I've Learned to Accept My Anxiety as My NormalI set a reminder to watch the 60 Minutes episode, ‘The Age of Anxiety’. I didn’t know what to expect, maybe there was something I could learn from the program considering my long time battle with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. What I didn’t expect was to be left in tears, not because it upset me but because it hit a raw nerve. I finally heard people just like me talk about their battle with anxiety, what their day to day is like, how it affects them emotionally and physically. Finally I realised that there are people that understand my madness, people who experience the same thing, that I’m not alone, that I can accept my anxiety as my normal.

Other people’s ‘normal’

There have been many times when I’ve wondered what other people’s ‘normal’ is. After watching the 60 Minutes program I had a better understanding of what normal was for people with anxiety, but I’ve always wondered what ‘normal’ is for those that don’t have it. How do they feel when they wake up? How do they feel when they talk to other people? How do they feel when they go to work? How do they generally feel throughout the day, what goes through their mind? I’m often envious of people that don’t have anxiety. My husband is one of them.

This is my normal

I often wake up with a sick and nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach that I cannot explain. I often have days where I’m so anxious I feel physically sick. If I have somewhere to go, I spend loads of time trying to figure out the process of just getting there and thinking about the ‘what ifs’. Even work I’ve done hundreds of times, work I’ve been commended for, fills me with anxiety. Sometimes I’m overcome by anxiety for no apparent reason, it shoots me down and renders me pretty much useless until it decides to give me a break. It can be debilitating and confusing.

I’ve been living with anxiety for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of it is when I was 14 years old and in my first job as a tea and tidy girl at a hairdressing salon. It was my worst nightmare. I remember feeling physically sick the day before my Saturday shift. I’d think about the strangers I’d have to talk to and the stress of having to answer the telephone. I worried about making mistakes, that I wouldn’t remember how to log an appointment and I worried about having to ask for help. There were times I’d pretend to be sick just so I didn’t have to go to work.

Over the years, I’ve tried medication, psychology, self-help books and videos, meditation, child-free holidays… I feel like I’ve tried everything and yes, sometimes something will work for the short term, but most of the time, the anxiety just keeps coming back. I’m so accustomed to this pattern that I think I’ve finally figured out how to deal with this fiend.

Making peace with my annoying invisible friend

I see my anxiety like a niggling, unwanted friend. He’s a little fiend that follows me like a shadow and questions my every move and I have learned not to give him the time of day. Yes, I can at least acknowledge that he’s there with a little nod as I go on my merry way, but the attention stops there. The less attention I give him, maybe, just maybe, he’ll give up and fade into the background. My annoying invisible friend, well, he also thrives on triggers and I need to stop feeding them to him: no more overscheduling, no more saying yes when I meant to say no, no more pushing myself to do more than I want to.

My reality is that my invisible friend is my normal. I have a housemate, I do not live alone, I will never live alone. He’s an annoying housemate but if I learn not to push his buttons and firmly teach him to mind his own business, I’m sure we can be a relatively happy little household. Although us two, we will never, ever be good company.

If you feel like you need someone to talk to about anxiety you can talk to beyondblue. They can point you in the right direction. The beyondblue Support Service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.