I have always been the first one out of my friends to dish out advice when needed. A lover of long phone calls and the non stop back and forth of a WhatsApp conversation, I am the friend who thrives when giving advice. Perhaps this is due to my incessant need to overanalyse most situations; to prepare myself for the worst case scenario, to ensure that should anything go wrong; I am equipped in every way possible. For a long time I’ve seen my generalised anxiety as just an element of my personality, a tool I have utilised and hidden behind - my friends describe me as the sensible one, and joke that I am the mother figure within the group. I’ve worn my careful nature proudly, and proclaim how in control I am to able to go without a party most weekends, or a fancy dinner in a bid to save money - even if I have more than enough time and energy to do both.
I’ve come to the realisation recently that such worrying, about pretty much everything and anything I stumble across at work, home & play, is not a personality quirk, but rather a debilitating anchor that has slowly stopped me from living the same life as the friends I give my sobering advice to. Always somewhat sensible, I have gradually become less fun and free. The progression was slow, and started with a simmering lack of enthusiasm to socialise. I would actively talk myself out of getting on the next train to Hackney to catch up with the girls; and convince myself that I was making the right choice by staying home in South London to clean the house or finish the washing. This isn’t a bad decision to make once in a while, until I realised I hadn’t seen my friends for a good few months, and that this had become a permanent pattern and easy way to talk myself out of grabbing dinner or a drink down the pub. I’d become low and depressed, feel guilty and spend the weekend rolling around in bed, struggling to focus on anything but my own thoughts.
I’ve realised looking back, that once you stop socialising there is little else apart from work or relationships to focus all of your nervous energy on. For someone that worries most hours of the day, it wasn’t long before my boyfriend soon began to feel the pressures of my ruminating mind. Just walking the dog became fair game for my incessant worrying. I’d panic at the thought of my dog being off the lead in the same park he’s always been to. Fifteen minutes felt like an hour; I’d spend the time frantically absorbing all the negative outcomes that we might encounter: An angry dog attack, our dog running off, or god forbid - he’s taken and someone does a runner with him.
Anxiety & depression are so incredibly crafty - they’ll slowly leak into your everyday, and before long you’ll feel completely flooded by your dark thoughts and the never-ending worries. For years I have struggled on and would try to plug the source, blaming it on my friends, family, partying, booze, money worries — All of which are valid reasons to feel anxious — until I realised that even when things were great, I was unable to turn it off.
You may never find the source and that’s okay too. Sometimes it’s enough to just decide that you need some help making the repairs. And so I did. After drowning in what felt like a constant stream of stress and worrying about things that may happen, I started to notice physical symptoms. It started with the physically belly dropping thoughts that are highly unlikely to ever amount to anything, which gradually turned into insomnia, nightmares, constant acid reflux, hair loss and eventually developed into me wanting to burst into tears at any time. Not ideal when you have a whole life you could be getting on with, with loads of opportunity to explore.
It was a Monday when the penny finally dropped. I didn’t want to start yet another week feeling exhausted, preparing myself for the worst possible outcomes I could think of. This was to be the beginning of my own personal journey of self care, a new understanding that as a fully fledged adult, it is only me that can be the responsible party, and only me who can take action when things are not as they should be. It’s an empowering realisation to finally experience some clarity when things have been so consistently muddled for such a long time. So I finally picked up the phone and made an appointment. What a relief.
If you're struggling at the moment with your mental health or going through a difficult time, please reach out if you're in need of some help. Below are some fantastic helplines and mental health resources, some of which are open 24/7 365 days a year.