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One step forward, one step back. After last week's thoughts, positive thinking and planning a course of action to recovery, I hit a stumbling block. Which is annoying because, even when I'm doing so well and forcing myself to move forwards, the smallest setback feels like being hit by a ton of bricks... I was in Liverpool for a stag do - a college friend and former work colleague was having his big blowout. Friday and Saturday morning went by without drama I'm pleased to report. Many drinks were had, much mini-golf was played and a slight hangover inevitably followed. But, with all the drinking, I mistakenly thought it would be a good idea to skip my meds. For those that don't know, I'm currently on some anti-depressants to help reduce anxiety, acting as a crutch to aid the cognitive behaviour therapy I'm currently undergoing. I think if I had been at home, or somewhere quiet, it would have gone without incident. But no, I was in a busy, bustling city and my anxiety was very keen to remind me of that! Dinnertime came about and we went for a meal over the road. Something didn't feel right and I could myself getting more and more worked up about nothing. A two minute walk away from where I was staying turned me from a calm, collected individual - ready for another night of boozed up debauchery - into a sweating, itching, fidgeting wreck. I tried to get a couple of beers down me to calm me down, but the off switch was nowhere to be found. I tried and I tried and I tried.... It's so unbelievably frustrating to sit there, slowly feeling yourself losing control and not be able to do a damn thing about it. I became the very stereotype of mental health problems - someone smiling on the outside, trying to have a good time, whilst on the inside the walls were closing in. After about 40 minutes, I cracked and had to excuse myself. Fresh air, and a welcome wave of relief rushing through my body but, from that point on, I couldn't stop berating myself. Why? Why are you like this? What is wrong with you? Nothing sums up anxiety like this. In the heat of the moment, I think I'd prefer to be in a vat in the garage... The night went on with the rest of the guys continuing on their crawl. I forced myself repeatedly to get back out and meet them somewhere, but each time felt completely and utterly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people on the streets and the noise. Every time I felt on the edge of an attack, I'd have to leave the group and try again later. In the end, I decided to just call it a day. On one hand, I was happy that I'd forced myself to keep on trying, but at the same time disappointed that I hadn't been able to see the night through, and that I'd actually let my closest friends see that part of me. But it's not all bad. I survived the weekend. I spent time walking with my worst triggers and lived to tell the tale. It's encouraged me to go back and continue my research into mindfulness and meditation. No matter how bad things feel, they will always get better. It's hard to remember that ,mid-attack, but that's where mindfulness helps. It creates space between yourself and your anxiety, being able to take a step back and calm yourself - instead of getting caught up in the whirlwind. I know those guys read this, one even going so far to tell me that he could completely relate to everything I had written previously, so - thanks for understanding. And thanks for the great weekend, it was a blast. To those that have experienced similar moments, it gets better. I promise. My door is always open for a confidential chat. Don't suffer in silence. Don't worry if you don't know what to do, I've spent a little time in worried shoes, I wore them out through walking, It wasn't any use, Don't worry if you don't know what to do. Frank Turner - Don't Worry
Today I had an epiphany. "Nothing in this world can torment you as much as your own thoughts.” I tend to spend so much time in day to day life, trying to control the things around me. Trying to reduce their impact on my psychological well being and ultimately, trying to reduce the possibility of things going wrong. It never really works. Sure, some days are better than others, but they always come at a cost. An opportunity missed out on, so I can feel safe and secure in my bubble of self-contentment. Like many people say, "you are your own worst enemy." Every time you give a little ground to avoid anxiety, you take a step further down the slope. The more you avoid, the steeper the slope becomes, and the further you find yourself from the top. Today I decided enough was enough. It's time to let go of that control, because we are never truly in control. It's a goal we chase but never really achieve. So why add additional stress? And you know what? I feel better already. I don't expect the feeling to last all that long. My anxiety is so deeply rooted, ingrained, that it's become second nature and involuntary. “Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.” I'm going to start doing things I want to do, rather than the cop out things that make me feel comfortable and safe. Being given the role of Ember Community Manager has opened so many doors for me, and I really want to create something magnificent with it. It will no doubt push me to being a nervous wreck, but perhaps if I can make the small steps now, the bigger ones won't Not one for baby steps, I'm diving straight into the deep end by signing up to volunteer at this summer's TwitchLDN event. I'll be on the SpecialEffect stand, spreading the word about the amazing work that they do. So if you see me there, please do say hi. It will have taken me a lot effort to get to that moment and I guarantee I'll appreciate it! You might even learn something! I'm going to try and travel more this summer with my partner, another key trigger for my anxiety. It might only start with a few 20 minute drives from home, but it's a starting point. I want to reach 45 minute drives by Christmas. Either way. I got this.
