Why I’m not admitting I have anxiety

September 12, 2014 at 8:50 pm | Posted in mental health | 16 Comments
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This tweet from @wjohngalloway made me smile:

john galloway MH tweet

I love this attitude. Mental health problems are just, well, health problems. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by them, or worried about admitting them.

I wish I felt like this. I really do. But I still find it incredibly tough to admit I’ve got any kind of mental health problem.

My name is Alison, and I am anxious. I don’t have a diagnosis; I don’t have medication; I don’t go to a support group. I just have a kind of free-floating anxiety. Sometimes it’s over something realistic, like the worry that the six-year-old will dash out in front of a car; but generally it’s over something daft. (I lay awake from 2-4 a.m. recently, unable to stop my brain obsessively picking apart everything I’d said in a conversation with someone important, highlighting the bits where I’d made an idiot of myself, and playing Venti, turbini in the background.)

Having fought with it all my life, telling myself I was Just Being Silly, and everyone felt like this, and I just needed to pull my socks up, putting a label to it last year was a massive relief*. But I still hate saying it. It feels like some kind of moral failure.

To go off on a tangent for a sec, there’s a bit of a campaign going at the moment to rehabilitate introversion, and see it as part of life’s rich tapestry, instead of Mr Hyde to extroversion’s Dr Jekyll. Introverts say being an introvert is fine, thanks very much, and all you noisy extroverts should stop expecting everyone to play by your rules. I recognise some traits of introversion in myself, even though I’m the one who’s getting ridiculously overexcited about stuff and trying to make everyone laugh and marching up to people introducing myself. I love people, but they tire me out. I fear crowds. Noisy places make me want to cry. I need a little lie down after the school run. And I’m absentminded, forgetful, because I spend such a lot of time in my own head (mostly lost in daydreams about winning cyclocross races and writing bestsellers and seducing opera singers) that I forget how to interact with actual people.

walshaw reservoir

Hold on. Is that a countertenor down there?

I might be able to learn to live with introversion: to think of it as something that makes me Pale and Interesting, perhaps, or Bookish, which seems like quite a nice thing to be. At any rate, it’s an excellent excuse to never, ever go to Glastonbury. But anxiety? Do I have to accept that’s Just How I Am? Like introversion, there’s not much sign of it going away. And while I might be learning to manage it, this is cold comfort, because it’s SUCH a right royal pain in the arse.

Anxiety’s why I eventually quit my career, after years of vague unhappiness escalated into weeping with fear on the commute every day. I don’t have to go there any more, and I’m a lot happier as a result, but anxiety’s still in my way. It’s why I drag my feet over doing lovely things, like going for bike rides and writing blogposts and ringing up friends. It’s why I cancel things I really, really want to do, with people I really, really like, at the last minute. It’s why I fear committing myself to things, agreeing to stuff, volunteering, putting my hand up.

And, of course, in that greatest of ironies, I’m anxious about my anxiety. How should I manage it? Do I have to force myself to do the stuff I’m scared of, in the hope that it’ll help, in some kind of aversion-therapy way? Or can I get away with just avoiding everything that makes me anxious? Would it be OK never to leave the house again, except maybe to go to the opera?

And, most scary of all, is it going to stop me doing all the things I want to do?

I don’t have any answers to all this, and so it still seems safest just not to tell anyone about it**. Maybe, then, it’ll just go away, and I’ll wake up one day and be FINE.


* I filled out the Anxiety & Depression scale at Occupational Health, thinking ‘I’m just writing normal stuff. I’ll look like I’m malingering. Everyone feels like this.’ The nurse said ‘Well, I’m seeing a lot of anxiety here.’ Ah.

** Apart from the internet, which doesn’t count


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  1. Oh my, I read this and I thought I was reading about myself.

    Hi, I’m Helena, and I just discovered your blog. I read this post and I can TOTALLY RELATE. I too have bouts of anxiety and depression that keep me from doing things I really want to do with people I really like, committing to things, getting things done, etc. I fear failure, rejection, you name it.

    I don’t have any answers either, but I wanted to let you know you’re not alone. 🙂

    • Thanks for reading – and for commenting! I don’t think there ARE any easy answers… What I’m learning from talking to other people about all this is that solutions are really individual, and it takes a while to find what works. I’m still getting there, as you can see! Hope things improve for you 🙂

  2. Sometimes just knowing other people suffer too helps. I remember sitting on the tube looking around at people, envious of them that they had their lives all sorted, and didn’t have any of the problems I have. They were probably looking at me thinking exactly the same, not realising I was sitting there quietly having a panic attack.

    The more people who are open about having these issues, the better. It won’t necessarily make our problems go away, but it’s so much more bearable leaving the house knowing the people you’re with either understand or are going through the same thing themselves.

    • Thanks for commenting! I totally recognise what you say about looking at everyone else enviously, thinking they are sorted. It does help to know others have the same issues, absolutely. And particularly the people who look, from the outside, to be totally fine. An acquaintance said to me, ‘But you always seem so calm and organised!’ and I just thought, what?! But then I wondered how many other people look perfectly fine, then go home and collapse.

