It’s been a while since I’ve spoken about my anxiety online. I wrote an entire Blog series way back when, documenting my time going through CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which was really good for me at first but, in the interest of being open, everything I had been feeling soon returned to me ten fold afterwards. I’m not blaming the CBT, though; they constantly remind you that you have to practice the techniques you’re given regularly and I definitely didn’t. Eventually I ended up back in my GPs office and left with a Sertraline prescription which I relied on for a year before lowering my dose down to nothing, which is where I am now.
I was really conflicted about coming off of Sertraline, it really worked for me and I felt so much better in my daily life…I struggled with sleep, but I didn’t feel groggy or tired so it didn’t bother me too much. I had plenty of energy for the first time in my life and in general my low mood was heightened and everything else averaged out pretty good. It felt like I actually had feelings that normal people had; excitement and interest as well as happy and sad. I was terrified that when I stopped taking it, everything would go dark again and worried that I might not notice everything slowly slipping away until I was back to square one.
Throughout the entire process, one thing stuck with me that I was just unable to fully shake and that was my ‘distress intolerance‘ (I sort of touched on it in this post but definitely didn’t let anyone in on the full scale of the matter), something I normally shrug off as silly and over-thinking but, to be honest, it’s one of the things I absolutely never talk to my closest friends and family about because it usually involves them. At any random time, I could be struck with the thought of losing someone; their death and my mourning followed by my life thereafter without them. How will I cope? I can’t. Often this would come at a time that makes sense, like an emotional part in a film where someone loses a parent and it triggers an emotional response from you which is pretty normal but, sometimes, this comes to me for no apparent reason, or from something very small. Even worse, it usually comes from the tiniest positive thought that then causes the negative ones to go apeshit stamping all over it, sticking around all day to make sure they’re the ones in control and that no enjoyment can come from what is actually meant to be me having a nice time or recalling a positive memory. It really fucking sucks. My issue with distress intolerance isn’t currently an intolerance to dealing with actual distress though, as I actually react and behave quite rationally under pressure but my issue is my perceived intolerance to potential future distress…I know, seems silly, but that’s what it boils down to. Completely unnecessary hypothetical worries.
Today is one of those days when the negative thoughts have really got me down, and as I write this it’s already been six hours since the initial negative thought formed. My eyes are still wet, my throat hurts, and I’ve shed a few silent tears in the process but, mentioning it on Instagram and having so many people reach out to me with their advice and sharing their own stories made me realise I don’t need to *just* get over this, I need to get it out and think out loud whilst getting my thoughts down – so here we are!
It started with me looking for the box my camera came in, when I came across some old things that needed a bit of a sort out so, being me and loving a good excuse to procrastinate, I threw a few bits a way and tidied up a little. In the process I found a couple old photos, including this photo of my Dad with my sister and I at a wedding years ago…I think maybe thirteen years ago? Quite a while anyway. Now, this is a bad photo. There’s almost nothing good about it at all and I have never liked or noticed anything good about this photo until now, but I’ll talk through my entire thought process. My first thought was probably, ‘why do I even still have this? This photo is crap and blurry and I hate how my legs look so fat and short, which they are, but this photo is particularly unflattering’ (in a comically stupid way) but I quickly realised that this is actually the only photo of me and my Dad that I have, that I know of anyway. Neither of us like having our photo taken, so we just don’t take them and we don’t really go anywhere where you would have decent photos taken as my Dad’s family is quite small, so there haven’t been many weddings or anything like that where you might get some awkward posed photo. On realising that this is the only photo I have, I knew I had to keep it even though it’s rubbish and I instantly felt guilty for not liking it and not appreciating it, on top of overwhelming regret that I don’t have anything better or anything else at all. It could never go in a frame or be cherished, we barely even have faces. At second glance, I realised how massive Dads smile was. We’re all smiling, with his arms squeezed around us both and he just looks so happy and so proud that I instantly welled up. What a lovely photo it would be if only I could see it properly, and if we had many more from the same decade like I should have ensured that I did. We’re all older now and we can’t go back to those moments. Instantly my mind flashes forward to a future where my dad is dead and this is the only photo I have of us, I remember the times we have discussed the lack of photos and the fact we still did absolutely nothing to rectify it and I start thinking about how I’m going to cope when mourning the loss of my parents. I guess that makes me think about my own mortality too, as well as the fact that no one in my immediate family has passed away – I’m very lucky to still have both sets of grandparents, but I have a constant fear that because of this I will lose them all at once in quick succession, having had no practice (horrible way to put it) at dealing with death because nobody really close to me has ever died. As always, the double -edged sword of anxiety is that each thought comes riddled with guilt, not just for thinking it, but for those that are ‘worse off’ than us. Those that *have* experienced or are currently experiencing something that I am only worrying about hypothetically…It makes me feel ungrateful and incredibly self-absorbed, which only makes me feel worse. Simultaneously, I hate how our insecurities about the way we look can then have such a huge impact on something as important as family photos. All I’m going to have is selfies I took on my own before we went out for dinner and boomerangs of the food on our plates and somehow I don’t think those are going to be the sorts of photos that make it to pride of place on the mantle piece. I wish I had more ugly, awkward family photos to laugh at and be embarrassed about now so that I could cherish them later. Take photos with your family and friends, regardless of how stupid you feel you might look because there are more important things to be gained from images like that than vanity.
I often end up discussing elements of my anxiety with family as I find it super interesting, deep conversations about thoughts and assumptions, where they come from and what they mean but this is one I never discuss because who wants to hear that you think about them dying all the time? Nobody wants to hear about that. Most people are afraid of dying or getting old and the last thing my Dad needs is me popping over for lunch and saying, hey, did you know I think about you dying like, all the time? The other night I dreamt that I was the one giving you CPR and it felt like blowing air into a plastic bag with holes in. What a fucking awful conversation! Can I just have a nice day? Can I just enjoy this nice lunch in the sun without triggering thoughts of all the future lunches that won’t be this way? I’ve had similar thoughts about friends, and even relationships I struggle to enjoy the honeymoon phase because my overriding thought is ‘sure, it’s nice right now, but what about when it’s not and it all ends?’ and that’s just no way to live. I know that deep down, but apparently my thought patterns haven’t quite caught up yet.