My friend and I were standing at the bus stop. She nudged me and pointed to the house across the road.
‘See that roof?’ she said, ‘Can you make out every tile?’
‘I never could before.’ she adjusted her new glasses on her nose.
It took seventeen years for her to discover she was short sighted. She’d compensated so effectively her poor vision went undetected.
Her new glasses were a revelation.
We only know our own experience, it’s ‘normal’ until we learn otherwise. The catch is, you only ‘learn otherwise’ if you can compare your experiences with something else. Or someone notices you always sit at the front of the classroom. You don’t mention it yourself because it is familiar and wittingly or not, you’ve learnt to work around it.
It’s a fitting analogy for my anxiety.
Firstly, for those not familiar with anxiety, here’s an introduction:
Trigger warning. Those who DO suffer from anxiety may find the following short video* a little too familiar.
Anxiety disorders and depression are hereditary in my family. While I grew up in an environment where we discussed this openly and respectfully, I still became aware of the stigma. I knew I couldn’t mention it to just anyone, I couldn’t broach it in casual conversation like it was arthritis or diabetes. I’ve listened to good, kind people confess their own torment in embarrassed whispers. I’ve witnessed others grow uncomfortable in its company and others dismissive of its existence. I’ve seen scorn, intolerance and judgement; treating these mental disorders as choices you could simply get over and medicating against them was a sign of weakness and failure. Fortunately, I think these attitudes are slowly changing.
I’d stopped discussing my anxiety. Not consciously and certainly not because I was ashamed but because I no-longer felt I needed to. I understood it, it would be like constantly mentioning a limp when I could still walk. I managed my anxiety cycles and I created coping strategies and thought patterns to tame them. I didn’t classify myself as someone with an anxiety disorder because I’d learnt to function.
It was my ‘normal’.
About five weeks ago, I worked myself up into such an anxious state I stopped functioning and for the first time in my life I began taking anti-anxiety medication. After about two weeks I began to feel a different ‘normal’.
Someone had handed me glasses with an anxiety filter.
I didn’t know I was missing them.
Once, if you’d asked me how often during the day I felt anxious, I would have said, ‘occasionally’. Now, I see it was ‘often’, a constant background noise. My anxiety had progressed gradually and cumulatively. I’d mentally work through each trigger in automatic and I’d grown numb to the energy this took from me. I’d stopped recognising these events as mini anxiety attacks, and if the trigger was embarrassingly lame, I’d prefer to attribute it to my own stupidity.
I described an anxiety episode in my post, Breaking Sad and it is one of my most visited blog posts. It makes me wonder how many how many other people are searching for understanding. I wonder how many other people are ‘functioning’ with unreasonable levels of anxiety and depression and not even realise it.
There are many ways to control anxiety. Taking medications designed to alter the chemistry of your brain is not a decision anyone should take lightly. It’s really important to seek professional advice before undertaking such a change. My medication took a couple of weeks to ‘settle’ into my system and during that time I experienced some unpleasant side-effects. I actually felt worse before I felt better. Fortunately, it eventually worked for me, but I’m aware sometimes you may need to try a couple of options before you find one that helps you.
I am obviously not a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. I’m purely analysing my own experience but I do hope that sharing this encourages those who need it to seek professional help. Maybe that is you, and if it is – you are not alone. Everyone experiences anxiety differently with different symptoms and different triggers. Talk about it. Find people you trust and talk about it.
These new glasses are a revelation.
*The phone number at the end of this video is to Beyond Blue, an Australian national initiative to raise awareness of anxiety and depression. They also provide resources for recovery, management and resilience. Do you have a support network for mental health in your area? Leave a link in the comments, post on your own blog and generally spread the word.
Talk about it.