I feel like it’s been a long time that I sat down and wrote a post that was actually about anxiety or mental illness. I did open up a bit in my vlogs a couple of weeks ago, but I feel like that’s not the same as taking the time to carefully craft a blog post and communicate my thoughts in a tidier way than vlogging affords. I was on my way to bed last night and was thinking about my blog and what I might choose to write about this week. I was also thinking about the fact that I’ve been getting quite anxious at night recently, experiencing dizziness, blurred vision and shallow breathing – all the warning signs of an impending panic attack without the attack itself. Even though a panic attack rarely occurs, this state is pretty unpleasant in itself. When this feeling passed last night, I began to feel incredibly annoyed. So I’m going to have a little grumble now, about a side of anxiety I don’t think people are often open about: how goddamn inconvenient it is.
The following is a run-down of some of the ways in which anxiety manages to be a bloody fucking nuisance.
Anxiety gets in the way of my social life.
I honest-to-God cannot count the times now that anxiety has gotten in the way of plans I’ve made with my friends. There have been numerous occasions when I’ve declined invitations to parties, gettogethers, outings and even innocuous coffee dates because I’ve felt too anxious to leave my room. There have also been numerous times when I’ve made plans with people only to cancel on the day because I’ve been freaking out about it and feel too scared to go. Sometimes I manage to go to things despite myself, only to have to leave early on in the piece because of that irrational but unshakable feeling that everything’s going to horribly horribly wrong. It’s never because I don’t want to see these people – otherwise, I wouldn’t call them my friends. In fact, I’d love to always be able to keep to plans and never have to cancel on people. But thanks to my mental illness, I’ve missed out on loads of memory-making and ever-important socializing.
This happens nowhere near as often as it did before, in 2013 and 2014 when I was really unwell, but unfortunately it’s still a thing that occurs more often than I’d like. I hate thinking about all the fun times I’ve missed out on because I was too anxious to go. Whenever it happens, it’s incredibly annoying and frustrating.
Anxiety gets in the way of my studies.
I always worry about this sounding like a lame-ass excuse for bunking on my uni work, but it’s true. Sometimes, particularly during the more stressful times of the year when everything seems to be due at once, my anxiety flares up and I can’t focus on my work. (And may I point out that this is of course the time when I least need to be prevented from doing my studies, so for anyone reading this who still thinks this is a pathetic excuse for a cop-out, you can suck my dick.) This is no simply an emotional thing or some kind of mental block. Anxiety manifests itself in physical ways: in lightheadedness, breathlessness, sweating palms and shaking hands, and a feeling like I’m about to pass out, all of which make it nearly impossible to focus on studying.
For the majority of my first year of university, even though I didn’t know why at the time, I was so anxious that I felt almost perpetually on the brink of fainting. I felt lightheaded, dizzy and unfocused, and I spent a lot of time lying on my bed for fear moving around would exacerbate those feelings. I struggled to do readings, attend lectures and tutorials, and perform to the best of my ability in assignments and exams. This wasn’t because I suck at uni (this year and last year, the majority of my grades have been in the A range). It was because I was just too bloody anxious, and as a result, my grades suffered terribly. I managed to scrape a pass in all of my courses, but not without failing a few assessments. It’s really annoying when, as a normally high-performing student who loves studying, your anxiety gets in the way of you achieving your potential. Anxiety is a massive academic cockblock.
Anxiety gets in the way of my employment opportunities.
This is something that I hate hate hate, but some jobs I’ve worked (for enormous retail corporations) have triggered my anxiety to such a degree that I became physically sick. I’m not going to mention the place I was working here, although those of you close to me will know which retail company I mean. This is not a commentary on the way I was treated as an employee; rather, it’s a commentary on the way certain jobs are simply not suitable for someone who suffers with anxiety.
I worked this job over the summer between first and second year of university. I was a Christmas casual, which meant I only worked there for around six to eight weeks, but it also meant my hours were pretty all over the place and I worked some crazy busy shifts, especially as it drew closer to Christmas Day. Sometimes I’d get lucky and work a 9 to 5 day, but most of the time I was working weirdo hours like 1pm til 11pm, and then I’d start at 9 the next morning. That’s not a lot of fun for any person, let alone someone with a brain that loves latching onto worst-case scenarios and constantly playing out all the ways that things can go balls up.
Part of my job involved being on door greet, which basically meant standing at the entrance to the shop and saying hello to all the customers that came in, while also making sure no-one was walking out of the store with stuff they hadn’t paid for. I remember I’d always arrive to those shifts feeling sick to my stomach, sure I was going to pass out or throw up and get fired on the spot. I remember trying to muster up a smile that didn’t look forced and hide the tremor in my voice while saying, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ and ‘Have a great day!’ to what felt like millions of strangers. The sense of relief I felt when I clocked off was dampened by the feeling of doom that came with knowing I’d get to do it all over again the next day.
I am honestly glad I had that job, because it gave me some valuable life experience I wouldn’t have otherwise. At the same time, though, I hope I never have to work a job like that again. Unfortunately for me, those are the kinds of summer jobs that tend to be going for students, which is making my current task of job-hunting a difficult and nerve-wracking process. I wish I could just push down the anxious feeling and get down to it like so many of my friends seem to be able to, cos I need that cash dollar dollar for my next year of studying. But m8, it’s no easy task.
