Living With the Voice in My Head
You might have noticed that my last couple of posts have been rather anxiety riddled. The thing is, we’re living in a time of uncertainty and that can send anxiety sufferers into spirals of chronic overthinking and obsession. I was trying to explain to my fiancé what I was feeling and really wanted to reassure him that I am happy. Because I am, exceptionally so, and yet I’m the most anxious I’ve felt in months. Isn’t that a strange phenomenon? That one can feel the heavy beat of fear and the whirring of endless chatter yet feel happy, motivated, and gratified.
During a counselling session I had a few months ago with my psychotherapist, I asked him if I would ever be able to live without anxiety. He told me this, ‘No, the anxiety will never go away, but what we’re aiming for is that you can live comfortably with it. That you can accept it and make peace with it.’ As I write this, I suddenly feel that I have perhaps accomplished this to some amateur effect. I have not quite mastered its ins and outs, but the fact that I can say, ‘I am anxious as all hell, but I am happy,’ is no mean feat.
So how does one come to accept and live with one's anxiety? There are a number of ways that I have learned over a few years of private psychotherapy and a couple of books. The first book being The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle and the other being Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig. I can highly recommend both books, whether you’re suffering or not.
Firstly, I feel I ought to describe how my anxiety manifests, as everyone experiences it in vastly different ways. I have experienced the panicked fear of nothing in the past and I still have that sometimes, but my anxiety is no longer that sweating, physical fear and panic. Not my every day anxiety at least. My day to day angst is a deep and neurotic analysis of every single tiny action. It is an incessant voice, whom I have named Moaning Myrtle, for those of you who didn’t read my previous post. It is a visceral fear of getting it wrong, making a bad decision, taking the wrong path. It is an obsessive need for control. Right now, as I write this, Myrtle is telling me that you, dear reader, will be thinking I am no different to the rest of you, that this is not anxiety, and that no-one cares about what I’m writing. Be that as it may, the fact I have acknowledged that it is Myrtle saying these things and that I am not that thought, is a step towards living with one’s anxiety. But I digress. Should you wish to learn about this overthinking, ruminating, incessant buzz of anxiety I possess, please read my previous post.
Ironically, I think Myrtle is trying to ensure I have the best possible life at all times. She wants me to maximise every moment because a lot of my past moments have been spent in turmoil and depression, battling a variety of addictions. Now that I am free of all of that Myrtle is trying really fucking hard to keep my future bright and happy, but in the execution of this she makes me frustrated, tired, irritable, and really rather miserable.
This is a problem for me. It rules my entire life. Before being prescribed antidepressants, it made me feel hopelessly dejected and distressed. I find it hard to enjoy things because Moaning Myrtle is whispering seductive words of worry into my ear every second of every minute of every day. I cannot relax. I am rarely content. I am always on high alert and I ramble relentlessly at my fiancé. I am annoying. I know I am, but I can’t stop my fears and thoughts from gushing out of my mouth and into the space between him and me.
It is exacerbated, during this time of real uncertainty, when people are ill and dying and no-one knows what will happen. Although I don’t feel directly anxious about the virus destructively ripping through our world, I know that the amplification of my anxiety is Myrtle trying to take control of whatever she can because she cannot know what will happen next. I must be kind to her. She is a scared child, trying to keep me on the right track so things don’t go terribly wrong, as they have in the past. She responds to uncertainty by trying to ensure I can cope.
Now that I know she is there and she is not me, I am freed to some extent. Before I got help, I suffered like this for countless years, accepting that these worries about what I would eat every single day or whether I could afford to buy a second pot of hummus, were genuine life or death worries that needed attention. I have old notebooks filled with ridiculous lists of things I ‘needed’ or lists entailing how I would get my life together.
To walk around Tesco now and hear that voice saying, ‘You mustn’t buy food because you might accidentally spend ALL YOUR SAVINGS AND DIE,’ and have the sudden realisation that this is not true, is an invaluable skill. I can be happy and also be anxious. I can exist within these two different planes.
It is exhausting work, being anxious. But each and every time I manage a situation that would have been the end of the world a year ago, or I shut Myrtle up with kind words of reassurance or by simply watching her as she chatter, chatter, chatters in my ear, feels like the achievement of a life time. Every time I don't call my sister to ask advice on whether calling in sick will be my demise, ending with me being homeless due to being fired, is a miracle to me. Because to rationalise it in my head with Myrtle is a bigger accomplishment than quitting smoking.