Has anxiety become fashionable?

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I appreciate this might be a risky article to write. Many millions of people suffer with varying degrees of anxiety, either for a short specific episode or a prolonged ongoing time. These people cannot help feeling anxious about certain things, it gets into the very grain of their being, day-in, day-out, and often therapy or medication is needed to learn to cope and manage the feelings and symptoms they exprience.

But lately, I seem to be hearing more and more people saying that they suffer or have suffered with some form or anxiety, for at least one stage in their lives. Maybe it is that these days, it is easier to ‘come-out’ as having anxiety, where it wasn’t before. It is widely known that people suffer from anxiety, depression and other brain-health disorders in silence, perhaps not even telling a doctor or family member through fear of not being believed, or being told to just “pull yourself together”. I say ‘brain-health’ as I truely believe and want others to recognise that mental health diagnoses are as much of a health issue as asthma or coeliac disease for instance. It’s just that although you can’t necessarily ‘see’ the problem, it is physically just as present as many other diagnoses. The problem is that if someone hasn’t suffered themselves, or there isn’t a blood test to cofirm the issue, then people struggle to believe it is most definitely happening, without the choice of the person it is affecting.

I might be one of the many who chose not to let-on about the anxiety I was experiencing after having a baby. I have three children and each time, I have treated the anxiety in different ways. With baby #1, it came as quite a shock. It was, I guess, part of post-natal depression to have anxiety like this. After having my daughter I’d feel so incredibly tense and frustrated by my lack of physical ablities due to my CMT neuropathy, that even though I knew exactly what my hands/arms could and could not do, I became severely affected by the thoughts of other peoples’ perceptions of my parenting and also about having to ask other people to do so much for my own baby. After all, nobody would do things exactly like I would if I could. I focused and obsessed over tiny things that were ‘wrong’ and everything seemed to make me want to lock myself in the bathroom and not have to ‘parent’ in front of others, especially those who knew me. With baby #2, I suffered simillarly for a few months before finally going to the doctor 4 months postbirth. With baby #3 I had the foresight to think ‘well this is probably gong to happen again isn’t it’, and even though I was absolutely rubbish at just sayong “hey, this is how crap and anxious I’m feeling”, people were aware a lot earlier and I was slightly better at normalising it, for myself and for others.

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So has it become less taboo to talk of your own serious anxieties, and by that I don’t mean being afraid of cliff-edges or big spiders – I mean things that are completely irrational, unexpected perhaps, and most of all uncontrollable to an extent? Or has claiming to have a severe case of anxiety become a get-out clause, an excuse maybe, to get out of things you’d rather not have to do? After all, people aren’t supposed to deny your anxiety, are they?

Are some teenage girls who would rather not play netball in school and have an excusing note from their mum, undermining the true experiences of the 15 year-old with crippling body dysmorphia who would rather jump off a bridge than have to show their legs off to fellow students and teachers? Is she going to be told “sorry, everyone has to join in”? Shouldn’t we be more lenient about what they can wear, or is it one-rule-fits-all?

I have always hated having to speak in front of groups of people. I remember even as a 7-year-old in Brownies, the moment when you’ve not long joined the club and you have to say the ‘Brownie-Guide Law’, I stood there and started crying and my mum had to say the words for me. Suddenly the idea of all-eyes-on-me was horrific. Since then I’ve detested it, it makes me feel physicallt sick and I will go out of my way not to do it even if it means being the only one who doesn’t play a part in a presentation. I get red-faced, my eyes start watering and I lose the ability to make the right amount of eye contact. However I also know that other people have it way worse than me, and cannot even speak to a cashier in the supermarket for example. So should college lecturers and workplace managers stop asking people to speak up in a group, because many people might be ‘too shy’, when really it might be only one or two who are suffering some form of actual anxiety?

It is difficult really, because whilst more needs to be done to help support those of us who are genuinely anxious and distressed about things that we really would prefer to experience, should we really label more and more kids as having anxiety because they haven’t got many friends or don’t want to say lines in tbe school play, and should we make physical education less integral to the curriculum incase school-aged adolescents feel embarrassed wearing a sports’ kit?

