How do you deal with anxiety when you don't even realise you're suffering from it? You don't. They say the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging there is one, but denial can be a really powerful thing...
‘I don’t have anxiety’
‘I don’t have anxiety. I’m a stress-head... I’m shy… I’m a perfectionist… I worry a lot because I just care too hard. But I don’t have anxiety and I don’t need counselling. Counselling is for people who have big problems and a tough life, and I don’t have either.’
This is what I used to tell others and myself – accompanied with a perfected eye-roll – when they suggested I look into getting counselling.
But after a good while, I finally gave in – mainly to silence the broken record and to have a break from being in the office. Turns out that broken record was a song I really needed to hear.
‘Get my therapist on the phone!’
My only experience of counselling prior to this was seeing it on the telly and in the movies. People who had therapists always had some real issues and I genuinely thought we would have nothing to talk about. I was hardly one for small talk and awkward silences.
For at least the first quarter of my first session, it still felt like it was a waste of time. I remember thinking that the counsellor’s voice was so soothing and calm yet it had the opposite effect on me. I wished she would talk faster so the session would end faster. ‘What were we even going to talk about?’ I literally had nothing to say. ‘This is not for me’.
Cue awkward turtle.
After a lot of hesitation, I realised I did have some things to say that I had been holding in. ‘But what if she thinks I’m a bad person? What if she realises I don’t have a lot going on in the intelligence department? What if she thinks I’m a selfish bitch?’
I eventually came around to it and decided I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from being in this judgement-free zone – and maybe for the first time, I could really, truly, speak completely freely.
And then the floodgates opened
And then there was no shutting me up. Bless the poor soul – anyone who knows me knows that you have to go on a long convoluted journey before getting to the end of any story I tell (which will also probably be reflected in my blogs – soz!)
She kept bringing pretty much everything back to my childhood. Now I’m not saying I had a bad upbringing – I had a great childhood. I would want for nothing. But, when looking back on it, I could definitely start to see a pattern in my behaviour.
And then came that light bulb moment…
Oh shit. I have anxiety! Who would’ve guessed?! **insert face palm emoji**
I quickly came to realise that over the last 27 years I had a somewhat irrational fear of punishment, I had been living in a world of comparisons and I was not living the life I wanted to be living.
‘Don’t do that!’
‘Don’t eat so slowly! Don’t leave the table until you’ve finished all your food!’ (mainly the yucky vegetables, which I now actually enjoy) ‘Don’t get your fingerprints on the glass door!’ But what would actually happen if I didn’t do everything I was supposed to? Would I have got a beating? Well I never actually got to find out because I was always in check but the answer was probably no. Never did it occur to me that fingerprints could be wiped away in seconds, if need be.
And the same could then apply later in life: what would actually happen if I didn’t get that work done today and I instead left work on time? Would I get fired the next day? No, I’d just continue tomorrow…so then? Why was I putting all this pressure on myself? And there’s the key phrase. No one else was really putting this pressure on me, I was putting it on myself.
I slowly started to realise that I only have two hands and I can only do what I can. And so be it.
“Someone else’s success is not your failure” – Jim Parsons
I also finally registered that a lot of my anxiety was due to the fact that I’d been living in a world of comparison, basing where I am in my life on what everyone around me was doing and how they were doing it.
I’ve been giving too much power to other people’s opinions – I can even feel my hands clamming up at the thought of giving this to someone else to read.
When I was younger I wanted to be married and have kids by the age of 23. What. The actual. I got to 23 and was like ‘yeah, this is not where I’m at right now’.
I mean, it may be the perfect path for others, but as for me, I’m about to turn 29 and am walking around with a Disney back-pack that I don’t really want to have to share just yet. So that’s still not where I’m at right now – but at least I can now say that with the confidence in knowing that I’m ok with that because I have chosen a different path for myself, not because I am failing at life.
I am nowhere near the same person I was at the age of 23. I don’t think I’m even the same person I was this time last year. All I know is that I feel I’m exactly where I should be – surrounded by positive energy.
Positive vibes only
Because I finally acknowledged that I have anxiety – with the help of my counsellor and supportive people around me – I was finally able to start getting a handle on it.
During our counselling sessions I’d be asked such simple questions that I’d never even thought to ask myself before. I learned how to focus on my breathing more and realised that there is never only just one option, even when you’re feeling completely trapped.
It’s incredible how making small adjustments to your mindset can change your entire outlook on life.
During my last session with my counsellor, she said something that’s stuck with me. She said it was as if I was looking at the world through different glasses, compared to when she first met me. And that’s exactly how I feel.
Note: this whole journey so far has involved a lot of talking to myself but, if I think about it, there’s always been a voice in the back of my head anyway. I’ve just introduced an even, more sparkly one, and I much prefer her.
Talking about my inner anxieties with someone changed my way of thinking, and in turn it has literally changed my life. It opened me up to a new way of seeing things – for the better! And that’s what led me to start Daydream Seized. Because you might just be sharing a story that someone doesn’t know they need to hear. Like for me, one day you may hear something you’ve heard a million times before and suddenly it might just click; and that will be that.
I went from struggling with anxiety without realising it, to battling it and one day, hopefully conquering it. I say ‘battling’, because in a battle, you always have the opportunity to win.