THE BLOG

Anxiety and The Black Dog

18/03/2016 19:45 GMT | Updated 17/03/2017 09:12 GMT

I like to think I'm fairly normal. I am aware that those who know me well might quibble but to all those who don't know me, the picture I present to the world, I think, is generally one of a reasonably well-functioning human being who likes to laugh a lot and believes humour is the route of choice in negotiating life's challenges.

What I present to the world and how I feel inside are not always the same thing however and I suspect this is pretty normal too. I have a "friend" who has been with me almost all my life and shows no signs of leaving any time soon. This "friend" is anxiety. "Friend" is not the right word of course: there is no mutual affection, although strangely I would miss it if it suddenly disappeared. There is however a familiarity which could almost be described as comforting - it's part of the furniture of my life.

Anxiety is sometimes in the background of my life, barely discernible, and sometimes standing right next to me, breathing down my neck. I know how to deal with anxiety - years of practice have taught me not to fight it, allow it to wash over me, know that it will subside eventually, see it for what it really is: insubstantial and impotent. Perhaps anxiety even makes me a better person - more sensitive to others and their feelings and emotions.

There is however one aspect of anxiety of which I am less fond: for me, it is often a marker of a black mood descending, of a period of time when the world seems a much darker place. It is a pattern which I can recognise from as far back as my early teenage years in which as the anxiety heightens so does a feeling of emptiness and sadness. Is this what the Victorians would have called a "melancholia" (I admit that I quite like that idea - makes me sound like a tragic heroine) or perhaps it is Winston Churchill's "black dog"?

Whatever it is, it creeps up insidiously and then hits you with a winding force right in the solar plexus. The questions and the doubts then start: is this it? What have I really achieved? Why do I feel like I am standing still and everyone else is moving forward? Then the guilt sets in: what have I got to be down about - I am very lucky and have a wonderful life? The thing about this "mood" though is that usually it is not able to be attributed to anything particular - it is just a general feeling, often quite overwhelming, of sadness, emptiness and detachment. I describe it as seeing the world through a filter: colours are less bright, the edges a bit blurry. I always think it is rather ironic that people call it "feeling blue". Blue is my favourite colour and one I associate with happiness - bright blue summer skies. I haven't got the blues, I've got the blacks (although I appreciate that Sir Elton John's genius song "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" would sound a little less lyrical).

I know it will pass - well, it always has in the past. A couple of weeks and my old mate "anxiety" will have retreated again, the filter will shift from my view of the world and I shall be back on the bandwagon of life, throwing myself into everyday activities with my usual gusto.

Those who know me probably won't even have noticed; I am very adept at hiding it. My grandfather always said "you've got to G and B it" (grin and bear it) - wise words and a bit of a mantra for me at difficult times.

Perhaps we have to experience the downs in order to appreciate truly the ups. I don't know, I'll leave that one for the philsophers. However, I still maintain that I am fairly normal...

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