Headspace #1

A few weeks ago I quit my job for mental health reasons – which I wrote about here: Who’s got an impressive ginger beard and just quit his job? This guy.

I had a great reaction, and many people got in touch saying they wished they could share their stories but don’t necessarily want to do so publically. Writing about your experiences can be an incredibly cathartic experience, and give you some headspace. For those who have a mental health condition it can be reassuring to see that you aren’t alone, and for those “without” it can be useful to learn more about what mental health is, and to learn a little about how you can help others.

So I’m delighted to introduce the first anonymous post which is a powerful piece on how anxiety can affect self-esteem. If you’d like to submit a blog just get in touch.

ANXIETY AND…. Self-esteem

Anxiety has an unhealthy marriage with self-esteem. Poisonous and abusive. My psychologist told me the root of my anxiety was a core belief grown from low self-esteem. I’ve thought lowly of myself for so long, I feel it would be arrogant to be think any higher. He didn’t tell me how to improve self-esteem or what created such a low level in the first place. I’ve always been defensive. I’ve always remembered the criticisms. And I always assume the worst about myself. I have distinct memories as a small child of feeling inadequate in both physical appearance and amplitude. On one hand it is reassuring that it really is ‘in my head’ and there isn’t a trauma or abuse that has caused it but alternatively it depresses me that the make-up of my brain pathways want to beat me down for no real reason. It depresses me that it could never go away. Then, sometimes, it depresses me that perhaps I’ve been right all along, it’s not anxiety. I am just inadequate. That is how you can have anxiety AND have depression.

When I’m honest with myself, and I dig to the root of the low self-esteem there’s a disturbing answer. I hate myself. The evidence of this presents when a panic attack is imminent. I often say out loud ‘I hate you’. The feeling is overwhelming and often scary. I can be physically disgusted by my appearance and find myself harshly judging those who choose to keep my company.

A panic attack is often described to cause a ‘fight or flight’ response. The ‘freeze’ is omitted. I freeze. My throat closes up, I become mute. My muscles freeze. I start to hold my breath. My gaze becomes fixed. I’ll hear my partner or friend pleading to tell me what’s the matter but I won’t be able to move. I’m frozen. I believe that this has kept me alive on the darker days of my mental illness. When this passes, I cry. Inconsolably. I hear myself shout out ‘I want it to stop, my head hurts’. I lie down, taking care of my breathing while someone rubs my head for an hour or so. When I sit up again, I have a hangover of emotions. Shame. Relief. Anger. Sadness. Nervousness. My muscles will ache, every step is delicate and requires consideration and determination. The hangover will last several days but I’m usually grateful that it’s passed.

I wasn’t prepared for how angry anxiety can make you. On the bad days, or bad weeks, I find myself mistrusting, resentful and judgemental. I see people for their faults. I project my feelings onto others. I hear my insecurities in the voices of those I love. I feel bullied. I roll my eyes and deny my illness as other people’s fiction to justify their brutality. When this passes, I feel overwhelming guilt. I apologise profusely and promise to ‘seek help’. Then normally, over years, I lose the ones I love. I push them away. Gaps widen in visits. Phone calls are less often. I’m cut out. Then, I feel depressed.

Over my life I have tweaked every aspect of my lifestyle, relationships and friendships in pursuit of a formula that will calm the anxiety. What I have learned is that it is not my life that has to change, in fact it is not environmental at all, but it’s me. There are of course risk factors and triggers, soothers and ‘happy places’ but it’s up to me to manage it wherever I am. I’ve ran away so many times and its stalking tendencies persist. I’ve been told it can get better. I’m doing everything I can to be well, I’m just not sure I remember what that feels like.

The first 4 years, I only told one close friend. The next 4, I only talked to professionals. In the last 6 years my symptoms escalated so it was impossible to hide from those who were nearby. This year, I have started to indirectly talk to others who I know will understand. I’ve never been ready to talk openly or publicly but Antony’s post helped me so this is what I can offer in return for now:

I am enough. You are enough too.

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