It’s 1.30am. I’m lying in the dark, trying to sleep but failing miserably. It’s getting increasingly more common for my brain to be unable to switch off. This evening I’m kept awake by some deep seated need to scroll through the instagrams of everyone I’ve ever met right through to their first photo. Last week it was the overwhelming sense of sadness at the death of Jeff Conaway; a man I may have grown up watching in Grease, but nonetheless a man I’ve never met, and who died over four years ago. All of this stems from my Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which I’ve spoken about freely and openly for about a year now, but which I’ve known I’ve had for around two. Sometimes I’m so consumed by it that I’ll burst into tears and find myself unable to stop, and other times I’ll find it so ridiculous that I’m freaking out over something silly that I have to laugh at myself.
I can normally categorise my GAD into two ‘sub-headings’: explained, often predictable attacks (such as entering a social situation with a lot of people or people I’ve never met before; going to an audition; setting off on a long, unfamiliar drive) and completely unexplained and often baffling attacks (like the one I had two days ago whilst pouring a pint at work; or the one I had five minutes ago looking at pictures of dogs I liked on Instagram two years ago).
No anxiety attack, whether I can tell it’s about to happen or not, is easy to deal with, and they vary massively in intensity. I’ve been on Beta blockers before briefly which helped control the physical symptoms like palpitations, although unfortunately they didn’t help with the really attractive hives, but what I’m really interested in now is finding coping mechanisms to help the mental side. After all, it is a mental health issue, so it makes sense to look at the psychological side.
So far I’ve started keeping a diary again. I’ve been writing down when I’ve had an attack, what was happening that could have brought it on, how long it lasted etc. Sometimes it helps to look at a time when I’ve experienced anxiousness and see it written down in front of me so that I can start to indentifying certain triggers and think of how I could manage my feelings better if I’m in that situation again.
I’ve also started talking about it more. The other day I was shopping with my sister when all of a sudden we were in the middle of M&S under florescent lighting, with the heating turned up to max, surrounded by people when I was immediately covered in hives and felt like I was going to pass out. Simply saying the words “Emily, I’m feeling really anxious at the moment.” was a huge relief. She told me “it’s okay”, to take my coat off and look at this hilarious Christmas pudding hat, and I already felt better. “It’s okay” was all I needed to hear in that moment. And the hat was pretty funny too. Of course, telling me it’s okay isn’t going to work every time, but it did then. It’s okay to feel anxious, it’s okay to admit that you’re not coping and it’s okay to ask for help. People need to start taking their mental health as seriously as they take their physical health.
My mission for the new year is to try as many weird and wonderful coping mechanisms as I can, and try and find a couple that work for me. And to stop liking so many pictures of pugs. It’s getting out of hand.