This week I really want to write about something that is very misunderstood but very widespread. I've suffered with anxiety for a few years now, over half my life and was officially diagnosed after having Harry. I've always been a 'worrier' and an 'over thinker' but the thoughts became poisonous and consuming.
Long story short, I panicked that I would lose my baby until the moment he was handed to me. I used to keep myself up at night, pacing and reading stuff I'd Googled if I felt like he'd stopped moving or heard about some illness or other. My search history from those months will be disturbing reading I think. In my mad way, I suppose I was arming myself in whichever way I could. Nobody understood when I told them, they just put it down to hormones and the long process of conceiving him.
I was paralysed with fear and started imagining him dying when at a week old, Harry turned buttercup yellow with something as innocuous as jaundice. Now that he was here, a whole other universe of ways something could happen to him opened up. I was exhausted in every way a person can be exhausted. I was sleep deprived and my mind was running at 10x the speed it should be. Thoughts were racing through me all at once, crashing into each other.
I've been writing about both anxiety and PND in detail and through sharing stories with others, support from fellow sufferers and the catharsis of writing itself I was beginning to feel lighter. I lost 10 pounds, I was starting to want to venture out of the house and the bad days were way outnumbered by good ones. Harry's adjustment to being a toddler was difficult and fraught but we got there and he seemed happy with all his new abilities.
A lot of what's happening isn't post natal anxiety though. It's a lot bigger than motherhood. It's now a fully embedded part of who I am.
A big part of anxiety is paranoia. I am held hostage by my own brain, Clockwork Orange style, and I am forced to be obsessed with how my every word and action comes across. I have to constantly second guess myself, which as I said before is exhausting. I utterly hate myself for not being able to 'just be normal'. I know I'm a nice, kind, reasonably intelligent person with a sense of humour and a lot to offer but I instead push people away because I think they are out to get me and have an ulterior motive for everything. If a friend doesn't like an Instagram picture or a blog post, that must mean they hate me and are starting the process of not being my friend anymore. Why would you want this big, horrible, intense ball of crazy over someone seemingly care free? It's a big disgusting spiral.
My imagination runs wild and fills in the gaps in reality and it means everything is off. For some reason, my brain needs these gaps filled so that my pulse rate can return to normal and I can feel a little less like the world is going to end.
I can't be in a crowded or loud room without feeling like a wild animal trapped in a burning building. I can't make new friends because I don't trust myself. I slowly kill the friendships I do have through no fault of my own. It's all very isolating and painful. I've convinced myself over the years I don't deserve anybody. Isn't it awful how all this can ripple outwards from anxiety? Were you aware that it's not just about being a chronic worrier?
I had another bad patch of anxiety after the miscarriage in June. My grief made me completely invert and I actually began to feel people pull away from me because of the way I was acting. I didn't understand why people weren't helping me and it was because I had gone too far inside myself to be approachable anymore.
However, I had a glimmer of hope this week. I was out with a lovely friend whose baby isn't yet walking so we sat and watched Harry wandering around. He had a new pair of trainers on and was going perilously close to muddy puddles. The tight ball of worry in my chest was definitely not letting the side down and I started to spiral, mapping all the possible things that could go wrong. He got closer to the puddle and dipped his hand in. He splashed in the muddy water and then jumped in feet first. I was on my feet ready to yell and grab him but my friend said "Look how happy he is!". I saw that he was laughing and in his own little world of fun so I slowly sat back down after taking a deep breath. His trousers, trainers and t shirt were very quickly filthy but I just kept concentrating on my breathing and listening to his unbridled happiness and watching his easy, beautiful smile. Eventually I unwound and stopped caring what others would think. I saw how my anxiety could be impacting his happiness if I kept stopping him from doing everything. I realised that the worst that would happen here is that Harry would be in a good mood and I'd have an extra bit of laundry to do.
I know this doesn't mean I'm better but I think it's a pretty big step.