminish, let alone disappear. The anxiety I experience, when I focus on this potent fear, is so powerful it leaves me unable to focus on the task at hand completely distracts me. It is only tears, time and plenty of self-talk that helps me soothe myself and help myself believe these are imaginary situations I am delving in. Yet, I feel the need to constantly think and rethink these horrible, anxiety-provoking situations whether I am awake or asleep; due to the misplaced belief that doing so will prepare me for any eventuality.

In fact, oftentimes, I find myself wondering if it would be better to lose someone very dear so at least I would have a real situation to worry about, so at least my pain would seem “legitimate” and so, magically, other losses would be kept at bay.

It would be surprising to know I am a mental health professional myself and yet struggle with significant amounts of anxiety. I have found myself judging myself quite a bit for the same. I know my training as a psychologist does not mean I cannot experience these feelings and battle this condition. Yet, the stigma of being unable to deal with a mental health problem, while being one of the rare few equipped to do so, is difficult to tackle.

Being a mental health professional also does not imply I have not internalized those very stigmatizing beliefs about mental health problems most people in this country and this world internalize as they grow up. Being a mental health professional also does not mean therapy is affordable for me or it would be easy for me to have a conversation with my parents about seeing a therapist. In fact, being a mental health professional means I cannot go to a lot of therapists because I know them or fear meeting them in a professional context. Being a mental health professional also means not being able to make the full use of therapy because of constantly believing I know better than my therapists and thus judging them and making their lives difficult at every juncture.

Being a mental health professional means I am constantly under the impression other people’s mental health problems are much more significant that mine, and hence I shouldn’t be taking away the precious time of a therapist. And yes, being a mental health professional also means I know what I could probably do to help myself and yet being unable to do much due to being at the mercy of anxiety.

I have a supportive family, a very loving partner and some close, caring friends. Yet, my partner is the only person I confide in about my continuing distress because of the unconditional love and acceptance he has shown every single day. I fear if I share my anxieties with anyone else, I will be judged. Even in conversations with my partner, I jokingly call myself the “nut job” because of the shame I experience each time I ask him for his whereabouts. I fear if I share my anxiety with anyone else, I will be given a dose of reassurance and positivity which will only make me feel more misunderstood. I fear the extent of my anxiety will not be understood and it will be trivialized. And most importantly, I fear even if I share with people, they will not be there for me, will not check in on me and will add to my long list of disappointing experiences.

The cost of living like with anxiety without sharing my fears with people or seeking professional help is I feel alone most of the time. Yes, I have sought therapy in the past and it has helped, yet I do not have the financial wherewithal to afford it currently. And yes, I have shared my anxiety with a few friends time and again, yet being someone who does not know how to ask for help, it stops me from being able to do so every day. Make no mistake, I am still able to do well at professional engagements and from the outside, you would never be able to guess the state of my mental health. In fact, my anxiety prepares me for crises and makes me a fast worker (except for the times when it leads me to endlessly procrastinate and take ages to begin working on something). However, internally I am living in the gilded cage of my own making and it is quite tough to constantly live in this cage.

Unsplash image by Pradeep Ranjan

Originally published: December 17, 2019
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