I’ve been diagnosed and medicated for General Anxiety Disorder for approximately 5 years now. A relative sat me down and helped me list all my symptoms- many of which I had never noticed until she pointed them out to me, some of them were habits I had never thought to analyse. We filled an A4 page so I booked a medical assessment. Now here we are…
Whilst chatting away to my GP a lot of what I had considered to be my personality failings were suddenly making sense.
-The real reason I hated to go out in public and made excuses to cancel plans that I desperately wanted to carry out.
-Why I had to be perfectly made up to leave the house. Sometimes I wouldn’t go out at all because I couldn’t choose my clothes, I even missed major events such as Christmas parties and Wedding receptions.
-An explanation for the manic cleaning and tidying of my home. I got to the point it looked as if nobody lived in it and I had no time for anything else.
-The constant concern of not working hard enough to earn the wage I was being paid, resulting in me pushing my body past its limits and periodically suffering exhaustion.
The list went on and on..
The most surprising one for me was what I now call ‘that scarf thing’.
I used to wear a scarf or snood around my neck at all times. I’d been subconsciously doing it for years so that I could hold onto it with one hand whilst talking.
If I was feeling anxious or embarrassed I would hold the scarf slightly over my mouth mid conversation. In situations where scarves were unacceptable attire I would pull my sleeve over my hand and use that.
Looking back on it that behaviour seems extremely rude but everyone in my life just accepted it as a strange character quirk. I never even realised I was doing it. Once I’d recognised the scarf as a crutch I started wearing them less often and slowly broke the habit. These days you might catch me with my hand over my chin at times- but I like to think I just seem super interested in what you have to say rather than neurotic.
I’m still in the habit of wearing a hat or pair of sunglasses whenever I’m outside- It feels like a little shield, a barrier between myself and the unpredictable world. There’s nothing unusual about wearing a hat or sunnies outdoors though so I let myself have this silent crutch, it does me no harm.
Just understanding why I behave the way I do has helped me begin to forgive myself.
Perfectionism is a massive part of my anxiety, I strive to be the best in all situations. The best I CAN be should be enough, but it never is. My mind beats to a constant drum of you-can-do-better, try-harder, is-that-all-you’ve-got?
This isn’t only for the benefit of others, its for my own perception. I hold myself to unachievable expectations, and whilst I know it, I can’t stop it. I’ll keep my foot on the gas til my tank is empty, then mentally kick myself when I can no longer move.
If I’m not emotionally and physically exhausted by the time I fall asleep each day then I feel I haven’t made the most of my time. I will push myself until my body breaks down, then grudgingly recuperate for the minimum time possible -hating myself all the while- before forcing myself back up at the earliest opportunity and starting the process again.
The biggest problem with that is I also have ME CFS (a story for another post), so I have different physical limitations. I look around at other people my age and what they can achieve and my anxiety shouts back at me. YOU CAN DO BETTER. TRY HARDER. IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?
In my darkest moments I turn to the internet. The support I’ve seen people give eachother online in Twitter and blogging communities is unbelievable. Sometimes seeing people boost one another is enough to quiet my own negativity.
Never underestimate what a few words in a comment can mean to the people reading them- one minute of your day can make someone smile for hours afterward. There have been times a stranger online has made me feel better with one sentence, when everyone else around me has no idea what to say.
It’s taken years but I’ve finally come to accept my anxiety diagnosis. No matter how loud it shouts at me there’s always another voice in the background. The nice voice. The voice that says dont-listen-to-anxiety, your-best-is-enough, keep-going, take-a-break. These days I can turn up the nice voice til it’s loud enough to drown out my doubts, if and when that doesn’t work there’s a whole wide world out here and it’s filled with people who truly understand.