Everyone has anxiety nowadays, you see it on TV and social media, it’s almost become a trend, this years must have fashion accessory. I don’t think it’s cool, I don’t want it, I wish I could get a refund. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. Which is terrible, I know. Maybe I just have an issue with how open everyone is with it. Open is the wrong word, comfortable in talking about theirs, confident almost. Because I never have been. Even now.
But I do feel there is an element of jumping on the band wagon. Blurred lines between worrying, being nervous and genuine anxiety. So, for those that need clarification and care to listen I am going to give you my version of it.
Anxiety is not just a case of extreme worrying, or being a bit nervous. There is a fuck load more to it than that. Worrying is bad, don’t get me wrong. Worrying comes hand in hand with anxiety, but it’s not the same. The easiest way for me to explain the difference is with a metaphor, and I’m not known for my metaphors so bear with me. At some point in life we all have to take a test of some kind, GSCE’s, A Level’s, driving test etc. Worrying is what you do when waiting for the result, anxiety is what you feel in the lead up to taking said test. It may even stop you, or make you ill, stop you sleeping or give you a panic attack.
Being nervous is also not the same as being anxious. It just isn’t. Here come’s another metaphor, ready? Nervous is what you feel when queueing for a roller coaster, or waiting to go on stage to do a gig. Anxiety is the fear that something will go wrong, that the rollercoaster will crash or you’ll get booed off stage.
Anxiety can be crippling, metaphorically speaking. It will stop you doing what you want to do, it will convince you that the worst possible outcome is the only outcome. But there is more to it than that, other symptoms include anger issues, insomnia, chest pains, restlessness, lack of concentration and a fear of social situations.
For me, it’s the worst aspect of my BPD. I am a living breathing example of how anxiety can cripple you and hold you back. I am a victim of my anxiety, 100%. The life I live now was determined by the choices I was too scared to make 20 years ago. Not the things I chose to do, but the things I chose not to do, I say choose but it wasn’t my choice. You might scoff and say ‘everyone has a choice’ and that I chose to give in and let the anxiety win. That I was weak.
I wish it was that simple.
But when you can’t trust your own thoughts, your own head, when it’s telling you that you will fail, that everyone will laugh at you, that you are not good enough, when your own voice is your worst enemy with a mind of its own who can you trust?
Not a single fucking person. That’s who.
I know what you’re thinking, what about friends and family? You can always rely on friends and family to support you. I wish it was that simple. I’m sure people do. But inside the head of someone whose own voice is their personal full-time live in bully, then the answer is, Fuck no, they’ll be the worst.
My voice, which I will come to in a separate section, has convinced me for years that not only could I not do the things I wanted to do but, those closest to me would be the ones to laugh the most, to twist the knife and watch me fall with a smile on their faces.
That, is what anxiety will convince you of. It won’t even let you consider sharing your ideas, your plans, thoughts and fears, with the people closest to you. It will make you swallow them down, bury them and make you feel stupid for even considering them in the first place.
It’s one thing being laughed at by strangers, it’s another when it’s the people closest to you.
That’s anxiety. It is a living thing; it has its own mind and with it, comes its own evil, twisted agenda. Where you are the target every single fucking day.
I tick all the boxes when it comes to anxiety, aside from it stopping me from doing what I want to do, I also suffer from chest pains, major anger issues, sleeplessness, restlessness and social anxiety.
But I can’t go in to detail on all the parts of my anxiety here, I could probably write a separate book just on this alone. But I do want to talk about my social anxiety, mainly because if you knew me, from the outside it would be the least obvious.
I say to my therapist all the time that I am a walking contradiction, because I suffer from social anxiety, but I also need to be the loudest, the center of attention, the last to go home. Figure that one out. I think it’s just my defence mechanism, my coping strategy, over compensating. Like I said in the intro, I always wanted to be the cool kid and the cool kids don’t suffer from social anxiety. They thrive on being the center of attention. I was the master of hiding it, still am, you would never tell.
For me, I think, my social anxiety comes from the pressure I put on myself that it’s down to me to keep everyone entertained. If there’s a gap in conversation, it’s my fault, if someone looks bored, it’s my fault. I am constantly thinking of what to say next, the next joke to make to keep the night going, not actually listening to what people are talking about, just thinking how to keep it going, because it’s my fault if the night is shit. Which in reality I know is bullshit. I know it is, but sitting here writing about it in hindsight is a lot different to when I’m out and can’t think of anything else.
But it’s not just going out, social anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean you only get worked up being in crowds or loud places. I suffer from social anxiety in my own home. Due to most of us having kids, we don’t get out often, so generally I only see my mates when they can come around for a beer.
Just coming round for a beer, sounds straight forward right?
It can start as early as the week before, at the very least the night before. I’ll get so worked up I can’t sleep. I’ll keep myself awake going over the fact that if I don’t sleep, I’ll be fucked the next day. Ironic right?
The day of I will spend all day in my head, going over every single possible conversation we can have and what to talk about, what music to listen to, if we’ll sit in the front room, the dining room or the garden. I’ll go over every scenario so there’s no surprises and I’ll know how to respond and what to say. It’s exhausting. And these are friends I’ve had for nearly twenty years. But I still panic, I still worry that it will go wrong. And when they arrive, I become awkward, I don’t know what to say, I feel on show.
I couldn’t tell you the number of times my mate Robin has said to me ‘you okay? You look like shit’ as he walks through the door. It’s because I’m exhausted, I’ve already had the night in my head, and not just one version, but every single fucking version you could possibly think of. And the thought of now having to do it for real is, well, exhausting.
This is with my best mate. There are no allowances with my social anxiety, not even my best mate.
It’s no better with my parents either, which genuinely really upsets me. One example that sticks out the most was my current youngest son’s 2nd birthday, which was almost a year ago. As his birthday is in November we usually go to a pub for lunch, all of us, my Mum and her partner, my Dad, my Step-Mum, Sarah’s parents, and if they are able to our brothers and sisters. I had agreed with Sarah that after lunch I was going to stay at my Dad’s for the night and she would take the kids home. Staying at my Dad’s is a regular thing, sometimes we take the kids, sometimes I’ll just take my eldest and sometimes I’ll just go on my own. It was nothing out of the ordinary. However, I was driving so I couldn’t drink at lunch and when we left my Dad decided to get in the car with me. My mum took Sarah and the Kids back home. It was just me and him for a 30-minute drive. Sober.
I didn’t have a clue what to talk to him about, nothing came to my head, nothing. The silences were excruciating. This is my own Father, who I have a great relationship with. But because it was just us two in the car, I had no one else there to fill the gaps, it was painful. For me anyway.
My own Dad and I didn’t know what to say to him. I hate myself for that. I fucking hate my anxiety for that.
Do not underestimate the power of anxiety, and if I can give whoever is reading this some advice, do not let it stop you doing what you want to do. Easier said than done I know. Aside from Sarah and the kids, I hate my fucking life, I am fucking miserable. All because I allowed my anxiety to dictate what I would and wouldn’t do. And it’s the things you don’t do that will determine which path your life will take.
Don’t wait until nearly 40 years of age to try and take your life back.