Holidays. Downtime that everyone looks forward to, right? Wrong. Travelling and sharing spaces are two of the major triggers for my anxiety, so holidays have now become something I dread. I haven't been abroad in years, due to the sheer terror brought on by the thought of spending at least two hours cooped up in a tin can, 35000ft in the air. This week is no exception. On Thursday, I will be travelling up to the Peak District with my (long-suffering) girlfriend for some peace and quiet, up in the wonderful heights of central England. We booked it earlier in the year, in a fleeting moment of a excitement about finally getting a few days away together. It's much like the christening example I gave in Part III. The 'normal' side of me, the side I share with virtually every other person on the planet, was excited. The prospect of some much needed time away in the Great Outdoors, with the one person that does actually make me happy, was something I just couldn't say no to. But then, as soon as I had hit the 'Pay Now' button, I was struck by this sensation of ominous doom. That, is what anxiety feels like. The weight of what I had just committed to came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks. A 4 hour drive each way, going somewhere I'd never been before, total lack of control - a living nightmare. Pre-trip... The week has been a short and arduous one. Despite only being in work for two days, and taking part in an amazing talkshow - there has been only one thought on my mind. That ever so brief trip at the end of the week. It's been eating away at the back of my mind for a while now, like a pitch black hole moving gradually closer to swallowing me up. Of course, the logical mind knows nothing bad will happen on this mundane drive - but try telling the black hole that. It grows slowly as the date of travel gets nearer, devouring every single thought of possible enjoyment I might get out of the trip. At this point, it's almost as if I'm resigned to the fact that it's going to be a terrible trip, rife with anxiety and the lack of desire to get out and make the most of it... Post-trip... The day of the trip came, and it was a difficult one. No matter how I tried to distract myself, I kept on coming back and worrying about the trip. I don't even know why I was worrying - it wasn't even a long drive really! I did all I could to keep myself preoccupied; went to the gym, cleaned the house from top to bottom, went to spend some time with Archie - but I still found myself clock watching. As ridiculous as it sounds, it almost felt as if counting down to a jail sentence, the last moments of freedom. Anxiety can be a self-feeding spiral of despair. The more you worry, the worse it becomes. The worse it becomes, the more you worry. Friends and family will remind you again and again that there's nothing to worry about, but once that anxious thought has taken root, it's very hard to rip out. We spent a couple of days hiking and I loved it. Being outdoors, away from all the stresses of day to day life, was a welcome relief. Whilst I did cave in to my anxiety on more than one occasion, I did manage to battle my way through a fear of heights, wandering across some gorge cliffs to enjoy some truly beautiful views. I was a shaking mess, but it was worth it. I even managed to pop the question to my better half and, strangely enough, that was the least anxiety-inducing moment of the entire trip! Jerry's Regal's Final Thoughts One of the most crucial things to remember as an anxiety sufferer is that anxiety will always peak. If you sit and endure it for long enough, your body's 'alarm system' will eventually deactivate, you will feel better and return to being relatively calm. It's something that got me through the highs of hiking, and the lows of travel. The fight or flight adrenaline rush will only ever last a few minutes at max - so if you can wait it out, find your happy place and brave the coming storm, the anxiety will reduce on the other side. Your body simply cannot maintain that state of heightened tension. I managed the trip and back, conquered some fells and managed to find myself coming home with a fiancée. Anxiety or not, it was a pretty good trip. Always find the positives.
Another week, another roller coaster ride... Let's start with the positive. Last week - my life changed indefinitely for the better. I became an uncle for the first time, to 'an absolute pounder' (his dad's words) of a nephew. I've never been one to get excited about newborns or young children - I've always felt a bit awkward and 'umm - now what' around them, but this time was certainly different. Archie, named long before the Royal Archie came along, was a bouncing bundle of joy and happiness, so it was hard not to get caught up in the moment. It was also weird seeing my parents, newly crowned as grandparents, interacting with him. My mum's reaction was that of being utterly smitten, as you might expect, but it was my dad's reaction, someone who has always kept his emotions close, that caught me off guard. So many smiles, photos and joy. It was weird to see, but enjoyable nonetheless. "One of the most frustrating things about having an anxiety disorder; knowing as you're freaking out that there's no reason to be freaked out, but lacking the ability to shut the emotion down." From the peak of happiness, came the conversation about christening young Archie, and the crushing realisation that I would likely be involved in some way, shape or form. I'm already a godfather to my cousin. An experience that many would accept with pleasure. Don't get me wrong, I'm honoured to have that role, but standing up in front of 50-60 of my close family and relatives was nothing short of a nightmare. Being centre of attention as I recited my lines, was an experience that continues to haunt me - even when I know there's no reason whatsoever to be feeling that way. So much so that the last christening I went to, even though I wasn't involved, I couldn't physically sit in the ceremony. It's the irrational fear of needing to get up and leave during the ceremony, having all eyes on me, just thinking about it starts my heart racing. It sounds so self-centred when I write it down. Me, me, me. But that's the difference between the rational and irrational, the 'being there for someone' and 'the fervent need to avoid a situation.' On one hand, I would love to become a godfather again, but on the other I just don't know if I can go through that situation again without utterly embarrassing myself. “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” This week also brought another first - I've started a round of talking therapy with my new, friendly, neighbourhood Spiderman therapist, Jim. Starting anew has its ups and downs, but I like to think of it as a new opportunity to make some ground, and get that little bit closer to 'levelling out.' After a lengthy discussion sharing my history, triggers, worries and previous diagnoses, Jim was very quick to relate. It really is a breath of fresh air hearing someone on the other side say that they know exactly what you have been through. He pointed out that I , like himself, may have generalised anxiety disorder. We went through the symptoms for it. Panic attacks. Check. Phobias. Check. Social anxiety. Check. Huh - hello there! I had what I can only describe as a wave of relief at that point. It felt as if we had finally pinpointed my problem, and from there, there was hope that we could begin to try a few different techniques that had worked for Jim in the past. The next session should be fun, as we start to try rewind therapy. Who knows. Maybe we'll make some progress. The sun is shining, it's a beautiful day, and I'm finally feeling optimistic about regaining some element of control...