Sunday, 26 November 2017

Worrying Yourself to Death

I don’t mind confessing that for more than half my life I’ve suffered from a ridiculous anxiety.  Even though I told myself it was a ridiculous anxiety, the ridiculous anxiety wouldn’t go away. So, I took myself off for counselling.  And when I say took myself off, I don’t mean, in that moment, that I picked up the phone to a professional head doctor and said, ‘Hello, is that Mr Counsellor? Excellent! Okay if I pop in and see you for a natter about anxiety this afternoon?’ Oh no, no, no!  It took me two years before I even privately admitted that anxiety was getting out of hand, rudely interrupting happy moments – from walking my dog, to watching a film, or whooping it up at a party.  Because anxiety is no respecter of where you are, who you are with or what you are doing. Anxiety likes nothing more than tapping you on the shoulder in the middle of sharing a joke with a friend, or while you’re doing some shopping.
          ‘Hello, it’s me.  You haven’t been paying me enough attention. It’s about time you felt some anxiety, and just for good measure, have a panic attack too.’
          I trundled on for years saying, ‘Stuff off, Anxiety.  I’m a Brit.  We are famous for our stiff upper lips and pulling ourselves together!’
          But bit by bit, anxiety wore me down.  I found myself waking up in the mornings regularly greeted by anxiety.
          ‘Ah, awake now, are we?  About flipping time, because we need to spend a good hour thinking up some really awful anxiety-making stuff!’
          It was time to do something about it. Even then anxiety has a funny way of holding you back.
          ‘Hey, heyyy, aw, c’mon, I’ve only been having some fun.  You don’t really need to see a head doctor! Tell you what. I’ll give you a break. What about I leave you alone for a while?’
          Until you seriously start to think you are certifiably nuts.  So, ignoring the little voice, I went off to see a smashing chap who firstly told me I wasn’t half way round the bend, nor was I the first person to see him with this particular anxiety, nor would I be the last. And so began the addressing of anxiety, starting with drawing a timeline of my life.  Bit by bit, the cause of anxiety was revealed.  I’ll now tell you what the anxiety was.  Note the past tense!  Okay, deep breath from me, and I don’t care if you laugh.  It was a fear of death.
          How can something as natural as the end of a life cycle cause so much anxiety?  Well, for me, it’s because sometimes we don’t all reach a ripe old age, snoring our way soporifically from this world to the next.  That’s where trauma arose.
          A glance at the timeline showed the first memory of trauma.  Aged five, the death of a classmate. I made my shocked teacher very angry, telling her to cheer up, and that everyone had got it wrong, because only old people died.  It was only when the entire class moved up a year, and the little girl in question still hadn't returned to school, that her death sunk in.  Aged ten, another death of a school mate from a straightforward operation that went tragically wrong.  Aged twelve, the death of my beloved horses after a fire, and seeing their charred bodies brought out on a JCB digger. Aged fifteen, being harassed by a car full of young lads in a lonely lane who told me I was going to be raped and murdered when they'd finished taunting me.  Aged seventeen, mumps encephalitis, three weeks in hospitalised isolation and being told I was lucky I hadn’t died.  Aged nineteen, a burst appendix and again being told I was lucky I hadn’t died.  I could go on … the timeline is littered with trauma.  From nearly choking to death, to falling into a deep crevasse whilst skiing off-piste, from riding a bolting horse heading towards a motorway, to being diagnosed with Leukaemia.  I guess sooner or later trauma catches up with you.
          ‘Hello, Anxiety. Is something awful going to happen today?  Should I sit down and worry about it?  Right, okay, I’m now worrying.  Am I worrying enough? No?  Okay, I’ll worry a bit more. Think of worrying situations, you say?  Okay, I’m now walking through the woods with the pooch and it’s really windy so maybe this tree will blow down and squash me flat and I’ll be DEAD.  Yes?  Right, got it!  Okay, maybe this enormous dog coming towards me will attack me, bite through a major artery, blood will spurt everywhere and I’ll be DEAD!  Oh-my-God-oh-my-God he’s almost upon me … oh phew… he was actually rather lovely and … sorry?  He wasn’t?  Didn’t I notice that mean look in his eyes?  Oh, okay, I’ll worry about that and pray I don’t see him again and … actually I’ll take a completely different path from now on.’
          The thing about anxiety is that it isn’t rational.  And it’s also a waste of time.  And it takes so much effort to keep worrying about things – but even knowing all of that doesn’t stop it!  But one thing I AM aware of since seeing my lovely head doctor is that, when trauma happens, actually ... you deal with it.
          My counsellor asked me what I wanted – to survive, or thrive?  It’s a no-brainer. So if you are suffering from anxiety, don’t be a slave to it.  Send it packing.  Which reminds me about an amusing phone call.
Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.
          If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
          If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
          If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
          If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
          If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
          If you are depressed, it doesn’t matter which number you press. No one will answer.
          If you are delusional and occasionally hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear…

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