Unless you've suffered, mental illness can be very difficult to explain to outsiders, even your family and friends. My blogs aim to try and express those feelings as best as I can in hope that they will break down stigma, open conversation and allow more people to understand. This blog is about the very common, but debilitating condition of anxiety.
1) It's more than just worrying
For people that don't understand anxiety or have never experienced it, they may think it is the same as worrying about things that are going on your life. Everyone worries about things from time to time, it's a natural part of being human and letting your brain figure out the next move. Anxiety is different, it's irrational, and it's constant. It may start out as worrying about one particular aspect of your life, your career, your relationship, but it can quickly snowball until it becomes a constant state of fear. You don't just fear, but you expect that something terrible is going to happen at any given moment. You can no longer control it like you can when you are worried about something. You no longer want to talk about what you're worried about with anyone, (mainly because you don't really know anymore.) Before you know it, it is a state of being.
2) It takes over your life
The longer anxiety goes unchecked the more it takes over your life. You begin basing your everyday decisions over where to go, who to see, even what to wear, around what will create the least potential for anxiety, or worse, a panic attack. You avoid travelling to new places, meeting new people, or taking on a new responsibility at work. Something as simple as a new bus journey route can make you lose sleep. So you stick to what's safe, and begin to lose yourself, and the things that you enjoy, to a feeling of fear.
3) It stops you from thinking clearly
One of the first things to be affected when suffering with both anxiety and depression is your concentration. The ruminating worries in your head at any given moment make it impossible to concentrate on what is in front of you. Whether it is a task at work, a film, or a conversation, you are usually only giving it a fraction of your attention. This can be especially difficult when at work or studying, as the fear of failure can almost paralyse you into not being able to do anything at all.
4) It can strike at any time
It's a common misconception of mental illness that it is triggered by an event in someone's life, like a death, relationship break up, financial problems etc . Of course all of these things can be a trigger, but equally anxiety can begin at any point in your life, even when things are seemingly going very well. Often when these worries do begin at a time when everything is, going well, we dismiss them, precisely for that reason. We don't want to admit a weakness. We don't want to talk to anyone about it because we don't feel we really have anything to feel worried about. This dismissal makes the illness grow stronger. Even the strongest, most confident people can suffer from anxiety. Choosing to admit it and get help shows strength, not weakness.
5) It's not logical
Anxiety can strike at any time of your life, and doesn't have to have one clear cause. It can be a combination of factors that have built up over time, that you may not even be able to recognise. Often you don't know what you are scared of. You may have a great job, a wonderful family and relationship, but suddenly the world becomes a terrifying place to be. It's similar to the way a phobia works. People with severe phobia's know from a rational perspective that a spider, or button, can't actually harm them, but it is a completely different part of their brain that makes them terrified to their core.
6) It steals your sleep
This is another way that anxiety affects your everyday life. Adding to the feeling of being constantly on edge, you are constantly tired. Waking up at 2am with your heart hammering in your chest, not sure if you've had a nightmare, or are having a heart attack, is not conducive to a good night's rest. Being sleep deprived just adds to being unable to concentrate, to feeling inadequate in your job or personal relationships, and thus adds to your anxiety. Not being able to escape the feeling even when it is time to sleep is enough to send you to breaking point.
7) It is truly frightening.
The impact of a state of constant fear on your brain and your body should never be underestimated. With your body in a constant 'flight' mode you expend so much adrenaline that your body is often left exhausted and running on empty. Add to that a feeling of a panic attack, which can mimic the feelings of a heart attack. It is not uncommon for people to be rushed to A&E thinking they are having a heart attack, which turns out to be a panic attack. This is more than just a fast beating heart, it is frightening and very real.
8) It changes you.
Anxiety can change the way you behave, interact, think and feel. When you're in it you can become a much more serious person than you were before. Your friends may say that you are 'less fun' . You become more cautious about the choices that you make. It can be difficult to understand the person that you were before, and how you can laugh so easily, be so reckless. When you come out of the other side, you will feel lighter again, but it could be that you will never go back to the way you were before. This isn't a bad thing. In my experience, mental illness changes you in some way, but you can use that to your advantage. It can make you more sensitive and insightful into what other people are going through. It makes you stronger and more able to ask for help. It gives you a better understanding of yourself, and although you had to go through a lot of pain to get there, it makes you stronger for the future, and a better chance of tackling it if and when it returns.