Time to Talk

A few days ago it was Time to Talk Day, I thought I would describe my own particular neurosis, and how living with it can be infuriating.

Full-time anxiety is frustrating. The baseline fear and nagging self-doubt is ever-present. When everything feels disassociated and unstable, that feeling is the only thing that seems intrinsically personal. It is uniquely, recognisably mine. It sits with me like nausea. So familiar, it reminds me of myself as a child and grounds me. I feel as though I could no more untangle myself from this anxiety than unwind my DNA. So, when habitual behavioural patterns emerge it can feel like every day is groundhog day. These behaviours are often borne out of low confidence or self-worth, and they are usually unhelpful. Most people have these. It’s why people have trouble maintaining relationships, or choose inappropriate partners, or over-compete, or have unhealthy dependence on booze or drugs, or become control freaks. My own unhelpful behaviours are tired, dysfunctional ‘coping strategies’. After experiencing fear that should be reserved for real threat, but that my brain has maintained for everyday life, I quit and retreat every time. My life gets put on hold. Panic is not meant to be endured; It’s there for the sprint, not the marathon. It also cannot be continually tolerated. Something ingrained is telling me that the world isn’t safe, and that I will not cope. It’s no surprise that this belief can therefore become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A large part of the frustration for me comes from the internal battle of knowing intellectually that my withdrawal is detrimental, versus the feelings of fear around facing the world. This alone is sometimes confusing enough to feel frightening. Anyone who has experienced a panic attack will know the undeniable feeling that you are going to die, whilst consciously knowing you’re not. It seems as though the only explanation can be madness. It is impossible to understand what it’s like to believe you are going mad, until you believe it. It’s terrifying. That terror is just a cruel by-product of elevated levels of cortisol. The embedded go-to behaviours, those well-worn neural pathways caused by this cycle of anxiety only serve to strengthen it. It is so frustrating to know that, and not know how to change it. Humans are naturally adaptable, so I find myself wondering why I cannot break lifelong habits. The self-questioning becomes existential, and I become exhausted.

All of this, the self-criticism, the high cortisol levels, the isolation; All of it is a perfect recipe for clinical depression. Depression will remove any capability to cope, by taking your sleep and clouding your focus. It can all seem inevitable and hopeless, but of course it isn’t. For me, I realise that my world has become so small and I need to redress that, because it isn’t helping me. There will be more frustration on the way back to my life because it takes time, and baby steps, but I learn that I can cope. I use my frustration and resentment towards my anxiety to acknowledge it for all it is, just chemistry. I know that everything is scary, and nothing is scary. The more I challenge myself, the more I can handle a challenge. My life is taken off hold. This is all trite I know, but it’s easily forgotten. I do more, see people more, and carve new neural pathways until they take hold. The more I communicate, the more I make sense of it, and so it starts with talking.

Claire O’Neil

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