I know what anxiety is like, because I’ve experienced it throughout my life. So how is it that when my body is taken over by anxiety’s symptoms I can’t recognise it?
Nearly a week ago I noticed that my hands weren’t responding quickly when my mind was willing my fingers to text. Aside from finding it frustrating, I didn’t think much of it, until the following day when I had an overwhelming need to be constantly busy. This need to keep busy then grew into a need to have someone (namely Chris) with me virtually 24/7. By the weekend, my body ached all over. I hadn’t slept for more than a few hours in days and my muscles were exhausted, but I still couldn’t doze off. Counting sheep didn’t work; baths didn’t work; hot drinks didn’t work; sleeping pills didn’t work; meditation didn’t work.
On Saturday, knackered and my body in pain, I left a barbecue that we were hosting to go upstairs and collapse on the bed. Chris came to check on me. He took my temperature and googled my symptoms. I thought I was seriously ill. My memory was bad, my speech was disjointed and my muscles weren’t responding to the queues my brain was giving them.
“Generalised anxiety disorder,” Chris said.
No. Surely not? I know anxiety. This isn’t anxiety. I don’t feel anxious. My body just feels like it’s falling apart. That isn’t anxiety… is it?
But it made sense. The new medication I’m on initially can intensify symptoms of anxiety: I wasn’t sleeping because my mind was too active, I was jittery and I didn’t want to be alone.
I’m now being treated to counter the anxiety caused by the side effects of my medication, but the anxiety hasn’t gone away. Aside from panic attacks, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it in such an intense way. It feels completely out of my control because my mind doesn’t feel anxious. I’ve not been fearful of anything in particular, but at the same time I’m fearful of absolutely everything.
A few days ago, I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in a while and walked over to them, looking forward to saying hi and catching up, but by the time I got over to them my body was shaking, my mouth was dry and I was seconds away from tears (partially from the embarrassment and partially from the anxiety). I then met up with some of my best friends and I was still a mess. I couldn’t join the queue in the shop we were in because the thought of being forced to stand still, waiting for minutes made my heart race. We had lunch together and towards the end of my meal my right hand was in so much pain and felt almost like it was cramping, but it wasn’t cramp, my fingers just wouldn’t respond enough to pick up my spoon. I used my left hand to finish my meal. I don’t even know whether they noticed, but I was mortified. I asked Chris to come and pick me up. I’d become scared of driving on my own and couldn’t face public transport either.
I shouldn’t feel embarrassed, and I wish I felt more empowered in my illness, but the truth is that I don’t. Some days I feel ashamed and the symptoms I experience aren’t something I feel all that comfortable about sharing. Some days I can look back and laugh about things I’ve done under the influence of bipolar disorder, but some days it really isn’t funny. I’m trying to be more open and honest, to encourage a dialogue about mental illness, but some days that isn’t the easiest thing in the world to attempt to achieve.
I’m on the way up now, coming through to the other side. I’m starting back at work tomorrow too, and I can’t wait. I’ve needed this time away from work, but it’s definitely time for me to go back.
Some useful links:
Mental Health Foundation
Mind | Information & Support | Helplines
Samaritans | Talk to us