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

Barking, biking, boaking. An incomplete look at 2013

December 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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[Caution: contains navel-gazing]

I’m always a bit maudlin at New Year. Traditionally, it’s been an opportunity to look back with dissatisfaction over a year of anxiety and underachievement, and look unhappily forward to more of the same.

This year, I feel a bit different: worse in some ways, better in others. February saw me finally crack and go to the GP. A couple of weeks off with stress turned into a couple of months; six months later I was still off, and still feeling pretty terrible. So as of September I’m on a year’s sabbatical, doing a few other things and seeing where I end up. A bit of a quest: is there something I can do that won’t make me feel as useless as academia does? (I’m eternally grateful for the support of @spandelles in making this happen.)

So, it’s been an odd year. A lot of soul-searching, some very low episodes, and quite a few epiphanies. There’s also been quite a lot of biking.
sunny cross ride 2013
Now, I can’t say that biking has saved me from anxiety. Life still makes me weep with fear. I still avoid my friends in case they tell me I have nothing to worry about, and I just need to get out of the house more, or maybe do yoga. But biking’s playing an odd part in reshaping life. I’ve done all sorts of new stuff on bikes this year. Much of it half-paralysed me with terror. But there’s a weird interaction between fear and fun: these have been some of the best times I’ve ever had on a bike. Some highlights:

1. Trying A Bit Harder. I know you all hate Strava, but it’s made an enormous difference to my riding. Who knew trying hard could be fun? Clawing my way slowly up a couple of local leaderboards has done wonders for my self-esteem. And when I go badly, there are always excuses.

2. Velodroming. The fun-fear interaction in microcosm. I sit in track centre, trying not to be sick on my shoes. It takes a superhuman effort to peel myself off the railings and up onto the boards. But zipping down off the banking is the most amazing feeling in the world.

3. Road training. I still can’t follow a wheel without intoning OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD. But! Doing through-and-off round the running track! Sprinting for the line! My face aches from grinning.

4. PODIUMING in an actual race. Okay, it was a ‘fun’ race at the Orbital Festival, and it was full of other idiot novices, and basically everyone came in before me. But I still PODIUMED and it was, quite honestly, wonderful.

5. Cyclocross. You all know about this already. ‘Cross saved me from giving up biking altogether, so I owe it. It also regularly brings me into contact with some of my darkest fears (coming last, never EVER getting any better, getting my arse whipped by my friends, and other variants of failing pathetically in public) which seems to be good for me, if painful. My 2013 ‘cross season has been rubbish, but there’s always next year, right?

bike in hailstorm 2013

Anyway. Where’s this all going? @spandelles pointed out to me the other day (with his customary insight) that this year, while I’ve been full of doubts – about work, my capabilities, whether I will ever feel any better – cycling has been my testing ground. Who am I, really? What do I enjoy? What am I good at? What could I get better at? Where should I put the effort in? What potential do I have?

Maybe 2014 will be the year where I can start to generalise from these experiences. Maybe it will all start to join up and make sense. Who knows? Stay tuned, if you can stand it.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank you lot. 2013 would’ve been a lot harder without you. While my existing friends largely carried on without me, twitter leapt to my side, encouraging, supporting and occasionally ticking me off. (A few have even made the improbable leap from online to real-life friends.) I send you all a kiss. Big one.

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