You have probably forgotten I am an occasional blog writer. Well
the problem with writing about real life experiences of living with anxiety, one
has to be struggling with anxiety in order to write about it. I by no means
think I am cured, in fact I know that I will always been susceptible to anxiety
and depression and it is something I came to terms with a little while ago.
However, the work with my counsellor and use of meditation has meant that I am
quite genuinely swimming above the black cloud, I am calmly watching the cars
swish by and I am living with my anxiety in a way that I never thought I could
possibly achieve, I am living (mostly) anxiety free. That is to say, I now
experience anxiety no more intensely than is considered usual in the hectic
lives we lead in this at times overwhelming world.
Every now and then I catch myself falling back in to an old
habit, like when my taxi driver was twenty minutes late and I realised I was
going to miss my train home from Cardiff. My lip wobbled, my head swam and then
I took a deep breath focussing on the air filling my lungs and how my body
moved with it, before exhaling and taking note of how long and deep the expulsion
of air was. The new Anna’s inside voice asked the old Anna who was fighting to
come to the surface a few simple questions:
Is there anything you can do at this moment,
sitting in a taxi?
Will it help to cry and allow anxiety to consume
your thoughts and body?
What can you do to find a resolution?
To which, I decided:
Nope not a darn thing.
Absolutely not, it will fog my thinking, exhaust
me and catastrophize a relatively insignificant moment – especially when I have
had such a good and productive day.
Well it looks like my train tickets are open
return on off-peak trains and there is a train only half an hour later.
In fact I went a step further and reminded myself that I was
bloody starving and need a wee so in fact, having the time to go to the loo and
get dinner (a very satisfying Ginsters cheese and onion pasty, pringles and an
energy drink) would be much better for my onward journey anyway. And after all
of that, whilst I was sitting on the train munching my goodies I felt a warmth
spreading from my stomach and permeating every part of my body, otherwise known
as pride and a realisation of strength that used to evade my every attempt.
This particular moment reminded me that allow the ‘What if’ questions to storm
through my head and catastrophize the situation, purely because I was letting
my fear and intolerance of uncertainty reign supreme is a losing battle. A
battle that I no longer feel the pull to indulge in, it isn’t the easy option
anymore because I have trained it out of my habitual thinking.
During this same journey, no doubt triggered by my brush
with anxious thoughts, I found myself sitting opposite a lady who was taking up
four seats between herself and her bags. It wasn’t a busy train, but it
irritated my sense of polite expectation. Later on she proceeded to pour
herself generous amounts of vodka and coke, well what a delight this ‘girl’ she
is, I thought (sneered derisively) …and then I caught myself, I mean for
goodness sake, how did I know that where my comfort from an unexpected shock
and irritation was made from pastry and potato filled, hers might be alcohol
filled and sugary? So I struck up
conversation with her, she had been stuck in traffic and missed her train
earlier down the line, she had rushed from a very busy day at work (she owned
her own salon) and was going to spend time with her husband who works away in
London. She was a woman, and one with a business, a husband, a life and her
very own struggles that evening. How quickly had I judged her? It was so instinctual
and yet all it caused me was a deep rooted feeling of irritation and
unhappiness, it didn’t help and it was an entirely unfounded view point as well
completely irrelevant. The woman even
offered me some of her drink because unlike me, she had seem me and not
ventured to judge and commit me to a category on sight.
This reminded me that I am a much happier and calmer person
these days, because I have learnt and understood the value in the fact that you
cannot change other people, you can only change your reaction to them. I work
every day to rid myself of my intolerance of ‘other people’ and the
overwhelming dedication to what I consider ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in regards to
At this time of year, depression and anxiety spikes and it
isn’t surprising. The pressure is immense, not only do you need to spend money
(money that we struggle to stop from slipping through our fingers for the other
eleven months of the year) extravagantly on items we hope and wish will make
other’s happy, but we also have to dress for Christmas parties. The pressure to
drink, to look good, to socialise even heavier than usual. Then there is the
pressure of seeing family and fitting everyone in to make sure they are all
happy. So by about mid-December, you essentially feel even more self-conscious,
poor and exhausted than you have felt all year – and you are still expected to
have festive bloody cheer.
For some people they are not so lucky, and where the
majority of the year is spent distracting oneself with work and pets and events,
suddenly all of the distraction becomes irrelevant because Christmas day is
still going to be spent alone with the cat and the loneliness bites (to say
nothing of the cat). It opens its maw like so many nightmares and swallows all
hopeful though whole, leaving behind a smoggy, slushy mess on the sofa. I admit
to being lucky enough to have never felt this, or certainly not at Christmas,
but I once met a man who, despite living an exciting dream at the time, planned
days before the big day, to have Turkey drumsticks he had found in the reduced
bin as his Christmas dinner. He didn’t seem sad, he just seemed a little odd
perhaps, optimistically cheerful at the prospect, and maybe he was OK about it
all…but I never dug deep enough to find out because I was too tied up in my own
Ultimately, it’s not about the Turkey. It’s not even about Santa
Claus or baby Jesus (sorry Dad), Christmas is a tough time for mental health
and it’s a time that sadly people (without meaning to) get swept up in their
own joy and stress more than ever and so those who are struggling already begin
to slip further into the depths. This is particularly true of two categories,
the homeless and the elderly, however it is extremely important to say that as
ever it is not just refined to those two groups of people (There is new
evidence to say Millennials are particularly effected).
So what can we do to help? Well it’s as simple as a smile
and a minute of your time, speak to that person you see every day in the
street, the old lady who is out with her box of cooking salt sprinkling it on
the Icey pavement so that people don’t slip, the elderly gentleman on crutches
who has been standing on the pavement corner for ten minutes trying to cross
but so afraid of falling, the lady who sold you a wreath at the market and the one
legged homeless man who sits quietly in his wheelchair everyday outside Greggs.
Start all of your good intentions for 2018 in 2017, why
waste time? You will only give yourself a whole new list of things for self-improvement
in a year’s time and I hate to break it to you but it’s just another night, your
world won’t change because the date does but it will because you want it to.
Here are some sites with advice on coping and campaigns you
can join if you want to help the struggle this Christmas, and into 2018: