Poor mental health can be debilitating. Plenty of strides in tackling the taboo have been made in recent years, but the impact of anxiety, depression, personality disorders and the like is not always well understood.Regular readers will know that, of the above conditions, anxiety is mine. Some anxiety can develop to the point of becoming a phobia. Typically, we’re more familiar with phobias, but usually the more ‘relatable’ ones. I’d hazard a guess that people tend to empathise with a phobia of spiders more than agoraphobia – the fear of leaving the house (safety), or being in situations that are hard to escape.
The type of anxiety I’ve experienced tends to be more of the ‘generalised’ kind. Intense worry that just plagues you. The NHS describes Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as:
‘…a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event’
Which, as you can imagine, isn’t particularly fun at all. It’s also quite difficult to treat as a result of it’s more ‘general’ nature. So, in an effort to offer some perspective, these are the kind of things GAD has prevented me doing.
This was the first one that sprang to mind. When I was little, I used to get travel sick quite easily. Alongside hating the queasy feeling, I was also fearful of something ‘bad’ happening. Like not being able to take a break for some air, or the embarrassment of actually being sick.
So I just avoided it. Whenever I could. I cried whenever my parents brought up the idea of going on holiday (yes, really). I also missed out on many opportunities to go abroad with my school. I couldn’t stomach the idea of those long coach journeys. Worse, the humiliation if I was to end up as ‘that guy’ and throw up on a coach of my classmates. As if school isn’t hard enough.
Eating at restaurants
I know, I know. Bit weird. I personally think this stems from just one incident (as these things so often do). It was my mum’s birthday and I could have only been about 11 years old. Even so, it’s one of those occasions where PRESSURE IS HIGH to have a nice time.
For some reason, as the food arrived I had an intense feeling of nausea come over me. I spent the rest of the evening in the Ladies as my poor mum went back and forth between the table and me, checking I was okay. I was anxious about eating out for years afterwards. Even years later, I insisted that my first date with my other half could NOT be in a restaurant, for fear of the same thing happening again.
Calling/answering the phone
I’m still shit at this now. I have to psych myself up for ages before I’ll phone someone other than my nearest and dearest. Basic things – like ordering a takeaway, making appointments or organising car insurance – suddenly become an ordeal.
I can only guess that it’s some kind of control issue, or fear of being unprepared. Either way, it affects my real-life behaviour. I’d rather drive to a salon or doctor’s surgery and make an appointment face-to-face than call. I still don’t know why.
Ooooh boy. As if passing my test wasn’t enough of a difficult time, the year that followed it might have been worse. Driving to my friend’s house with my boyfriend in the car for the first time, I was in an area I was unfamiliar with. We were on a roundabout and I went into the wrong lane, causing another car to try and avoid me and beep at me. Rightfully so, of course.
The ‘near miss’ shook me up. For months and months afterwards I couldn’t drive my partner anywhere without intense anxiety – either that I was doing to repeat my silly mistake, hurt someone or that he didn’t feel safe as a passenger of mine.
Getting out of bed
Yep. During the worst bouts of anxiety, even the most basic things became difficult to do. Bed was solace. Bed was safe. During these periods, I’d lose a lot of weight quickly – mostly due to being consumed by stress of what things might happen that day. Things I couldn’t anticipate or be ready for.
These are just some things – from missing out on major life experiences to day-to-day struggles. Fortunately, it is possible to get better. I now try to travel as much as my finances allow (airports be damned!). I might still peruse Google Maps ahead of an unknown journey, but I won’t convince myself that the train is ‘just easier’.
Some of that is time and distance from triggering incidents, others are baby steps. But I did phone up my car insurer this year, instead of using Live Chat. Miracles do happen.