Friday, 10 November 2017

Anxiety and me

It was my first day of Rainbows.  I was really excited as I remember telling my mum about how my friends had started going to Rainbows and she replied 'would you like to go?' just like that. No 'we'll see' or 'maybe next term' or 'let's see how you get on with tap dancing', she just gave me the green light there and then.  My mum was very like that growing up.  She always gave us the option to try as much as we possibly could.  She let me and my sisters make our own decisions and follow our own paths, which is probably one of the reasons why you would not get 3 people so different if you tried! People often assume my sisters are my half sisters because we are all so different- and I definitely put that down to the way my mother so independently brought us up. We were very much 'left to it' in a good way.  So off I went into the village hall and met my friends.  Around half way in to the session, we all sat down and had a biscuit.  A lovely bourbon, which I'm still a fan of now, although more so the whiskey kind than biscuit.  As we were all eating our biscuit, I could hear myself chewing and the sound got louder and louder.  Moving my mouth in all sorts of silly positions, I was very aware that I was making a lot of noise and I was desperate to make it stop and to sound like everyone else.  All of a sudden, I felt as though everyone was watching me, listening to me, mocking me.  I felt as though I didn't want to come back because next time no one would want to sit with me because I ate my biscuit too loud.  I felt as though my friends now didn't like me as I didn't fit in with the quieter biscuit eaters.  I was 5.

That is the first memory that I have of my anxiety.  I believe it has always been with me as I can't remember a time where I haven't had anxiety following me around.  I was always described as a 'worried child'. I constantly had that worried look on my face and well, I was constantly worrying.  Every time I was away from my parents, I would assume they were going to be in an accident, I would look out of the window and check the car on the drive several times a day to check if there was a bomb under it (thanks to an episode of casualty that I had seen) if I got into the car and hadn't had a chance to check the underneath, I would be so nervous for the whole journey.  Every year, my mother used to take me to London to visit my aunt which I loved. Once we were on Oxford street and were caught in the middle of a bomb scare.  I remember thinking it was great as my mum took us to McDonalds as the street was closed off which was a novelty; but something must have frightened me deep down as every visit to London afterwards resulted in an inner panic- most of the time assuming that there was a bomb under every chair I sat on. I remember sitting in the theatre trying to make myself enjoy the show, but I couldn't as I was convinced that I was going to die.  Even though I didn't share much of these thoughts and feelings with my parents, they knew I was a 'worrier' to the point where they kept a lot from me to try and help me to stop worrying. I never told them that I knew a lot more than they thought I did including my dad battling cancer- which they tried so hard to keep from me to protect my feelings, so I never shared with them that I knew.  Even now, every time I get a phone call from a member of my family I think it is to tell me that my dad has passed away because he has been ill. My dad worked away and one day he brought me back a 'worry doll' from Thailand. I used to whisper my worries into the doll and put it under my pillow at night in hope my worries would go away.  I found this very comforting- I used it every single night- if you are reading this and have a child who is anxious, I highly recommend a 'worry doll'.

Growing up with anxiety, I have started to know what my triggers are.  One in which is social media, which I know- is very ironic. I know exactly where this has come from.  Through school, I didn't have a problem making friends.  I wouldn't say I loved school, but definitely didn't hate it.  I was always conscious of fitting in, planned my non school uniform day outfit weeks in advance and bar the odd nasty comment every now and again which you get as a teenager, I never had a problem with bullying of any kind.  Fast forward to when I was 17 and at sixth form.  I was bullied terribly.  I really feel for anyone who is bullied online, as I remember feeling as though there was no escape.  I would get it at college, then would come home and get it worse online.  My peers would never say anything to these peoples faces, but many of them printed out pages and pages of what was said online and hand it in to a teacher- confidentially of course.  The main culprit would be suspended every now and again (which they would boast on myspace about) and then would be back with a vengeance- you see when the school is getting a good fee from a pupil attending there, theres not much exclusion that goes on.  My mum would tell me not to look at it- but how could I not? Its soooo hard when you KNOW it's happening at that very moment.  Everyone could see what was being said, and it would only make me more anxious not knowing what was being written about me for the world to see, and what everyone was talking about in the canteen. I felt like an idiot anyway, (I was 17 and being badly bullied, I thought it just happened to young kids) so I may as well have felt like an idiot and knew what people were saying about me and my family. What made it worse is they were making comments about my mum- who had recently had chemo and radiotherapy for her breast cancer and they were mocking her for her appearance as she had lost her hair and had a mastectomy. I then had to pretend to her it had all stopped as I did not want her to see or hear anything that was being said- she had gone through enough already to have to endure that.
Recently, I read a comment about me on a web site and all of those feelings came flooding back. It was literally like I was back in sixth form and it changed social media for me and the way that `I saw it.  If you don't already know, I did some investigating, found out who it was and outed them.  I did get an apology from her, however she said that the comments can't be deleted; so basically what she has done, is left a conversation about me open for anyone to join in with.  To this day that still makes me very anxious. What was the worst for me is that this person was messaging me advice, commenting words of encouragement on my photos, and I really did think that she was just one of those insta-mums that you feel as though you were 'all in this together' with.  That bought me right back down to earth and made me realise that you do not know who the hell you were talking to online, which pretty much popped my little social media bubble.
Another trigger is alcohol.  I am not a big drinker as I know that this causes me anxiety, but in my party days, I was never really the kind of person who could sit and laugh about a night out the morning after. Well I did, but inside I was anxiety city.  Caffeine is another one which I have recently realised, too.
Phobias is another one that dominates me when I am having a bad spell of anxiety.  I have arachnophobia and also a fear of bananas which is linked to that, which is always laughed at making me feel pretty shit really.  I have a routine every night that I HAVE to do where I will check for spiders and I also do the same when using any towel- I have to hold it up, check both sides and shake 2 times. If I see a big spider it will stay with me for weeks and I will feel like its crawling over me for days, and that normally starts off a bad spell of anxiety for me.

