Friday, 9 October 2009

let's talk about anxiety...

Grr.. this blog is about tackling this thing head on by being open about it.

I mean, everyone experiences some form of anxiety or stress in their lives. Those feelings we get before a job interview or an exam. The anxiety we feel with major life events such as changing jobs, illness, even positive things like getting married or buying a house. It's part of life. A little stress or anxiety can help me prepare or cope with something, or perform better.

But, I want to talk about anxiety when it gets worse than butterflies and a sleepless night. When it goes on affecting someone day after day and where the symptoms are so severe it disrupts everyday life.

According to the organisation No Panic 18% of the UK population suffer from severe anxiety or a phobic disorder. That sounds like a high number of people having a really hard time of it.

Yesterday, as a way to focus and try and deal with what's going on for me at the moment, I visited various internet sites for people with anxiety disorders or experiencing panic attacks. Mind seems to be the best website for information about everything to do with mental health and support available in the UK. They have an amazing number of information leaflets about every kind of mental health problem you can imagine. It's clear, easy to use, very practical, and thorough.

It's not the first time, I've been on their website. I've used it as a social worker to get information to help people I work with. I've used it when people I love have been struggling, and also for me.

Understanding is the first step. I'm sure someone said that to me once. I've got to a point now where I think 'OK, so I understand, so what next?'

Perhaps that sounds a little short-sighted, but I'm paraphrasing about four years of my life, where I've learnt that understanding is one thing and being able to put your understanding into practice is a much harder step to take. It's complicated. It involves trying to undo a lifetime of negative coping strategies and find new ones. It involves progress mostly, but then sometimes a bit of a crash when things get bad.

I think there's still a lot of stigma about any kind of mental health problem. Yes, GPs and other professionals are much more aware and understanding, there are services out there, and people are able to be more open about it, particularly around depression.

But, what happens when someone is shaking so much they find it had to focus on a conversation. Or when someone is in such a panic they think they are going to die/have a heart attack/collapse. Or when someone starts behaving in ways that are a little 'weird' or 'bizarre'. Some people are not good at being around people who are like that, as if it might be catching or maybe it just freaks people out a bit or they don't understand what it's all about.

It can be hard for people (me) to tell others about it and ask for a bit of help. There is a fear of how others will react, not wanting to put on other people, guilt that this is happening AGAIN, or thinking, well maybe it's not so bad this time, maybe if I just keep on living my normal life it will get better and then nobody will need to know.

So, it becomes a private, isolated experience, and more frightening because of that.

There are things in life over which we have no control. These events or situations are an anxious person's nightmare. So things like a car or something in the house breaking down, like a disturbance at a neighbour's house, like going out to a social event, can become the cause of huge panic or distress that impacts on other areas of a person's life.

Anxiety can be beaten, I know this. But in the midst of it, it's enough just to get out of bed, eat breakfast, and sit in bed writing a blog that attempts to make rational sense of a very irrational set of experiences.

Later, I am going to go for a walk, hopefully see a friend, eat better than I did yesterday, and see if I can get a good night's sleep. This would be an achievement. It would mean that I am doing a little better than I did the rest of the week. Other things don't matter (the state of the house, work, achieving things, writing). Just the basics...


Ruth said...

Your post is very open and frank. Very brave. I think the stigma of mental health is still the biggest one going. I have personal experience of what you're talking about and I admire your openess. I think this itself is massive progress and not to be downplayed. I hope you reach your personal targets for today :)

Tania Hershman said...

I understand. I understand this all too well. I know it. And yes, understanding what is going on doesn't mean you can control it, you can tell your body: Ok, no need to be anxious. It doesn't seem to make sense, does it? All I can say is that learning to do EFT had and continues to have a miraculous effect on my anxiety, in part I am sure because I now feel I have a tool, I have something I can actually do about it, which takes 2 mins and involves no pain and very little training. Good for you for raising this, for talking about it. 18% of the population means something is going very wrong, somewhere. If more of us talked about it, surely that would help??

