Anxious to begin

Blogging anonymously is going to be tricky for any number of reasons, and there will be things I regret about choosing this cloak. One is anxiety.

I suffer from anxiety. Until recently I also suffered from panic attacks, although that seems to have faded over the past year or two. Anybody who has ever encountered a mental health issue in themselves or others will have also encountered the stigma that is so often attached. So I prefer to talk about my anxiety openly and honestly. I do this in the hope I can help others not to add to their mental health challenges by trying to hide their mental health challenges.

Anonymity doesn’t allow me to to this. However, I expect to blog about much else in my life and the lives of others. So… anonymity it is.

I am told 1 in 4 will personally suffer some mental health issue in their lifetime. I believe this number to be way too low. I can count on one hand the number of people I have spoken to about mental health who have not suddenly, and with intense relief, said something similar to, “Oh, yeah, me too!” Depression, paranoia, anxiety, panic, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia… there are probably as many mental health conditions as there are physical health conditions, we just haven’t studied them nearly enough or even come up with the vocabulary yet.

On the one hand, anxiety has been described as a chemical imbalance. For no reason, my body will start producing (well, over-producing) Adrenalin and all sorts of other mood-unenhancing hormones. On the other hand, it has been described as a cave-man response to the 21st Century. Evolution just didn’t design me to cope with the continual input and forever-increasing pressure of modern life and my mind sometimes reacts incorrectly to all the stimuli.

The reality is probably a combination of these factors – or they may well be the same influence expressed differently. This is the frustration of discussing mental health; like I said, we lack even the basic vocabulary.

So here’s the thing. I used to trust my gut. That was a very basic tenet of how I lived my life: my gut was almost always right. If I had one of Han Solo’s bad feelings about this, I’d stop doing whatever “this” was. But since anxiety, I can no longer trust my gut. I can be frightened – utterly terrified – of absolutely nothing. Literally nothing. Thinking about potentially stressful events in the immediate future doesn’t help and the anxiety tends to latch onto those and fixate, but scratch the surface and I see that the stressful event is a symptom, not a cause. That makes anxiety idiopathic. A lovely word that. Doctor-speak for “I haven’t the foggiest.” We just don’t know what causes it. Nobody does.

Losing trust in gut feelings sounds fairly benign. Who cares? Make your decisions rationally then.

And in that sentence lies the essence of what I expect to spend many happy hours blogging about. I cannot trust my inner voice because it has, on occasion, just screamed blue murder or gibbered in some dark corner of my mind, rocking backwards and forwards with a thousand-yard stare and a forgotten cigarette burning its fingers. So I look around for what I can trust, and I come up with logic because enough people have validated it to eliminate the personal spikes in the aggregated mental health seismograph.

What do we lose when we trust logic? Well, faith for a start. All that belief in stuff you cannot validate. Gone.

Now we need to be careful. Just because a thing is ethereal does not mean it does not exist. Have I lost the ability to love and be loved? Absolutely not. Love remains an unbelievably powerful influence in my life, daily making it richer and more beautiful. Trust? Friendship? And, by contrast of course, anger, sadness? Anxiety itself?

No, these things continue to be very real, for good or ill. But faith, now? Gods and spirits and devils and angels and heaven and hell? These I have lost. Utterly. And not just because of my anxiety – losing my religion was a journey I began way before I had mental health issues (or, at least, knew I did). But with that final loss of trust in the things I cannot validate because of my condition… they are gone.

And being alone in the Universe like that is a happy, liberating thought. Free of all those constraints; free to act and hold only myself responsible, free to allow empathy to inform my morality. It is certainly not a thought I associate with anxiety at all.

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