Anxiety makes itself so difficult to explain.
A lot of the time it’s really really hard trying to tell people what my anxiety is making me feel, and why it does that. Part of it is the social stigma surrounding mental illnesses and part of it is the nature of the disorder itself. But oftentimes a lot of the following is involved when I’m trying to talk about my personal experiences with anxiety:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Mincing words
Which is why I’m always so grateful for the people who really get it. I’m very lucky to have a few close friends, some of whom suffer anxiety themselves and some of whom don’t, who are totally sympathetic and are amazing at making me feel understood. I always feel so relieved when I get to talk to someone who makes me feel comfortable with admitting that I’m feeling unwell.
My disorder means I get to watch all my non-crazy friends and family do so effortlessly the things that I struggle with.
I try really hard not to, but sometimes it’s really difficult not to feel jealous watching people do the things that I really struggle with. Sometimes I get sad and angry – not at them, but at my illness, because it’s a further reminder that things that should be easy for me just aren’t. I’m talking about things like going out at night, being at big noisy gatherings, being around lots of strangers, travelling to new places and so on. Not that these things are always difficult for me – in fact, nowadays, they’re a lot less difficult than they used to be and the times when I can do them with no anxiety at all are ever-increasing. But still, what’s a huge triumph for me is a complete non-issue for most people. And that kinda sucks.
Even things that normal people find difficult, I often find extra taxing. I don’t really know anyone who enjoys stress and stressful situations, but most people can, y’know, cope pretty well. I remember earlier in the year, during one of the more stressful times of the uni semester, watching all my friends go through the shittiness of multiple deadlines and giant research papers, and so on. They were having a shit time, because they were stressed. I was also having a shit time because I was stressed, and stress is an anxiety trigger, and there were times when I’d end up in a mess of panic and unable to deal with the things that were stressing me out. Stressed and an irrational degree of anxious (I’m not going to finish this assignment which means I’m not going to pass this course which means I’m not going to get my degree which means I won’t be able to get a job which means I’ll end up homeless in the cold and die a slow unpleasant death of hypothermia, malnourishment and rabies), what a combination.
Anxiety makes the littlest, most mundane everyday tasks feel like you’re living in a horror movie.
It’s always funny when I sit down and write these kinds of posts when I’m in a good space, because I write things like the above bolded title and think, ‘wait, really? That can’t be a thing.’ When I’m good, I forget what it’s like really to be that unwell. I wonder if I made up all those occasions where seeing dirty dishes piled up on the kitchen bench would be enough to make me panic. Or when cooking dinner would make me feel short of breath. Or when I started crying at the thought of having to leave the flat. Or when I’d have a panic attack lying in bed at night when there was literally no reason for me to feel unsafe. Even to me now, those all seem too ridiculous to be true.
But nope! They all happened! To paraphrase something Luke once said to me (and I think I published it in a previous post somewhere): with an anxiety disorder, the fear is real but the danger is not. In those situations, my brain perceived a dangerous situation where there wasn’t one, and triggered my fight-or-flight response. Boom! Excessive, irrational anxiety kicks in. Which means that, at times, it can be so incredibly difficult to do even the most basic tasks. And that’s bloody inconvenient if you actually want to be a functional human being and lead a meaningful life.
But it’s not all bad.
I think I’ve mentioned this on here before, but in a weird way, my anxiety disorder has not only been a curse but also a blessing. So many good things have happened to me in the past three years that would have never happened were it not for my anxiety and all the awful experiences it gave me. I believe that something can be gained of any experience, no matter how horrible. This is certainly true even of the anxiety and panic attacks that have caused so many terrible times for me.
For example, I’ve made more than one new friendship because of my anxiety. Last year, my then-boyfriend introduced me to a girl he knew from one of his classes at uni who was having similar struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. She and I have become close friends and I now consider her one of my favourite people. Another very good friendship started when a boy read a story of mine that was published in The Dominion Post at the start of the year, and got in touch with me because of it. That story would never have been written were it not for my need to process the alienating experience of having a mental illness.
That same story also led to a win in a national writing competition and making the shortlist of an Australian-New Zealand writing competition, the latter of which saw me travel to Melbourne (!!! I’m still not over this!!!) for the awards ceremony. Both of these things were A Pretty Big Deal for me.
There’s more, too. Living with anxiety and panic attacks has made me stronger and more resilient than I ever would have been without them. Neither the anxiety nor panic attacks have disappeared completely from my life, and it’s entirely possible they never will, but I am growing ever more capable of dealing with the things they put me through. I’m better at helping myself through the hard times, and I’m also in a position where I can offer my own tips and advice to other people who might also be struggling with these things. My anxiety has shown me that I’m a warrior, and so far my success rate of overcoming anxiety attacks and panic attacks has been 100%. That’s something to be proud of.
Basically what I appear to have said here is, ‘fuck you anxiety, but also thank you as well I guess’. It’s a confusing existence, mates.