Without wanting to put too fine a point on it…lockdown fucking sucks. For a combination of reasons (extended lack of human contact, January, rain, the worsening pandemic) this lockdown seems a lot harder and intense than the halcyon days of Lockdown v.1 when we could go in the sun and there was a general feeling of togetherness. Now we just feel worn out, worn down and overwhelmingly fed up. If that isn’t bad enough, let’s make it more spicy! A spicy burrito of anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks, served on the side of some lockdown woe and covered with the mind fuckery that occurs when you change jobs. 🌯
Before I bring you down the rabbit hole (and hopefully provide some solace!) I want to define the specific anxiety detailed in this article. In my case my diagnosis is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) with periods of Panic Disorder. I’m not pretending to be an expert on all sorts of anxiety and I don’t want to mitigate anyone else’s experience, so for clarity, the anxiety I am writing about and experience is GAD and Panic Disorder.
Now that’s out of the way, what is the difference between feeling anxious and ANXIETY (or Generalised Anxiety Disorder)
Everyone feels anxious, the “butterflies in the stomach” feeling. Surely we’ve all heard of flight or fight mechanism etc.? Fab. Ok so to run with these metaphors…imagine those butterflies are eating your insides and also keep spontaneously combusting in your stomach. The fight or flight mechanism is triggered by the slightest thing – but – here’s the kicker, it DOESN’T STOP. And when it does eventually calm down you’re looking at a lovely mental hangover because the pressure it has put on your brain and your body. Feeling tense for days on ends hurts you. Lets not even mention the “stomach problems” which just make each trip to the bathroom that bit more exciting not knowing what’s going to happen! 💩
Anecdotal, and slightly too much information aside, to highlight the differences I’m going to look at:
2) Symptoms (Physical and Mental)
Normal anxiety is broadly defined (thanks NHS 🌈 for very helpful and user friendly definitions) as “a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.” This sort of anxiety is felt by everyone and is usually linked to a specific situation, job interviews, driving tests, phonecalls, Zoom meetings etc.
GAD aka Spicy Anxiety is, putting it politely is “a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than 1 specific event.” The non-polite definition: having these feelings of unease and worry 24 fucking 7.
Both normal anxiety and GAD have similar symptoms. Everyone has felt the on edge feeling of anxiety and the nerves. The issue with GAD is these feelings don’t stop, and they multiply and mutate often for no reason. I can literally stop worrying about one thing, only for another 20 to rise up at the same time. One of the worst things about GAD is that it isn’t just mental symptoms, they’re physical too. Bathroom fun aside, I’ve had heart palpitations, feeling constantly sick, shaking uncontrollably, complete inability to regulate my body temperature and feeling like I can’t breathe. Compulsive behaviours can become pretty common as well, obsessive picking or scratching at things, along with the already churning pot of thoughts in your head.
Now, if its not obvious by now, normal anxiety is usually triggered by one event and dissipates once the experience is over. So when does anxiety morph from a normal experience into something more long term? If the anxiety interferes with normal day to day life, and if you can’t remember the last time you didn’t feel anxious, chances are it’s becoming a problem. And here’s the funny thing, my GAD exists almost as a little demon that lives in my head. Normally it’s pretty dormant and snoozy, but it’s always there. Something will eventually wake it up and over the following days and weeks it’ll get stronger and stronger until eventually it becomes so big that it takes over my brain and real life goes out the fucking window.
A quick side note on panic disorder, if you’ve never had a panic attack you’ve been blessed. If you have then you know the evil of which I speak.
Which takes us to the current stage: Why am I writing a big long ass whinge about my anxiety? Partly to get it off my chest, and partly to reassure anyone who reads this that for the love of god you’re not alone.
Whilst I feel like the very worst has passed with relation to this period of severe anxiety, the panic attacks have lessened hugely (helped tremendously by the miracle that is propranolol and watching Despicable Me on repeat) now comes the equally hard part. The brain fog has cleared and I can see a bit clearer, but how do I put my brain back together? How do I take what’s happened to me and find some semblance of normality and “me” without triggering another episode?
Part of this will be looking through a fresh lens of what triggered the episode, what was going wrong, and how do I fix things and get support in place to stop it happening again? And am I really ready to do that yet? It seems like a large scary step at the moment, slightly less scary that it did. Swimming against the tide in a kayak instead of a leaking dinghy.
Now that the “what is anxiety” is out of the way, I want to look at how anxiety can manifest in different situations – for me work and lockdown which I’ll look at seperately.
If anything in this article has affected you please don’t be afraid to speak to a friend, a family member or one of the many amazing mental health charities. Look at yourselves peeps. 💖