When you listen to this song, what do you think of?
For me, it’s a reminder of tbe outward appearance (the “armour”) that I wear, day in day out, of the strong and capable woman that I am, the woman that has it all together. Yet really, nothing could be further than the truth. Behind closed doors, it all quickly falls apart.
At my PIP appeal, I was actually downgraded by a few points because the panel didn’t believe I have anxiety like I say I do. I’m articulate and polite, I smile and make eye contact, so how can I be struggling with anxiety so severely?
It’s important to understand that anxiety affects people differently. I may be smiley and friendly when I meet you, but that doesn’t mean to say that I’m not worried about meeting you. I might even smile and shake your hand, but it doesn’t mean I’m not worrying about what you really think of me.
The truth is, to manage my anxiety, I need support from therapists and my family. I don’t go out on my own unless I absolutely have to because I get extremely anxious. Even when I do go out, I feel like my stomach is imploding, I feel breathless and worry about dropping dead. I get to the end of my road and I start to panic.
Was this a good idea? Do I really need to go on this trip, after all? Maybe not. Let’s just go home.
Talking with shop assistants or to Post Office clerks? Yeah, right. I managed to find the courage to tell my husband only very recently that shopping queues make me feel like I might faint. There is the getting to the store, the being stuck in a line of people (once you’re in, you’re committed) and the interacting with a stranger in a uniform. On a recent (and necessary) trip to Tesco, the assistant asked me if I needed a carrier bag. “Yes please, just a little one” I replied. as if they now come in different sizes. I wasn’t thinking about carrier bags, I was just thinking about getting out of there without collapsing, it’s what waiting in queues does to me.
Usually, a smile, a “hi”, or a “hello” is enough to soothe my anxiety. A friendly greeting tells me “I don’t bite”, and that makes me feel reassured. When you have disabilities, there are plenty of people who do bite, and sometimes, they bite hard.
Everyone gets bullied, but when you’re disabled, you’re sort of easy pickings because you might not be able to run so fast. For me, that’s absolutely the case. Turn and run usually means turn around and fall over myself, because of my ataxia. If bullies see you stumble, they’ll go even further by pushing you or tripping you up intentionally. I’m constantly on edge, constantly wary, constantly trying to work out who might target me next.
You see? I’m not anxious around people I know. I’m anxious when I’m out and about, because I can’t know everyone’s intentions. For example:-
- The time I went to buy my Gran a gift, I didn’t expect a man to steal it and insist I kiss him to get my gift back.
- The time I went to buy some sweets with my brother, I didn’t expect a car to wheel-spin dirt and gravel in our faces.
- The time I took a shortcut with my Mum, I didn’t expect some youths to beat us both around the head with stolen lottery tickets.
- The time I was working in the front garden, I didn’t expect a cyclist to heckle me about my appearance.
But these things all happened, and once they happen, I preempt that they will happen more often. If you live with anxiety, it’s just sort of what you do.
I get anxiety over absolutely anything. Because of my domestic fire in 2016, a smokey smell will throw me and I’ll start panicking that something is on fire, or because of numerous general anaesthetics against my will, an odd smell will make me think I’m being gassed or poisoned. I’ll sit or lie funny, start worrying that I can’t breathe, and start having a panic attack over that. I may have a panic attack over absolutely nothing, but the fact that I seem confident and smiling doesn’t mean that I don’t get them at all.
Once I get there, I struggle to function, I get emotional and start forgetting things. I get upset easily and I make mountains out of molehills. Leaving the oven lit, forgetting to eat and struggling to get dressed seem to be all too common for me, and there is plenty to say that anxiety can come with forgetfulness and memory loss. I also start picking my skin which can lead to sore and bloodied injuries. I experience dissociation, or the feeling that I’m in a dream-like state, kind of in a bubble on my own. I don’t live and function in those times, I merely exist. Near busy roads, sharp edges and hot flames, derealisation can be an incredibly dangerous symptom to have.
I’ve been through therapy, and therapy was great. The problem is, therapy is a tool, not a cure. You don’t just have ten sessions of therapy and then be over your anxiety forever, you have to keep reusing the tools you’ve been taught. You don’t fix anxiety with therapy, you learn to manage it. There is no cream you can apply or pill you can pop. It’s a lifelong disorder, not a common cold.
We need to change what we think anxiety looks like, and we need to change what we think depression looks like. We get our ideas of mental health dangerously wrong sometimes, and that can be hugely problematic for everyone involved. People with mental health difficulties aren’t always meek and mild, and sometimes the brave face we put on is a way of hiding the deep-seated fears and sadness that we feel inside. Sometimes we may even seem exuberant, but it’s just a facade to make you think we’re on top of our game.
Nobody associates David Walliams with depression, even though he has opened up about his battle in the past.
Nobody would have believed Robin Williams was depressed, yet he proceeded to take his own life.
Nobody believes that I struggle with anxiety, yet underneath that confident and fun-loving mask lies one of the biggest worriers you will probably ever know.
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