I can’t lie, recently I’ve been feeling a bit up and then a bit down. It’s been quite tough. But I keep thinking to myself: but I’m not depressed? I’m just an anxious person. (The latter statement I was once challenged upon, it was rephrased to me that ‘you’re not an anxious person, you’re just a person who experiences anxiety’. Which actually really helped, as it seemed much less deterministic. It felt that the fears I live with now, will not always stay with me; they are not ingrained within my genes. They are not permanent. Nothing is permanent.) So okay, I’m just a person who experiences anxiety.
And when I’m feeling good – sometimes weeks can pass and I feel no fear – I forget what it’s like, and what I can sometimes feel. And then it returns, those sickly feelings in my stomach, the dry mouth, the inability to think about one topic, the excessive crying, the rumination and catastrophising, and the inability to see if what is bothering me is rational or irrational. Tip: I have found with this last issue, that confiding in someone you feel secure and safe with, with whom you can be yourself around, and asking them if they think you’re being rational or irrational helps. Like just having someone say it straight to me, like ‘yep you’re being a bit irrational, you can go easy on yourself’, or ‘I get it but I think you’re overthinking it, or ‘no I get where you’re coming from’, or even just the gentle reassurance ‘nope you’re not going mad to think those things’ can help. To re-centre and gain some perspective.
Perspective. Now there’s a key idea.
I get it when I travel. But I can’t lie, I can’t always just take off and travel. Sometimes you have to deal with your current surroundings, but still get perspective. Sometimes I look at the stars, and I think a lot about how small and insignificant I am. And then I ask myself will what I am worrying about matter in 1 week/1 month/1 year? If no, then I try and breathe deep and try to distract from the feeling. If yes then I think, how can I solve it. If I can’t solve it (which often I can’t, as the fun thing about my anxiety is that it is often about uncontrollable/hypothetical/irrational elements of my life – that might not even happen…), then again, I breathe deep and try to distract. Or, if it’s daytime and the stars aren’t out, and I’m not going on holiday, and I’m feeling the anxious pangs, then I have found asking someone else about themselves gains perspective. It reminds me that I am not the only person with feelings, problems, and complex, detailed lives. It reminds me to love and care for other people – when sometimes, anxiety can have the capacity to swallow me up and make me quite inward facing. Focusing and engaging with others also sometimes gives me new ideas, new directions for thought and distraction.
It is a well known fact that to avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia, you have to keep your brain active. They don’t often tell you this, but it’s the same with anxiety. I don’t mean having a busy schedule and rushing around all over the place, (especially not when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable) but I mean keeping the mind active with learning, reading, knowledge, new thoughts, new ideas. Other things to focus on. Other ways to insight change into your life. I have a list of things to do which calm me down, and help me when I feel the need to physically hunch over because my stomach is full of bats on ecstasy clawing to get out (that’s a metaphor by the way), but it never hurts to discover something new. Even if it’s just a new Netflix series. A new hobby (I started reading again, properly, as in always having a book on the go). Or a new school of thought – I’ve tried Vegan lifestyle. I’m now looking into a Minimalist lifestyle. And learning and assimilating more makes me feel good, and provides me with new ideas of how to live (some of which have helped me through bouts of anxiety).
Plus, at this time of year, I need it. Winter doesn’t help. I can’t wait for the light and the spring and the green – which I know a lot of people feel, and for someone prone to mental health issues, the winter can be a particularly affecting period.
For now, anxiety travels with me, sometimes following me around constantly, sometimes disappearing for a while before making a show-stopping return (you can’t miss the show stops, they’re quite terrific…in the true sense of the word). But I understand now that it does not control me (although I have to admit sometimes it does, and it certainly has in the past); or at least, I have some ways of coping that help to ease the more difficult periods. There are many other means of coping (being grateful to others, meditation and mindfulness, loving others and showing kindness, writing and journaling, exercise, listening to particular music, being in nature and outside etc.) that I haven’t even touched upon…it would take a whole book (in fact there are plenty of books – I would really recommend Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive) to cover anxiety and how to cope. So these are just little things that I personally have found, that often aren’t in the guide books – ones I learned as I travel through my own life story.
As with the seasons, my feelings, the difficult days: everything is transient. This will pass. As the good times are come to an end, so will the hard times, it’s just about learning how to live and cope with them when they arise.