Life with an anxiety disorder.

Posted by Catherine Elms on June 1, 2015 Blog posts | | No comments

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In a recent blog post, I wrote:

I often feel reluctant to talk about my mental health publicly because it feels so deeply personal; but other times, it’s such a big part of my life and colours so much of what I do that it feels dishonest to pretend that it’s not there.  So I thought I’d mention it.

I wanted to briefly blog about this, because it is a big part of who I am, what I do, and what my life’s direction will always be.  There are also a number of misconceptions about mental health disorders, and I wanted to dispel some of those myths too.

In short: I currently have Generalised Anxiety Disorder.  I’ve previously gone through spells of having depression and social anxiety too.  I’ve had spells of mental illness for my entire adult life, and equally long spells of mental wellness, and GAD is the worst mental illness I’ve had.

The NHS Choices page provides a good summary of what GAD looks like.  In terms of what it feels like, someone described it perfectly like so:

“anxiety is like that feeling where you fall down a step, but feeling like that all the time”

I find it difficult to know how to talk about my mental health – one the one hand, it’s not very fun or interesting to document life with a mental illness most of the time; on the other hand, it feels deeply dishonest to say nothing, and to pretend that I’m getting through my life experiences with ease.  My mental illness is an enormous part of who I am – anyone with a serious mental illness will say the same.

I tend to lean towards being a bit glib about it online – like, “had a wobbly day but feeling ok now” or “isn’t life with mental illness fun?” – because it’s sad and tiring to be immersed in the shitty parts of mental illness.

For me, GAD involves all of these symptoms:

  • Constant feeling of fear
  • Restlessness
  • An unshakable feeling of dread
  • Stomach ache and lack of appetite
  • Not looking forward to anything
  • Feeling like I’ll never get better
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feeling disconnected from reality
  • Suicidal feelings

Things which help for me:

  • Exercise – I go running 2-3 times a week, and walk every day for at least 15 minutes.
  • Mindful meditation
  • Getting lost in a good film or a good book
  • Working on something that gives me a sense of purpose and contributing to a better world (e.g. charity work, fundraising, activism)
  • Getting outside every day
  • Trying to spend as much time out of the house as I’m able to
  • Doing nice things for other people, e.g. random acts of kindness
  • Being with friends and family
  • Laughing
  • Telling people how I feel – sometimes just the act of expressing my feelings to another person makes them feel so much more manageable.
  • Getting good sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet

Do you have mental illness?  How does this affect your art or your work, and what do you find helps you cope?

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