For years being anxious was the absolute bane of my life. It was like having a really annoying gatecrasher turn up to completely ruin your party. At times it was soul destroying, frightening and lonely. On my dark days when I would have continuous panic attacks I thought I was losing my mind or that I was dying from a deadly disease. I rallied against it, hating every trembling moment. I wallowed in self pity, cursing the shit hand that fate had dealt me. Why is this happening to me? Why can’t it just go away? I’ll do anything to just make it stop! But feeling sorry for myself or entering a bargaining plea got me absolutely nowhere, in fact it just made the symptoms worse.
It took some time but eventually I realised that by accepting the anxiety and understanding how it works I was able to take away its power. Instead of being scared of it, I could control it. Through diet, exercise and mindfulness I was able to reign it in, and I started to see the positives. After all, it was part of who I am, so I needed to learn to live with it. Anxiety and panic attacks can be truly awful, but there are some benefits.
For me, having an excess supply of cortisol (for that’s all anxiety is), means that I am on the ball, especially in the mornings. I get things done. Having a 2 year old, running a business (and I’ve just taken on a second job), keeping a house going with everything it entails and with no help with childcare means that every second of my day is accounted for. From the moment I wake up (which is usually pre-6am thanks to a lively toddler) I am working. Even when the dreaded 3pm slump rolls around after we’ve been out and I am dropping off my feet, I use that time to either send work emails, catch up on my correspondence, write a blog post or do some research for my new job.
2. Health & Fitness
After coming off citalopram a couple of years ago, I now manage my anxiety through diet and exercise. I know that if I stop eating well and working out, I will go downhill. I exercise at home in the mornings before I have breakfast (before the sun came up during the winter), and even on the days when I really just can’t be bothered, my anxiety pushes me to do it. It’s the same with my diet. Each week I plan our meals, and I always make sure I eat a load of fruit & veg each day. Oily fish is always on our menu. Not only have I pretty much eliminated my panic attacks I’ve lost nearly 2 stone, and it means that my family eat well too.
3. Broadening horizons
At the start of my anxiety journey when the panic attacks were at their height and I was in complete turmoil, I never took on board all the advice I was given…JUST GIVE ME THE DRUGS FFS! I practically laughed when I read about mindfulness – what a load of shite! But then I went to a guided meditation class a few years ago and it completely changed my life. At the end I almost cried…I had been searching for this for years. Mindfulness comes naturally to me now, it makes so much sense. I take comfort in the fact that I can actually physically alter my state of mind just by breathing and taking some time out. I would never have known about this if it wasn’t for being anxious.
I can sense danger from a mile away. I think all parents develop this skill as soon as their baby is born, but being anxious means I am hyper aware. Every time Molly has a temperature I check for a suspicious rash, I never take my eyes off her for a second when we are out and about, and I am wary of every stranger that we encounter. It probably makes me sound quite paranoid but being super anxious means that I can foresee a million potentially hazardous situations in a split second. I never let it hold Molly back though, she runs, climbs and falls over just as kids should do.
5. I know my limits
This might also come with age, but I know when enough is enough now. This applies to work, parenting or a night out. When I feel that I can’t take anymore I stop and ask for help. Nothing is worth sacrificing your mental health over. I know that alcohol is a big trigger for my anxiety, and the more I have the worse I will feel the day after. Sometimes it’s worth it, like when I haven’t seen my friends for months, but I no longer feel the need to have a bottle or two of wine over the weekend.
Being anxious means I like to have things in order so as I know where I am. I regularly de-clutter my house, keep my paperwork in files and stay on top of appointments. I am never late for anything! I’m sure OCD and anxiety go hand in hand. John often tells the story of the time when I came out of hospital after quite a major operation and crawled off the sofa to put all the tins in the cupboard the right way up after he’d been shopping. Yes really!
It’s a well known fact that creative people such as actors, comedians and musicians are more susceptible to mental illness. Stephen Fry for example, who suffers with bipolar disorder, has said that, although he hates the depressive side of his illness, he gets a buzz out of the manic side:
“It’s tormented me all my life with the deepest of depressions while giving me the energy and creativity that perhaps has made my career”
Creativity and anxiety use the same parts of the brain so channel it! When I was really suffering with post-natal anxiety after Molly was born I began making picture frames, and then started my blog a little while later. It has changed my life and given me something to focus on.
If there’s one thing that having a mental health problem has made me, it’s STRONG. I’m sure most people who have been through similar will say the same. There is definitely truth in that saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Each panic attack, each intrusive thought and every worry in between has made me the person I am today, and now I wouldn’t be without it.