For an anxiety sufferer, often the relief that comes with the end of one year is comparable only to the sense of foreboding that surrounds the next one starting.
I am currently hovering somewhere between thank god this year, riddled with anxieties and GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE is coming to an end, I can’t wait to start again with a clean slate and really take my mental health management into my own hands in 2019 and oh fuck balls, how am I going to get my shit together enough over the next week to ensure that I enter the New Year perfectly with all of my ducks in order and a full grasp on my mental health so that I can be as positive and proactive and perfect as possible????
Oh what a holly, jolly time it is to be in my head eh?
Truthfully though, and surprisingly; I’m writing this from a very good place.
I mean, literally speaking I’m in my house, the place where I write pretty much everything, and although it’s nice and I like living here, I don’t think I’d describe it as A VERY GOOD PLACE. Figuratively speaking though? Well. I’m pleased to announce I’m tap tap tapping away from an apparently anxiety-less cloud nine. Almost anxiety-less, anyway.
When I look back at the last year, I realise how far I have come; how the anxieties plaguing me now are so insubstantial when compared with the ones I was riddled with not that long ago.
I’ve written before about how difficult I find it to walk my dog.
For the life of me, I don’t know why this happens, but the anxieties that surround walking Bua are extensive, exhausting and entirely debilitating .
I wrote about this a couple of years ago, when the anxieties began to manifest themselves, in a blog post: I’m Scared To Walk My Dog and if anything, after I wrote this, things started to get worse.
People keep asking me why I decided to sign up run a marathon and I keep telling them that I don’t know, I just fancied a challenge, the chance to do something incredible and amazing and really really push myself.
Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure I haven’t just conjured up a bloody good excuse to exercise the dog without risking her being mauled to death by another dog after letting her off the lead until next May.
I hated walking her. Every day I would wake up, terrified about what lay ahead.
By March/April time of this year, my anxieties had left me a mess.
We’d had an odd start to the year, with my brother getting into an accident in February, and since I went to go and stay with my mum for a bit, the routine that I had carefully created for my life in London was left abandoned.
Things were chaotic and happening, relentlessly, whether I wanted them to or not. I had no control over anything and it was at that point anxiety was able to swoop in and claim whatever part of my sanity it so fancied.
As it turns out, it wanted the lot, and that’s what I gave it.
When I came back to London in Spring it took a lot to undo the damage that that bulldozer of a disorder had done to the open goal that was my mind.
I can’t explain the specifics to you, not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t know how to. That time, the feelings I felt, looking back, I realise I was struggling, overshadowed totally by a cloud, fatigued with the constant battle raging inside my mind.
At the time I was tired. I don’t think I can be any more specific than that. I suspect I was aware of the lunacy plaguing my mind. I suspect I didn’t want to deal with it, hence, I refused to acknowledged the individual emotions as and when I felt them.
What are we, eight months on, and it’s only now that I can begin to appreciate not just how well I am doing, but how well I am doing compared to how I was doing in March.
The photo attached to this blog post was taken this morning, in a park about a mile away from my house that I now come down to most mornings. I am able to smile, and talk, and function, almost as if I don’t find walking my dog to be one of life’s great challenges.
I know, walking your dog is not supposed to be one of life’s great challenges. I know, when you compare the task with, oh, I don’t know, brain surgery, IT ABSOLUTELY ISN’T.
But back in March, truthfully, I’d sooner have performed brain surgery, on myself, with no hands than walk my dog.
What does that tell you about the reality of living with anxiety, eh?
I’ve worked on it. I’ve adopted some new habits; visiting different, bigger parks at separate times, running more so that we both get the exercise, hanging out with friends with dogs so that I could instil the ‘safety in numbers’ method, trusting my gut a bit more, being reasonable about the actual, plausible scenarios that might unfold, and most importantly, I’ve been working on not giving myself a hard time if I’m having a bad day: WE ARE ALLOWED TO HAVE BAD DAYS.
Every day I’ve done a little more, gone a little further, forgiven myself and my lunacy to the point that I don’t want to give up; I want to keep trying, but at a pace that works for me.
For anyone that doesn’t suffer with anxiety, this entire blog post will sound about as ridiculous as it’s possible to sound.
WHY GET A DOG IF YOU’RE SCARED TO WALK DOGS??
HOW ARE YOU HONESTLY SCARED YOUR DOG IS GOING TO EAT ANOTHER DOG? SHE LOOKS LIKE A CLOUD AND TAKES FIFTEEN MINUTES TO EAT HER FOOD BECAUSE SHE DOESN’T HAVE ANY SIDE TEETH!!
OF ALL THE THINGS TO STRESS AND WORRY ABOUT IN LIFE, WHY THIS?!
I get that.
And if it makes any of this easier to understand, I get insane about other stuff too.
I got rid of my hair-straighteners in September because I was growing so tired of having to walk back to my house every time to check for the nineteenth time that I had actually turned them off, that I eventually concluded that no amount of good hair days were worth that.
I am entirely able to create scenarios in which EVERYBODY HATES ME after one text from a friend saying that they have to cancel plans.
But for whatever reason, I choose to focus on the dog walking.
Perhaps because I do it every day, I am most aware of this symptom. Perhaps it’s because I do it every day that I am able to track my progress clearly and succinctly.
I don’t know, I don’t actually care, truth be told.
If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that trying to control anxiety, as the enormous beast of raw fear and insecurity that it is, is about as easy cutting your hair with a toothbrush. Probably possible, if you’re desperate enough, but an ugly and laborious process.
Controlling the symptoms though, that has become easier this year.
They say of alcoholics that they have to hit rock bottom before being able to source help.
I don’t know if where I was in March was the rock-bottom of dog walking anxiety, but looking back, I think it probably was. I was letting the most mundane of tasks, the thing that I had to do every day, absolutely control my life.
Spot the drama queen.
But seriously, hello, I am, it was.
It was becoming unbearable. It was making me unbearable. I hated it. Everything about it and most pressingly, me, with it.
Slowly, diligently, dutifully I have made my way back from the bottom.
I have acknowledged my problem; and not just in a way that invites a nervous giggle and affectionate eye roll from my friends and family, but in a way that indicates to them the gravitas of this situation.
In my head, it’s all gone to shit.
My world is on fire.
I can’t put it out.
I still get the nervous giggle. I have no doubt evoked many an eye-roll.
But I have acknowledged my very real problem.
If there is one thing that I have learned from my anxiety this year, and the wiggly journey it has taken me on, it’s that there is a lot of truth in the expression: a problem shared is a problem halved.
I spent a long time being ashamed of my problems; deeming them insubstantial, not real, ridiculous.
Whilst I can hardly say I now take pride in my anxieties, I can at least take a little solace in the fact that whilst they might not be normal, they are at least real.
And people want to help. That was a lovely realisation. Most the time, people want to help.
Truthfully, I was hurtling towards 2019 with the words ‘another year over, and what have you done???’ playing over and over again in my mind (and out of every speaker in the country), with no answer.
Career wise 2018 hasn’t been EPIC. I haven’t done anything AMAZING.
But taking a bit of time this morning, I realise just how far I have come.
I can now complete over 75% of dog walks without visualising Armageddon.
It ain’t much. But truth be told, it feels bloody great.