TOM J VOWLER said...

Brave post. Have you looked at meditation? Not in any spiritual sense; I'm only interested in the physiological (and hence psychological) effects it engenders, which can be profuse. It's not for everyone, and does require a daily commitment, but can become a real force in your life.

Megan said...

Saluting your honesty and courage and wishing you so well xx

annie clarkson said...

Thanks so much for your messages, Megan, Tom, Tania, Ruth... and those who emailed me privately, it helps.

Tania, I recently learnt EFT, and have been tap tapping this week. It does help, not completely, but it helps.

Meditation is something I will look into... I'm not sure I'm very good at being still and clearing my mind, but that's probably why it might be good for me.

Writing about it publicly helped in a big way, my appetite has started to come back, and I feel the best I have all week, which is great!

Small steps...

sonia said...

Thank you so much for your post. I suffer from panic attacks. I just get the beginning of them now rather than whole ones. I would loosen my clothing -take off any extra layers or go outside to cool myself down. or sometimes make a cup of tea - I'd just do something really mundane to distract myself. I sit quietly and think about people that might need help and then just look at a tree or the sky for a while. Just sitting still helps for me or swimming or going for a walk but I guess trying different things and seeing what works for you.i agree little steps are the best. i guess the anxiety is a build up that needs release and maybe that what makes me write.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Annie, this is so brave of you, and seems to me that by doing this you are taking some power into your own hands. I used to suffer a lot from anxiety, and the main component of it was a feeling of powerlessness, and my experience was like Sonia's in that it felt like some kind of build-up that needed release. Writing certainly provided that release. Another component for me was a sense of being alone with my feelings, and that's another thing that writing does - joins you to others. I don't think at the time I could ever have written publicly about it as you have done, and I'm so glad that you feel it has been calming and empowering to do so.

anniemacguire said...

Bravo to you Annie! I always think that by 'saying' it out loud the spectre of anxiety/depression is diminished somewhat. It's not talking about it that feeds it.

I've had panic attacks in supermarkets, and have had to abandon trolleys (one way of budgeting!). I've had panic attacks that have convinced me I'm having a heart attack - and they are no joke.


Elizabeth Baines said...

PS and yes, it CAN be beaten. I never suffer anxiety now - or not in any exaggerated, non-useful way - and I would once never have thought that possible. You are taking the right steps to beat it too.

Mariacristina said...

I have suffered from anxiety and panic fear off and on since my second son was born. I've had to take medication, and go to talk therapy. Both worked for me. Also, I practice yoga. Your walk sounds lovely.

The sleepless nights add up, and make the whole thing worse. We need to get enough sleep. Be well, Annie. Keep writing your sumptuous poems and short shorts.

christine (

Anonymous said...

Annie, well done for writing about this. I was fascinated to read about an anxiety that is very different from the one I've had to contend with for most of my life. And yet, your decision - to be open about it - is one that I've finally chosen too, and I'm sure it will be helpful. Good luck! ~Miriam

Rachel Fox said...

I wrote a big old post about anxiety/panic a while back (here). It's painful and stupid and it feels like you should be able to control it but at times you just can't! Plus the harder you try to cover it it the worse it gets.
It's taken me years to get it under any kind of control and I have tried all kinds of things. I had some very good hypnosis earlier this year and that was very helpful.
All the best to you.

annie clarkson said...

Thanks again for everyone's comments, and also people sharing their experiences. I didn't realise there were so many of you who have similar stories... it's a tough old world.. andI so appreciate your encouragement and words of support, it helps so much, honestly, it really does!

Jez said...


I'm only just getting to grips with things after an excessively long period of depression and anxiety. I'm trying my hand at gardening, too! In my back garden in Prestwich, though - I haven't been brave enough to take on an allotment.

I will continue to read your blog, both for the literature and the gardening tips!