Worrying is a human condition that every single person experiences at some point in their life. ‘Did I lock the front door’, or ‘how am going to afford this months rent’ are examples of the kind of things that we ask ourselves, and are perfectly justified in doing so. We ponder such questions, and either offer up a solution (if this is possible), or for more abstract concerns, we move on from them after ruminating upon them for a while, as our lives, work or social activities allow us to forget these worries, with little damage having been done to our peace of mind. In fact, moderate levels of worry are a good thing, as they allow us succeed in our work and our personal lives, and ensure that we make the right decisions, and interact with others in a compassionate and understanding way. They also allow us to keep ourselves, and our friends and families safe, as the ‘fight or flight’ mindset proves to be a successful and necessary human condition.
However, if you suffer from anxiety, then the levels of worry extend beyond the normal parameters, and they can consume every waking moment of your life (and often the sleeping ones too), from the significant misgivings, to the most trivial of thoughts, fears and doubts. An insignificant worry can infest the mind, burrowing deep under the surface and ensuring that a feeling of utter helplessness is achieved, causing both exhaustion and contradictorily a restless energy which causes the body and mind to be in a perpetual state of tension . As this article states , “The distinction between an anxiety disorder and just having normal anxiety is whether your emotions are causing a lot of suffering and dysfunction,”. It feels as though your mind is constantly racing at 100 mph, and there is never a let up from the anxiety and fearful worrying. The adrenaline courses through you, and the notion of relaxation is an alien phenomenon, as there is no escape from the mental strain. Any break in your day is filled with these incessant worries, and the utter exhaustion it creates is indescribable. The unhappy irony is that despite this fatigue, sleep can often be extremely difficult, and the hours lying awake ruminating, fretting and predicting, ensure that the cycle of persistent anxiety and lethargy are in constant fluidity.
Of course the act worrying about interviews, finances or family issues are all understandable, and universal in their engagement. It’s not these worries that are the issue, it is the more trivial and petulant thoughts which cause the most despondency, and they can be the most shameful or embarrassing when trying to describe to others. An example of this, which is hard to relay due to its inexplicableness and seeming insignificance, is when I used to become obsessed that none of my clothes fit me or looked presentable. A regular person would either dismiss this almost immediately, or maybe buy a some new clothes that they feel comfortable in. However my concerns could never be quashed, and I would either worry they were too big, too small, too tight, too loose, and would regularly spend an hour trying on every item of clothes I owned, in all different combinations, to try and prove to myself that it was all fine. By the end of this I was more frustrated and mentally shattered than I was before, and my fears had not been allayed by any means, and I felt sickened by the fact that such trivialities were taking over my life.
Similarly, I would often avoid going out of the house (outside of school or work) as I was so ashamed of how I looked. When I walked down the street and saw someone look at me I would convince myself that they were looking at me because I was ugly or inadequate, or they were judging me in a negative way. Of course in the cold light of day this way of thinking is ludicrous, but the anxious and depressed mind doesn’t allow these astute realisations to make life any easier; in fact it makes it worse that I have the ability to deconstruct my thoughts, as the fact that this makes no difference to the levels of anxiety or presence of negative beliefs and assumptions leads to even more dejection and frustration. These constant worries have consigned myself to a life of making of lists, in an attempt to extract the worries from my mind and lock them down on paper to deal with later. In a sense this helps as I can put that worry on hold for a while, but it doesn’t really attack the problem at its heart, and instead merely acts as a temporary method of avoidance. The examples I’ve just given are not quite as bad as they were 10 or so years ago, although they are certainly still ever present. They are also only 2 examples out of the many hundreds of thoughts and anxious ponderings that nestle in my mind on a daily basis. I’d suggest that my dealing with them has not necessarily got better, but more that I have become so used to them and their effects, that in a sense I accept that they are part of me, and unfortunately define who I am as a person.
For many people their greatest dream or aspiration is to buy their own house, travel the world, or dominate in their field of work. For me the greatest gift I could be afforded is a clear and peaceful mind, and an end the infestation of my thinking space. Former cricketer Graeme Fowler (now educator about his experiences of depression) offers a pertinent description of the differences between the depressed and non-depressed mind: “I try to explain the difference between an emotional down and a mental health issue. My wife summarises it like this: she says that if she was feeling down and won the lottery she’d be fine but if I was feeling depressed and won the lottery it wouldn’t make any difference to how I felt.” I feel that this perfectly sums up the heart of the problem. I could have everything in the world, such as wealth, success and material objects, but they wouldn’t stop me from worrying and inwardly analysing myself. The anxieties would still burrow deep down and manifest themselves as the all consuming entities that they are, and the prevalence of wealth and success would not free my mind…it would probably burden it even more. When I’m busy and occupied I can temporarily keep the thoughts at bay, although I know that they are always just beyond the horizon, never truly staying completely out of sight. When I’m alone and quiet they come rushing back at me at full tilt, like a train speeding across the English countryside. If someone asked me what it is I want most in the world, I would answer that all I yearn for is a quiet, undisturbed, unburdened mind. Alas, I gave up on that desire a long time ago…the noise became too loud and the mind too active. I’ve striven to find a way to try and turn my mind off, but despite my persistence and unwavering determination, I’ve yet to locate the off switch.