I’ve been meaning to write about this for a wee while but the issue of anxiety came up again at the weekend on Twitter.
Before entering services I wasn’t an anxious person. Sure, I got very nervous/anxious over particular important events but for the main part, despite the seemingly nerve-wracking (to other people) aspects of my job, I didn’t very often experience anxiety.
Now? I have anxiety on a daily basis. I wake up with that dread, the racing heart and nausea. This to me is my normal setting now but some days it is a lot higher – it creates panic, making breathing more difficult and it causes me, on rare occasions, to vomit.
My therapist reminded me sometimes of how anxiety hasn’t ever killed anyone. Don’t worry, she’s not being flippant or anything and it was part of a larger dialogue we have had regarding my anxiety. Taking this at face value though, it’s true. When I started DBT I used to get anxious about being anxious. I would worry that my anxiety about an upcoming event or circumstance would prevent me from going ahead with whatever was causing my anxiety. Worrying about anxiety would increase my anxiety and then, when my anxiety reached those higher levels (involving panic attacks and/or vomiting), I would decide that meant I couldn’t do whatever it was I wanted/needed to do.
I’ve been wondering whether services have inadvertently reinforced/maintained (or even had a part in causing) this anxiety about anxiety. In inpatient settings especially, if someone is anxious, it is something that is ‘bad’ and needs to be gotten rid of – perhaps it’s more to calm the anxiety of the staff than the service user? A way to keep the ward settled? Even in the community just a couple of months ago, my social worker seemed disturbed by my anxiety – keen to see what “techniques” (her word, not mine – it makes me cringe for some reason) I had learned from DBT I could use. I informed her that I had accepted my anxiety and that I am using the skills from DBT but that doesn’t mean that the anxiety is going to go away.
I do not take medication for anxiety (I haven’t since I had to go through an extended withdrawal plan from Clonazepam through use of decreasing doses of substituted Diazepam). My anxiety is no worse now than when I was on Clonazepam (and anti-psychotic medication). Medication only masks anxiety for a short amount of time for me and reinforces the idea that it is somehow something to be feared in itself and got rid of.
Please don’t get me wrong here. I hate having anxiety, it sometimes makes me breakdown and cry from emotional (and physical) exhaustion. It feels like a fight at times and that’s when I realise I need to turn towards accepting it again. Yes, I need to carry on and approach situations that provoke anxiety but that doesn’t require me to fight it. Fighting takes up valuable energy and ends up with me focusing on my anxiety thereby making it worse. I approach (not fight) my anxiety on a daily basis. If I didn’t approach it, I would never leave the safety of my duvet, I would never regain a life that I’m aiming for as part of recovery.
I’m not entirely sure what this rambling post achieves, if anything. I am very interested though in the views of both service users and professionals regarding anxiety, especially with regards to the attitude that it is somehow ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’.