Churchill called it his “black dog”. Others talk about “the darkness”. Others don’t talk about it all. Whatever people do to handle their anxiety or depression, one thing is clear; it is intrusive. It is everywhere. It follows you wherever you go. It can eat into every aspect of your life and at times render you almost paralysed with fear; exhausted from worry; physically sick to your stomach.
I’ve had a relatively uneventful few weeks as my anxiety – something I now realise has been with me for as long as I can remember, I just didn’t know it – has been keeping its heads down. I take some credit for that low profile, with my successful management of it through a combination of quality time with my girls, well-balanced days of work and life, exercise, rest, reading, music/podcasts and good organisation. Part of my essential coping strategies – as I have written about here before – is the ability to create enough variety in my week to keep me stimulated and engaged but not to much to feel over-stretched. This last few days, it has moved from the wings, onto the stage. Why? What has happened this week? What has changed?
As so often, it isn’t one thing and, as so often, it is something new or extreme that can push the usual coping mechanisms to breaking point or beyond. I’ve had a little more than usual work on – including starting my teaching work at Liverpool John Moores University – hadn’t exercised as much as I would have liked due to poor weather and the slightly increased workload – and haven’t slept as well as I would have liked. That in part is due to a lively three year old who has decided that between 05:00 and 05:20 is the best time to wake this week and partly due to some restless sleeping, probably linked to the other other factors I’ve mentioned. My tiredness has meant I haven’t read my books the way I like to – and so on. The small things can snowball if not managed.
But the catalyst this week – the new kid on the block – which has shifted things – is physical. A lingering sore throat and general feeling of not 100%-ness (nothing more serious than that) that has had me worried. I’ve been worried to the point of going to the doctors today, who thankfully tells me all is fine.
The worry about my throat – as many people with anxiety will tell you – is both rational (my throat hurts) and irrational (this must be the first symptoms of throat cancer) and, this combined with my day to day anxiety which is generally well-managed, produces a heavy burden which if not checked can get out of control. My slightly higher than normal anxiety this week coupled with new worries over my impending death (I joke, but only a little) has made for a tough few days. Racing heart. Sweats. Nausea. Tiredness. None of it on its own terrible but together it has dominated too many of my hours this week – an omnipresence I could have done without.
But happily, I write this as The Greater Intruder is returning to his place in the chorus – his walk-on part – away from the limelight. The combination of increased awareness of what is happening (I am much better now as seeing the signs and intervening); some reassurance from my GP on the state of throat (and blood pressure ; “beautiful”); an attempt to turbo-charge my coping strategies (a good walk, some time listening to The Three Tenors and a lie-in helped today) and most importantly for me the chance to talk about it with my amazing wife and to know how much she loves me, all helps to get things back on track.
Two or three years ago I wouldn’t have written about this. At that time I didn’t have the understanding of it or the appreciation of what it was – I lived in denial and ignorance – and I would have feared what others would have thought. That has changed. The world around me feels a kinder, more understanding place when it comes to mental health and I am a better-informed, active participant in working at my wellbeing every day. That feels good, even if I am not always able to intervene in time to stop things in time. The progress I have made is significant and feels me with hope.
Just as there are no single causes of my anxiety, there are no single solutions. It takes – as Mr Churchill may have said – blood, sweat and tears.
Photo is taken from the BBC; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15033046 – it’s a Getty Image