Motherhood is a trigger that is a whole different ball game. I do think that anxiety along with the dreaded mum guilt does come as a package with being a parent for most people, which makes it difficult to determine whats a healthy 'normal' dose of anxiety and whats not.  For me, the key moment was when I was walking down the stairs with my baby and the normal thoughts were going through my head of what would happen if I fell etc that I just couldn't walk down the stairs any longer- so I sat on the stairs and bum shuffled the whole way down holding my baby close to my chest.  My anxiety was there in full force- so much so that it literally had me on the floor.  I didn't trust myself to walk down the stairs several times when Bonnie was small. Being on maternity leave is hard at times (read my blog post on maternity leave) and you are spending most of the time with people you hardly know which can be really hard for most people, let alone those with any form of social anxiety.  Yes, I went to lots of baby groups and meet ups but I had to literally make myself do this for my own sanity.

Thanks to the fact that more people are talking about anxiety, I have realised a lot about myself and have found answers to why I am the way I am and more importantly, that I am not alone. Which is the main reason for this blog post- you are not alone. A lot of people are surprised to learn all of this- watching me on my Insta Stories, or seeing me chatting away at a baby group, I know I must seem confident but deep down I struggle so much socially. Unlike what many may think, I hate being centre of attention (I didn't realise this fully until my wedding day and I struggled a lot)and it takes a lot to have the confidence to turn up to things. Even dropping my daughter off at nursery I feel as though everyone's like 'that's the bad mum I was talking to you about'. Social situations like eating in a restaurant I hate as I feel as though people are judging what I'm eating as I am fat. On the outside, I'm chatting away to other mums at a group, or I'm waffling to my phone, but inside a lot of the time I am that 5 year old girl at her first session of Rainbows.
Over the years, my number of friends has dwindled, but the friendships I have have strengthened. I have a good group of friends and I feel lucky to be able to say that.  That doesn't stop me thinking that every one of my friends dislikes me, are only inviting me to things because they feel as though they have to, or are laughing at me behind my back.  It sounds so silly to me as I am writing it down but it's true.  I know in my head that its ridiculous, but I do feel that way. I constantly feel like I am not good enough. Over the years I have met friends online, but I am always thinking 'am I pestering them' 'do they think I'm weird' or 'are they screen grabbing my messages and laughing at them with someone else' about literally every message I send. I'm so anxious about people reading this blog even, and them thinking that I'm feeling sorry for myself, or that I am not emotionally stable or that I'm weird, the anxiety I get when someone I know in real life starts following me on my blogging Instagram and the thought that they are sat there laughing at me and my ramblings on my stories, I basically have a constant fear of being judged. I know I am a nice person.  I like to do things to help people, but I feel as though everyone else sees everything that's bad about me and not the good.

The reason for this blog post is not to make you feel sorry for me at all, it's not because I'm self obsessed, or dramatic, it's because for most of my life I didn't even realise this was a thing! I didn't get the whole anxiety thing and only recently have I realised that it's something I can get help for. And most importantly, that I'm certainly not alone. 



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