Journey to normal

Anxiety and depression can make no sense to people who don’t suffer from them.  They are not the same thing as nervousness and sadness. They don’t affect the things you might assume they would affect.  It is possible to have anxiety and to be quite happy doing things that might terrify people who don’t have anxiety.  

I love being on air.  I love interviewing and asking what some see as pointed or even rude questions.  I love working under pressure.  I am calmer in a crisis than I am at other times.  My anxiety is not nerves.

I return to the office after doing a big interview.  It was a good one.  I’m not anxious at all during it.  Several people say nice things to me about it.  One person suggests there’s a question I should have asked but I didn’t.  That’s the thing that sticks in my head and stays there for days.  Sometimes a single comment weighs on me so much that at night I go home and sit on my couch under a blanket day after day, sure I’ve failed.
If I can avoid it I don’t make phone calls.  I’m terrible at small talk and worried people don’t want to talk to me.  At work I have to make sometimes tens of calls every day.  I have to psych myself for each one of them.  I’m just staving off or covering up a panic attack all the time.  Sometimes I have a panic attack that seems to go for days.

 

Finding places of calm is important to me.  Photography is my happy place.  I can spend hours out with my camera and it feels like no time has passed at all.  It’s mostly a solitary occupation for me but I’m happy chatting about it and spending time with other photographers.  But it’s mostly devoid of people.  I would love to do more street photography but I’m not there yet.


I’m sitting in a cafe I go to all the time after dropping the kids off at school.  There are patterns everywhere which would look great as a series of photographs.  All I need to do is ask the manager who is making the coffee.  I can’t.  I’m scared.  I leave without asking.  Again.
I receive an invitation to a function at one of Canberra’s embassies.  It will be a lovely evening.  I accept.  But there may not be anyone I know there.  I’d have to walk in by myself and talk to people I’ve never met.  I’m sure I’ll do something to embarrass myself.  I don’t go.

 

I don’t experience life like my friends do.  It wasn’t until my friends started having children that I began to realise that their experiences were very different to mine.  That they didn’t worry all the time.  I was diagnosed with post-natal depression after my first child but I thought that diagnosis was wrong. I didn’t feel any different to how I had felt my whole life.

It’s night.  I’m trying to sleep.  Instead, I’m going through the list of things in my head that I’ve failed at or mistakes I’ve made or ways I’ve embarrassed myself.  It’s a long list and it pops into my head all the time.  I don’t have a similar list of ways I’ve succeeded because every time I think I’ve done well, it’s accompanied by something I’ve done wrong.  In my view.

 

 

Very few people know I have anxiety and depression.  By the time I figured out what was going on, the way people talked about mental health issues at that time made me pretty sure I didn’t want to tell anyone.  I always felt like I was on the outside looking in at a club I could never join so I assumed another thing that made me ‘less’ would only make that feeling worse.

 

I’m sure I talk too much and look like I’m trying to impress people.  I’m sure I’m boring. I’m sure I'm not as smart as other people and everything I say sounds dumb. I walk away from most social occasions hoping that next time I just shut up and don’t say anything. 

 

 

I’ve been on medication for 18 months now and dealing with psychologists for a bit longer.  It’s changed my life.  The anxiety isn’t completely gone but worries pass quickly, in seconds instead of hanging around for days.  I lose the thread of my list of failures as soon as my brain starts scrolling through it.  The thought that it would be better if I was no longer around is rare. 

Would my life have been different if I’d been on medication from 16?  Yes, of course.  But we knew much less then than we know now.  Now is better.  Much better.  

If you think you’re having a problem, get help.  The help does help even though you may not think it does.  There is lots of stuff you can try and it’s worth putting in the time to find a psychologist or counsellor who you like.  You might see a few before you do but don’t give up.  It would help if Medicare funded more than ten sessions,  especially in the early days.

You can talk about it with people you know too.  You don’t have to but you will find more people are like you than you think.  

Life won’t suddenly become rainbows and unicorns even when the help is working.  But there’s a good chance it will become normal.  And normal is great.

 

18 comments

  • Lovely writing on this important topic. Thankyou

    Alisa
  • Your life of anxiety is identical to mine right down to the photography. When my mother died within 6 months my anxiety was out of control & as you know it’s a real effort to hide it but I couldn’t anymore. I’d been strong for too long. I went on cymbalta after telling my doctor I’ve had it & for the first time in my life I had 70% peace. If only I could have had this tablet when I was 16 like you. I would have gone to university etc but suffered social anxiety phobia even though I was always the life of the party. Some side effects I don’t like but the relief out weighs that. People all thought I had this fabulous life & many were envious. They don’t know what it’s like to be the outsider looking in at the club you were talking about.

    Fiona
  • Isn’t is weird? We can pursue the most outgoing and confronting and aggressive of professions, do it exceptionally well, interact with some seriously tough bastards and do so within a kind of theatrical zone where we know to put that professional, logical, dispassionate persona out there. And yet we still harbour that daily fear that we’ll one day be pinged as an imposter. Truly bizarre contradiction.
    Yours is an exceptional insight, Lyndal. It gives me great comfort.

    Robin Harris
  • Hi Lyndal, my children all suffer from different levels of anxiety but our son, 34, suffers from what I’ve read is called ‘social anxiety paralysis’. He gave me a book to read called ‘How to change your mind’ by Michael Pollan. He tells the history of the use of LSD (psylocybin) as a treatment for mental health issues, hence the name of the book.
    I’m not saying it’s the answer but it is interesting. There was an article in the Good Weekend in June about the use of psylocybins in palliative care, which included input from Michael Pollan.
    The book is fascinating.
    Thanks for your article. X

    Debby Myers
  • Beautifully said Lyndal. All my working life – in an office setting, (graphic designer) I feel like my anxiety makes me a person that I’m not, almost like an outsider. It’s not until I get out of the office or home that I feel “free”.

    Nathan Cain

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