How I Learned To Accept My Anxiety By Sarah Aged 48 And 3/4s

The first time I used the word anxiety in tandem with my own experiences was last year. My job had been made redundant in a pretty crappy fashion, but I was still chugging on at the same place of work while we all found me something new to do. I jokingly described myself as “Minister without Portfolio” but it was taking its toll. Then a day came when I got off the tube, looked towards work and my heart started pounding. And I genuinely thought something along the lines of “great, now I have anxiety”.

Since that point last year I’ve had to take a long hard look at my experiences and in a frying pan of reality moment just last week I realised I’ve suffered from anxiety for at least half my life.

How does it take that long to realise? Here’s a checklist of things that I have done on a regular basis since my 20s

  • Had “sword of damocles* moments (and that’s actually how I described them at the time) where I have a feeling of absolute dread, that something bad is going to happen
  • Waking up at 3am or thereabouts, heart racing. This happens on a stupidly regular basis. And when I say stupidly regular, I mean most nights.
  • Getting panicked if my other half doesn’t come home when expected, especially if it’s at night, but also whenever he drives back from the football teams he coaches
  • Leaving social events, suddenly, usually without telling anyone, because suddenly it is all too much
  • Getting ready for work and my temperature suddenly rising

There are probably more. These are just the ones that immediately spring to mind. When I tell people about them they say “yup, that’s anxiety”. So why has it taken me so long to realise this? Especially when I am honest about the depressive spells I get from time to time. I think part of it is that I’m wired to diminish my own experiences, that awful “yes, but” phenomena.

“You’re clearly depressed”

“Yes, but I’m not suicidal”

“This is anxiety”

“Yes, but it’s not specific”

“You are crying and you don’t know why? ”

“Yes, but it’s not like I’m breaking down in public”

You get the picture.

I know I’m not alone in the “yes butting” – we diminish how bad things are, we use our coping mechanisms as proof that things are really and truly ok and you don’t need to worry and neither do us, because look ha-ha! we’re FINE. It’s all FINE. Besides I know people who have it much worse than I do, so really I should put up and shut up, yes?

I was reading Jenny Lawson’s brilliant book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, where she talks very honestly about her mental health that I realised how relevent her stories were to me. It would have been very easy to read her accounts of having to hide (under tables, in bathrooms, literally running out of places) as proof that my issues are tiny and inconsequential. Instead I was hit with the “oh shit, I do that too (to some degree)”.

My experience of anxiety is not Jenny Lawson’s. Or yours. Or that of my teen daughter or the lady 3 doors away. There is not one size fits all for anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue. Depression lies to you. Anxiety would like you to hide.

Some of my anxiety I even understand. The worry about loved ones comes from a previous relationship, where my partner got badly injured one night when he was out drinking. I had a 3 month old baby at the time and was suffering from post-natal depression. Five days before Christmas. The same chap went out for matches one night at eleven pm and didn’t come back til 3 the next morning. I was also suffering from depression at the time. These stupid things, so many years ago now, bash their imprint into your psyche and the anxiety isn’t because you don’t trust your current partner, who is not a complete bonehead, but because this stuff rocked you to your imbalanced core.

I genuinely do not know what to do this newfound awareness. My daughter has a habit of shouting “GO TO THE DOCTOR! ” when I talk about health stuff. Truth is, I’m reluctant. I was on anti-depressants once and was too depressed to take them. Actual true story. That was one course of tablets. I didn’t renew the prescription, I felt that if those didn’t work, then obviously I was not depressed enough. Yeah, I’m an idiot…

I’m bad at talking about this stuff. Genuinely terrible at it. The “yes but” mentality takes over and I joke and diminish and very rarely will I say something with any weight or depth about it. I told someone yesterday that once I’d agreed to write this piece I got terribly anxious. She laughed, I laughed, oh! the larks!

Also the absolute truth.

So I’m owning my anxiety, recognizing it, watching it like a hawk. Living with it.

Sarah Carter (@ephemeragrrl)