There is certainly a fine line between knowing whether to help somebody through anxiety by allowing them not to do something which might mentally distress them, and just saying “you’ll be okay, come on, let’s do this”. I worry that it’s becoming ‘cool’ to say you have anxiety, similar to when people say “oh I’m so OCD”, when they admit to not wanting people to get crumbs on their sofa.

What do you think? Have you had true anxiety? How have you treated it, and who did you tell?

Yours anxiously,

@shopgirlygm

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When the world seems awful

I woke up this Sunday morning distracted after having frantically called and messaged my Mum and stepdad last night to check they were safe after the BBC News app pinged up on my phone informing us of the London Bridge incident. They had been to see Depeche Mode at the Olympic Stadium that night, and seeing as I have little-to-no geographical awareness of where things are in London, I didn’t know if they were anywhere near there, or if anything else had happened near them.

It had become somewhat of a dark joke last year; everytime we heard the percussive ping of the breaking news headlines pop up on either of our phones, we dreaded hearing that another celebrity had been found dead in their homes, and secretly hoping David Attenborough was still alive and well. On Christmas Day at my brother’s house, we heard the noise-of-doom on my partner’s phone whilst we were sat round trying to answer the ridiculous questions of my brother’s Christmas Quiz, and I sarcastically piped up, “oh no, who’s died now?”, which in hindsight, isn’t the most appropriate thing to have said but unfortunately that is what I said. Tom took his phone out of the space between the sofa cushions, glanced at the lock-screen and replied, “oh no, I don’t think I want to say!”. It was of course, a notification to say that George Michael had been found dead, aged 53. We sat in shock for quite a while, discussing how bad 2016 had been for bad news, and for famous people passing-away and wondered how many more faces would be talked about in the past before the year was up.

But of course these are individual people and most of them died by either natural, drug-induced or suicide related reasons. It was achingly sad to hear about Bowie and Prince’s passings and even those who I did not personally know much about. Not many high-profile deaths come as good news. However when the news is of yet another terrorist attack on a city, or a nightclub, a famous building or even just a bus, the thing we want to hear next is that the police have caught and ended the lives of the perpetrators. The lemmings, blindly and irrationally following commands of their cowardly leaders who are intent on spreading hate, ruining the lives of people who have nothing to do with them. All in the name of an imaginary being.

It is scarring and scary, and we don’t seem to be able to do enough about it. I know that  sounds monumentally defeatest but there is internet, there is print, there is travel, there is free-speech and there is unstoppable influence and these things can be, and usually are fantastic tools for movement and for good causes. But people will continue to follow blindly and be brainwashed as they have done for thousands of years. Years decorated by the untimely and unwarrented events to blame for the sudden decline in a specific population going about their daily lives. These foolish few will continue to be able to buy household products and make bombs that could kill innocent people enjoying a pop concert. I hated having to write that last sentence, but can we actually say that anti-terror movements and procedures will mean that this NEVER happens again? No, we cannot. We can’t control people and monitor their every movement, and that is frustratingly fair and right.

However we can one-by-one teach our children that they have their own minds. They can question and they can have good powers, just as forceful as the preachers of evil ideology living out their anger-filled desires through impressionable young people. We can wrap our kids in bubble wrap and not go and visit the local music festival because we are scared it might be a target for attackers, or we can pop the bubbles in the plastic, rip it off, stamp on it or whatever floats your boat and allow them to see, to hear and to be brave. They will see or hear about more terror attacks, as will we, and I will still frantically try and contact my loved ones if the attacks happen in a place near to them, as my family did when I was due to travel on the Picadilly Line on the morning of the 7/7 bombings with my stepsister, but thanks to her friend being a little too hungover to get up as early as we had planned, we were still in bed when it happened.

I am scared. Scared that it will happen near us or our beautiful children and family members elsewhere. But I am also scared that the fear of it happening will stop us from living our lives. So I think we just have to let the fear subside just enough, and teach our kids that they are brilliant, and brave and powerful and they can do good, have good values and good morals just because they want to, as opposed to needing a god or other source of scaremongering hierarchy to ‘make them behave and be good people’.

 

@shopgirlygm