We will all have experienced anxiety to some extent or another during our lives; it is very often a normal and expected reaction to a situation where the outcome is uncertain. Anxiety is a physiological, emotional and cognitive experience. It is evolutionary and has helped us as a species to survive – if we didn’t feel anxiety, we wouldn’t be aware of our surroundings and therefore wouldn’t respond to potential threats. Yet, whilst our brains are wonderful things, they have developed in ways that can cause us problems: we have evolved with the capacity to imagine, to remember back into the past and also to wonder about the future – and this means that we can ruminate, worry and predict, which can cause and perpetuate feelings of anxiety.
As a result, sometimes anxiety can become an unwelcome guest in our everyday lives. It can stop us from doing the things we want to, impact negatively on our wellbeing, relationships and overall quality of life. For some or us, it can start to feel as though it is a part of who we are. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way…..
Dawn Stone (@dawni3 on Instagram) works as a patient support officer at a blood cancer charity, having previously worked in the NHS as a maternity support worker and then as a midwife. Dawn decided to write this letter to talk more openly about anxiety, and hopefully help others to know there is nothing shameful about it or needing help to manage it. Dawn says:
“Medication and therapy helped me so much, I just wish I had done it sooner. I left my job in the NHS as it was making my anxiety unmanageable, and I just wish that we could care for each other and our mental health with more dignity and compassion. I hope this letter, to my anxiety, helps open the conversation”.
In this letter to anxiety, Dawn talks beautifully about saying goodbye to her own anxiety and what has helped her to do this. Thank you so much Dawn for sharing something so heartfelt with us, in the first ever guest letter to the other chair:
I never imagined I’d be writing you a break up letter. I imagined us as a dysfunctional couple, growing old together with lots of tears and resentment.
It always felt like you were bigger and stronger than me, able to change how a day or a moment felt, and able to overpower feelings of joy or happiness. You felt like this weight I had to carry with me, stuck to my hip, making me too exhausted to run or swim.
I don’t really remember when you showed up, it feels like you’ve always been around. If I think back, it was once the bullying started as a teenager. At first I think you were trying to protect me, making me paranoid and hyper aware, to try and stop me from being hurt like that again. But quickly I felt constantly afraid and nervous, and I doubted myself and my worth. And what started as a whisper of self-loathing slowly became louder and louder and louder.
As I got older, I realised alcohol quietened you down and made me feel happy and confident for a while, until the next day when the fear came back of what I had said and how I had acted and whether I had done something I’d regret. It seemed you ruined something else, the freedom to have a few drinks with friends and enjoy myself, relax. I could never relax with you around.
While at university, you deafened me to everything and everyone else. I barely scraped my way through my degree, suffering insomnia, paralysing self-doubt and more bullying which made me feel like the worthless teenager I had been all those years ago.
You took up all the space in my brain and I knew I had to try and get help. I tried to diminish you with medication, to make you smaller and quieter, so I wasn’t deafened by your loudness. And it worked for a while, but I kept needing to increase the dose as you grew louder and stronger. Coming off the medication alone was scary and I’m really glad it went okay, because I didn’t do it safely and I wish I could redo it, gently ease myself off the tablets and be more prepared. I hadn’t put anything in place toprotect me from you once the medication had gone, and I was so afraid.
You had wormed your way into my head again into all the corners, I couldn’t dream without it becoming a nightmare, I couldn’t read a new book, I couldn’t concentrate well at work. Ibegan to imagine I’d never be able to just be me, that we’d always be a duo, you my uninvited plus one.
When I fell in love, it felt like you suddenly grew even bigger, like you had a new lease of life. Suddenly you had something new to power you, my fears and insecurities of letting someone into my heart and into the dark, scary places I was afraid to show anyone.
And then during the worst week, I found a little light, from my wonderful therapist who offered to see me as a client and made no promises, but gave me hope I might just be able to see a life without you. And I was the most scared I had ever been.
Talking about you, and how much room you had in my mind, and what we had been through together was so frightening. I hadn’t let myself really think about you and where you had come from and suddenly I was sat with my therapist in a small space, relieving my thoughts and feelings and the things I hadn’t told anyone. That I had let you believe I was worthless, unloveable and broken. That I wanted to be liked and worried for hours about times I imagined I had done something to make someone dislike me. That I worried and worried and worried away hours of my life, being afraid and uncertain of what the next day, next week, next month might hold.
And slowly, my therapist saw past you. She saw me, the me without you, the me who is funny and kind and smart and generous and sarcastic and empathetic. The me who can laugh freely, who loves deeply and enjoys taking care of others. The me who is worthy, and loveable, and important.
She showed me who I was, and why you were wrong, how your loudness and strength had meant I could only hear you, and couldn’t hear my friends and family tell me they loved me. She showed me how small you really are, and fragile, and easy to manage.
And I let you go. I was afraid, afraid of who I was if you went away, but I realised I am okay. I am worthy. I am the best version of myself without you around, and I like me. And while I don’t like you, I don’t hate you. I don’t get angry when you show up anymore, I just breathe and acknowledge your presence, and I know you’ll pack up and leave, because you don’t belong here anymore. Because I know how strong I am – and it’s stronger than you let me believe.
So this is goodbye. This is the parting of the ways, our line in the sand, where we shake hands and go our separate ways.
You’re not invited to my future.
A bit about anxiety…..
In terms of difficulties with our mental health, anxiety encompasses many things including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), various phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety, to name a few. Anxiety may be an acute reaction to a life event or it may be more chronic and feel as though it is actually part of who you are. Therefore, imagining a life without anxiety within it can be difficult for many people to comprehend. However, if anxiety is stopping you from going about your everyday life in the way you want to, is becoming too difficult to manage or is having an impact on your quality of life and wellbeing, it might be helpful to look for some support.
If you are struggling with anxiety, it is important to know that you aren’t alone. It can manifest in so many different ways and because of that, it is essential that you don’t compare your own path to understanding and managing your anxiety to anyone else.
There are a number of evidence based interventions for anxiety, including medication and talking therapies. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) outline these here, and these are the interventions that you are most likely to find on offer within your local NHS services. Everyone should have access to an Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service locally (google IAPT [your local area] or ask your GP) and you are often able to refer yourself. They predominately offer Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), although each team will differ slightly, and some may have some additional therapies.
Many people love CBT and find that they have very good results from it. However, if you haven’t, please do not write off talking therapies altogether. As previously mentioned, for some people, anxiety has been a more longstanding difficulty and therefore may need a slightly different approach to tackle it. Talk with your GP or local IAPT service about alternative options, which could include a different therapeutic approach or a longer-term course of CBT that looks a bit deeper at your core beliefs and earlier life experiences. Likewise, if one medication doesn’t work for you, an alternative might be possible – always ask your GP for different available options.
If you can afford private therapy (or have private healthcare that can cover this), this can offer a much more bespoke and integrative approach to your difficulties. They may suggest therapies such as Schema, Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT), Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). All of these therapies have a good evidence base and a highly skilled and qualified psychologist can integrate many of the techniques to meet your own individual needs.
For more information on how to find and ask for help, please have a look through this post here. Private therapy isn’t always an option for many people, but I hope that this post can also suggest some affordable alternatives.