In the days following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, an article written by Russell Brand, addressing his ongoing struggle with drug addiction, was passed around the internet as we all tried to make sense of what had happened.
That article was startling. My life has never been touched by addiction. I do not have an addiction problem, nor has anyone close to me. But in it, I recognised the obsession, in the true meaning of the word: the inability of the mind to let go of the thoughts that once ruled his life.
For Brand it was heroin addiction. For me it was anxiety. And it still is.
To the outsider, sufferers of anxiety just look like worriers. We are taunted with well-meaning comments: “Look on the bright side! Don’t worry, be happy!” As if we don’t want to be happy.
But when I think about the good things in my life, I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of losing it all. Losing my loved ones. That I am disappointing everyone with my ‘issues’. Even my happy moments are ruined because I know they are but a moment. Memories, both good and bad, are painful.
I wander around my daily comings and goings, analysing the tiny details over and over. I’m trying to figure out how not to be so anxious, how to fill my days with nothing but things that bring happiness.
So the planning starts. Planning is the anxious person’s hit. It feels good to be in control.
But planning, of course, is a classic mistake. How often does life go to plan? Especially when there are other people involved – and for me, that’s a two-year-old child. Ultimately my plans fall apart and my patience crumbles, leaving behind regrets and my old friend anxiety.
At times, I feel pretty worthless. In those moments, all I want to do is curl up into a ball and hide in the dark. I can try to quiet my mind, but it won’t shut up; I end up replaying situations and conversations, wondering what I could have done or said differently.
I can touch textures, listen to background sounds and fixate on vibrant colours in front of me to try to calm down. I can plan the next day’s activities and how to make them perfect. Then my heart starts to speed up, and before long my heart is pounding and I’m scared I’m having a heart attack. I often check to make sure I won’t hurt myself if I fall, wondering if my son is in a safe place in case I black out for a few minutes.
Having anxiety isn’t a choice. For a while I resigned myself to it just being one of my characteristics, like my short stature and my freckles. But now I consider it to be something that I manage. I am, as Brand puts it, a “willing participant in [my] own recovery”.
I see a psychologist on a regular basis. After much resistance, I let my GP talk me into taking an antidepressant/anxiety medication. It helps, but isn’t a solution; after all, I have years and years of thinking patterns to unravel and re-program.
There are times that I still slip into the anxiety spiral. Like addiction, if I let it catch me I can be stuck in the gutter for days, no good to anyone, including myself.
I can pick myself back up and put my tormentor back in its cage – and I have to do that. I don’t need inspirational quotes to help me; instead, I need a hell of a good support network, and understanding that anxiety isn’t just worry. It’s much, much more than that.