  3. Like Helena, I can totally relate to this too. I found CBT really helpful, although it hasn’t by any means made the anxiety go away completely. It’s really useful to make me question why I’m getting so anxious about things, and to think about what I’m so worried about. My therapist had me do little challenges each week, and I had to report back to her each week so she’d know I’d done them. They were just little things – like making myself speak up in a meeting at work, when ordinarily I would be sitting there, sweaty-palmed, heart racing, wanting to say something but too scared to do it. It was difficult at first, but once I learned that the worst generally didn’t happen, it got easier.

    The other thing I’ve learned to do is to be nicer to myself, and to stop beating myself up, and to stop agonising over mistake I think I’ve made. I’ve also learned that there are times when I do need to withdraw into myself, when the anxiety is too much. Those are times when I try to look after myself, and do things that are within my comfort zone, and are going to relax me, rather than turn me into a nervous, anxious wreck.

    • Thanks for commenting! These are really interesting points. The stuff about being nice to yourself is very important – I know I’m always berating myself for not getting on with stuff, not being constantly on-the-go, needing to just zone out. My partner’s very good for me in this as he needs quite a lot of ‘down time’ and has, over the years, persuaded me that sitting quietly with a cup of tea or watching a bit of TV is totally fine, and the world will continue to turn even if I stop worrying about it for a bit… 😉

  4. I’m a closet depressive and I’m not willing to out myself outside of my immediate family either.

    I call my depression Kevin and treat him as an annoying companion who needs to be acknowledged and planned for in my day to day life. Some days he’s quiet and some days he wont let me get off the carpet. If I’m honest we’ve been together so long I’m not sure where he ends and I begin.

    I’m not sure there are any answers to all of this the older I get the more I realise there are no nice neat solutions to anything and it’s more about managing the moment than striving to be somewhere, someone or in some none existant ideal state. It’s how I imagine surfing must feel you have no control over the seething forces around you but you can still function in the midst of it all. It’s probably not the best metaphor but I hope you get what I’m saying

    • Wow – that’s a brilliant metaphor. What an interesting way of looking at it. The ‘striving to be somewhere/ someone’ thing is VERY familiar and very unhelpful, I agree. Self-improvement/ self-critique is really ingrained in our culture, I think, and some of us take it to extremes… I will definitely think more on this. Thanks very much!

  5. You can also draw great inspiration from the sea and with care, respect and preparation it’s also possible to even enjoy it. It’s simply a case of figuring out how to surf the chaos.

    Good post BTW

  6. Ok, so you have an anxious Chimp, and you always will (this is according to the Steve Peters Chimp Paradox model), but you do not have to let her rule your life for ever. Steve says that it is Normal, it is to be Expected, it is Acceptable for part of you to occasionally want to take flight or react impulsively, but it can be Taken care of or managed (NEAT). Ask yourself if it is your Human or your Chimp that is backing out of, or is taking, certain daily actions. The Human inside you is the real you, so set out (on paper if necessary) what your values are in life and focus on them when you are in the dilemma. Keep a log of the daily dilemmas and whether it was you or your chimp that was in control. It worked eventually for Vicki Pendleton. (Also read the book, my 150 words only scratch surface!). I am lucky, I have a very un-anxious Chimp, to the point of never getting excited about anything much, except telling other people about their Chimps lol.

    • Thanks for this 🙂 I haven’t read the Chimp Paradox yet, tho’ it’s on the list. The ‘values’ bit is interesting… if you get into the habit, over the years, of thinking you have lots of failings that need to be improved and concentrating on these, it can be hard to identify who you really are and what your real values are. I’m in the middle of that at the moment, I think. Hopefully controlling the Chimp will come later!

    • Lifehacker has some useful stuff: http://lifehacker.com/5986016/try-these-tips-to-overcome-anxiety-and-achieve-your-goals

      Chimp Paradox is on my shelf, too, next on the list.

      I’m currently reading Quiet, by Susan Cain. Sounds like, from your reference to introverts, that you might be already on that one.

      Also, a doctor can refer you to someone for therapies!

      • Thanks Owen 🙂 yes I’ve got Cain’s book, tho’ haven’t read much of it yet. Therapy, argh! If anything makes me weep with fear, it’s that. Haven’t had a lot of luck with it in the past. I’ll have a look at the lifehacker stuff, though, thank you 🙂

  7. I hear ya x I think anyone who doesn’t need a lie-down after the school run must be a robot/a hippy/in the military. Good for you for writing and exploring, it all helps the organic process of figuring out how the hell to get through life! Great piece and some very helpful responses too – although not mine, I’m an anxious depressive masquerading as a Stepford wife. Lots of love xxx

    • Ha! You’re very far from a Stepford wife 🙂 Thanks for this. A couple of people have commented on how I’d’ve run a mile from something like the Rosettes a year or so ago, so I guess some kind of slow progress is being made… XX

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