In a decidedly un-hygge turn of events, I’ve unknowingly been struggling with anxiety for more than a year now. I’ve only recently recognised it for what it is, and only after it got worse. I’ve been trying to think how best to explain what my anxiety feels like and I think this is the closest I can get: On a recent visit to the supermarket my husband forgot his wallet (never fear, we were saved by cash I had in my pocket). He immediately developed that universal wide eyed horrified expression which says “I’ve forgotten my money”, accompanied by the ‘hand to heart’ physical reaction. This was followed, once he realised that I could rescue the weekly shop, by the uttering of, “holy shit that was a horrible feeling”. Anyway, that feeling of horror when you realise you’ve forgotten your wallet, when your heart jumps into your mouth and starts beating at double speed, that’s what my anxiety feels like. But it lasts, and lasts and lasts some more. It’s NOT fun. Even if someone tries to throw me the emotional equivalent of the cash out of their pocket, that feeling of fright keeps right on going. Lovely.
I’m describing this as “my anxiety” because I don’t know what anxiety feels like for others. From what I’ve read, I know it’s similar but that there are variations and a lot of people experience worse symptoms than I do. I can’t speak for them so for reference, this is my experience. I want to speak about it because there is an inherent tendency in society to only look on the bright side, to seek out the positives in any given circumstance. I don’t think this is wrong, it’s kind of where Hygge For Happy was heading. However, I think it’s equally important to acknowledge the darker moments too.
I’ve been aware for a few months now that the anxiety has been getting worse. I didn’t know until the past few weeks that it was actual proper anxiety. I’ve been getting that “shocked” feeling more and more regularly and it now lasts for longer when I get it. Plus, it’s harder to move past it. I swear to God, I can actually conjure it up just by flipping through the library of triggers in my head. Why I do this to myself, I do not know.
When I wake up in the middle of the night (this happens a lot), my brain goes, “right, what can I stress about at this precise moment”, finds its target thought and thus triggers said anxiety, ensuring no further sleep shall be had. I cannot NOT do this. After a period of prolonged heart pounding and mind-racing I took to the internet to do some research (not always the best approach, I know). I found an NHS mood quiz to help you get clarity why you are having the feelings you are experiencing. I scored 20/21 for anxiety. Quite frankly, I have never been less delighted to get an almost perfect score in a test.
I realised that I really needed to do something about it a couple of weeks ago. On the Saturday, a small ‘happening’ set me off and I couldn’t control or stop the anxious feelings which ensued. The story goes as follows: A large and expensive item was uplifted from my clinic to be delivered to someone else. The item was handled in such a way that I imagined (literally, imagined) it may have been damaged. And that was it. Seriously. That’s all it took. I lost sleep. I couldn’t eat. My heart was hammering for TWO AND A HALF DAYS. This is exhausting, by the way. By the Monday morning I was in tears as I walked the dogs. I was sticking my hands in the sea just to ground myself and picking up stones to feel the weight and shape of them as a means of distraction. I was completely overcome by the imagined circumstance of the item arriving damaged and the knowledge that my response to this was completely unreasonable.
My first attempt to get help didn’t go too well. I was thinking not to mention efforts in contacting my GP because I truly think the NHS is wonderful and I don’t want to say anything against them. They’ve saved my bacon on more than one occasion, including the memorable time when an incident with a horse permanently detached me from the distal bone of my middle finger when I was 13 years old. They’ve helped my family through numerous injuries and illnesses; picture a 5 month old baby struggling to breath with croup on Christmas morning and a husband with actual HOLES in both his feet. They have supported me to control my asthma since 1984. I heart the NHS. But I am going to speak about my brief experience with them in relation to my mental health because it’s relevant.
I called my GP surgery on the morning of the teary dog walk. It took a lot of courage and a moment of “fuck it, this can’t carry on” to make me dial the number. After traversing the numerous COVID related messages whilst questioning my decision to call, and finally pressing the relevant button, I got to speak to a receptionist. I asked to please make an appointment to speak to a doctor. I was told that a doctor could call me back on Wednesday. I work all day on a Wednesday and have patients relying on me (this is relevant, I’ll come back to it in my second blog on this, bear with me) so said I couldn’t manage then but could I perhaps book for Friday as I would have time then. I was told that they were unable to make bookings for appointments more than 3 days in advance and so I should call back the following morning to get a space on Friday. I knew even as I said I would, that I wouldn’t. It had taken a lot for me to make that first call and I doubted I’d be in the same headspace the following morning. Maybe I should have asked for a same day appointment (I didn’t consider myself to be an emergency and figured there’d be people more desperate than me… this is also going to be relevant later). Maybe I should have made time on the Wednesday (relevant too, check out my second blog post on this). But I didn’t. I just shrank away. I felt totally lost, let down and alone at that exact point in time. The point I’m making is, when someone with a mental health issue gathers the courage to ask for help, NOW is the time to get the ball rolling for them.
I am very fortunate in knowing some really good people. Celia Clark is one of them. Having previously worked from our clinic, I knew that Celia was an excellent counsellor and someone who could point me towards the help I needed. I sent her a message on Facebook outlining a bit about how I was feeling and the fact that I had no idea what to do next, and waited for a reply. Celia’s reply was what I needed to see. She assured me I was not alone and explained my options which included trying Clinical Hypnotherapy. Celia told me that Clinical Hypnotherapy can be really helpful in dealing with anxiety and was something she recommended. I decided to give it at a go. The situation could not remain as it was and if I could manage my anxiety in this way, I’d be delighted.
The purpose of this blog series is to record my experience of dealing with anxiety. I’m doing this because writing helps me immensely. It gives me clarity and allows me to empty my head on to paper. Journaling is like a friend to me. I’m also doing this in the hope it might strike a chord with someone else and help them too. I’ve been an advocate for mental health being as important as physical health since we opened The Hygge Clinic. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of, I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not proud of it either, but neither do I want to hide it or to not speak about it.
My next blog will be about my initial chat with Celia in which she helped me understand my anxiety a bit more and paves the way to our first hypnotherapy session.
PS the large expensive item arrived totally undamaged. Of course.