Anxiety: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
I am writing this post for you while stretched out on a lounge chair in Fiji; my face being caressed by a warm sun and my eyes exploring one of the most stunning coastlines I have ever seen.
It’s probably the best time to sit and tell you that for the longest time, my heart and mind have been suffocated by anxiety. See, suffocated was the word that instinctually came to mind there and I think I’ll keep it.
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point. It’s that feeling you get before a big event – nervousness, feeling slightly out of control and thinking a series of thoughts that roll through your mind like rippling waves or like a big smoke cloud where you can’t quite pinpoint what it is you’re thinking.
With Generalised Anxiety Disorder, that feeling persists constantly. It is all enveloping and penetrates into the very core of who you are. Anxiety creates a filter through which everything in your day to day life is passed. This is problematic because suddenly, normal activities and exchanges with others become incredibly difficult to deal with.
The problem is that you can’t ever really figure out why.
I dealt with anxiety for most of my teenage years. My GP, bless his heart, had picked up on it far sooner than I did. In fact, it wasn’t until years after he had first mentioned it that I had figured out that he was on to something. At this point I was finishing up my degree and starting my journey into adulthood.
Luckily for me, I was studying a medical science degree and learning the symptoms of anxiety. I still remember the lecture where it all made sense – my good friend and I looked at each other and realised that the strange experiences we were sharing with one another, that we thought only we experienced, were the standard symptoms of anxiety.
It wasn’t too long after that that I was seeing a therapist every few weeks. She was a Godsend, but I think I made an incredibly difficult client. It was difficult for me to believe that there was anything wrong in my mind. I’m a generally happy person who lives a generally normal life and lives a pretty standard life. I had always associated anxiety with social anxiety and the inability to leave the house or talk to people. I thought anxiety was a completely debilitating condition and since I wasn’t incapacitated, I just thought I was a bit strange. Maybe a little tired, possibly stressed.
At the time, on my best days my mind was just racing and on the worst, I would have panic attacks that would wake me in the middle of the night and nightmares that would continue, even when I woke up in the middle of the night.
It was a constant feeling of being trapped and having no control and no exit strategy. Looking back now, I can see that a lot of my anxiety came from pretty regular pressures – family, friends, studying, trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. Pretty standard things. But, for some reason, rather than just feeling them like most people do, these things just created intricate knots that would tangle and trip me up constantly.
And then I moved away from Sydney.
Moving to Canberra into my own little apartment and starting a new job was amazing. It was a mere few weeks before I had noticed a difference. The only way to describe it is to tell you that my brain felt slow. All my thinking processes had slowed down. I wondered whether it was just the fact that I wasn’t studying any more and was becoming dumber. My doctor told me he thought that the anxiety was subsiding.
What a strange experience that was.
For the next two and a half years, I experienced life with new clarity. I felt in control of my life and my future. My world was suddenly a different one – that anxiety filter was gone and I was processing things like normal people do. I wasn’t over-thinking anything or battling to calm my brain down. I was just existing.That’s the only way I can describe it. I just was.
A few months ago, things started getting strange. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, but my heart was hurting. I felt like I couldn’t trust most people. I was seeing issues that others hadn’t even thought about. When I’d uncover these things, people would ask how I had even thought of what I had. The only honest response I could give was ‘it was just a feeling.’
I found my mind racing all the time. I was incapable of committing to a single thought; a single action. I wanted to be around people and equally just couldn’t cope with hearing people. I was tired all the time; some nights I slept for what felt like the entire night, and other times I’d get almost no sleep. I was tired and my muscles ached all the time. I was starting to look poorly too. I was irritable and frustrated by all things, but also at nothing.
I took two weeks off of work to study for my exams. On my first day off, I had a particularly unpleasant phone call. Although the issue was resolved during the phone call, I hung up and spent the next hour trembling.
I went for a stroll and found myself thinking that something horrific was about to happen. I kept trying to figure out what it was but I just couldn’t pinpoint it. Then it hit me – the anxiety was back with a vengeance.
The next two weeks were rough. I couldn’t sit and focus on anything. Papers that usually took me a day or two to write existed as a pile of incoherent ramblings with no purpose or clear point.
As hard as I tried to peel back the layers of anxiety and attribute them to a particular thing that I could fix, it was impossible. Proficient Amne was gone and replaced by a mess of a person. I felt like a disappointment to myself and my friends and my colleagues. All of the talent and control I usually pride myself on was gone. My strategic thinking had imploded and the charred remains were useful to nobody.
It wasn’t long before I had my first anxiety attack in years. It wasn’t pleasant. The anxiety attack went as quickly and suddenly as it came. How do I even describe the feeling to you? My body was trembling and I found my mind racing in a slow, soggy mess. I would have momentary waves of clarity where I could hold onto a single thought.
They were all thoughts about things that had nothing to do with any recent events in my life – they were all things that I was over and hadn’t dealt with in months or years. For the first time ever, this panic attack was accompanied with tears, and lots of them.
And then it was over. Like it never happened.
I recognised how much the anxiety had penetrated my life. For the first time ever, I understood that a panic attack is just your body’s way of releasing some of the pressure. I hadn’t been sleeping well for weeks and had been constantly agitated. I was incapable of seeing anything for what it was without actively trying to unstick the anxiety from it. I was and am literally in a battle with my mind to convince it that things are okay and there’s nothing to be panicking about.
And so here I am, on a beach in Fiji, trying to buy myself some downtime and breathing space.
Before long, I’ll be back home in my normal world. I’ll be armed with new tools to help me work through this latest round of anxiety.
Firstly, I recognised how stretched I’ve been. It has not been forced on me and it’s not necessary. I have overstretched myself without setting limits about how much I can and want to take on. I’m recognising now that I can’t be everyone’s saviour – not even my own. In being away from the real world and seeing that it is going on fine without me, I feel at peace. Clearly, I have no true influence on things. I don’t mean this in a self-deprecating or depressing way. Rather, I mean that the world will go on without me – so anything that I can do to make the world a better place is an added bonus that I should be proud of. I don’t need to carry it all.
Secondly, I can see that most of the awful feelings I’ve had recently aren’t real. Yes, I’ve had some crappy experiences and come across some crappy people. But their ability to penetrate my psyche so much isn’t because of how awful they’ve been. It’s because my mind is in hyperdrive and seeing and feeling things that I usually wouldn’t.
And finally, something awful isn’t about to happen. Everything is okay and will be okay. I have to say, the worst part of having anxiety is having to deal with the feeling that something awful is about to happen and not being able to know what it is. For someone who seeks comfort in control or mediating against things that are out of my control, it’s difficult do accept that there’s nothing that I can do to stop a non-existent crisis.
A good question for you to be asking now is ‘why have you written this post?’
Well, I think it’s about time that I confess to myself and to all of you that maybe my brain isn’t operating at optimal levels right now – and that is perfectly okay. It’s to tell people who are dealing with anxiety that it’s okay. Things are going to be okay, and you are not alone. It’s to put a face to a really misunderstood condition. Even calling it a condition is strange for me to do, but I’m going to do it anyway.
My name is Amne and I am a strong, motivated, successful, young Australian Muslim woman who has anxiety, and it’s going to be okay.
Love to you and yours xx