When the Devil Came Knocking: Anxiety and Time

This time last year I found myself in a serious crisis. I had absolutely no idea how to fight back.

I guess what began it all was leaving university. I was no longer certain that acting was what I wanted to do, but I sure as hell didn’t want one of those soulless ‘proper jobs’ either. Writing was my twin talent, so I thought that perhaps I could nurture that-but I had no plans as to how and doubted my abilities. I knew I needed to earn money in the meantime and so looked for menial jobs. At that stage I felt completely unemployable; nobody wanted me. All of my applications were either rejected or ignored. Eventually, I did find a job…which I loathed with every ounce of my being.

I felt totally stuck and uncertain about my future. I’ve often heard Anxiety described as ‘a fear of the future’ and this indeed was how I felt when the devil came knocking. I capitalize Anxiety because it is a recognised disorder, different from just feeling some ‘anxiety’ as a one-off. I had had run-ins with Anxiety in the past, but it soon became clear that this time things were different. Like a virus, it had somehow become stronger. The feeling of fear pervaded into every aspect of my life and quickly came to inhabit my thoughts. As an introvert, I have always needed a reasonable amount of time alone, but now I found myself spending the majority of my life away from other people. I became irritable, indecisive and forgetful.

I couldn’t seek counselling because counsellors require money. I had no job and so, therefore, had no money. The free ‘Let’s Talk’ service offered to me by the NHS put me on a waiting list, but they took so long to get back to me that I would have likely died in the meantime had my problem been serious enough. My parents weren’t able to truly understand what was happening to me because, much like Autism, Anxiety is an invisible disorder and I had no diagnosis as such. I found it hard to explain how I felt and why I felt the way I did.

Then came the worst part: the Anxiety became so dominant that it began to manifest itself as physical pain. I began to experience a gnawing pain in my chest on a daily basis, often without relent throughout each and every day. My panicked mind’s first thought was “HEART ATTACK!”

I found myself frequently visiting the doctor and becoming a hypochondriac, something I had absolutely never been before. On the rare occasions when I didn’t feel anxious, I would become aware that I was feeling relaxed and the Anxiety would kick in again. It didn’t allow me to relax. I spent eight months in flight mode, barely functioning as a human being.

To quote Yoda, fear leads to anger. In my case that is certainly true. I quickly began to question why this was happening to me. When I couldn’t find a way to get better and everything felt futile, I would fly into rages. I deliberately shut myself away from my friends because I needed to be alone. At that stage I barely wanted to know myself, let alone force this new Joe upon anybody else.

The trauma I was facing was blissfully ignored by the rest of the world because it was mostly invisible. I knew I had to force change. I was beginning to exhibit symptoms of Depression. The two often go hand-in-hand. In the end, I spent half a year on happy pills, not to treat Depression but to treat and calm the Anxiety that had become serious enough to warrant prescribed medication. I don’t know whether the pills actually worked or not, but I believed that they would and that perhaps had something to do with my recovery. The other key ingredient to my salvation was time. My body and mind needed time to deal with the Anxiety, much in the way that a computer needs time to upload new information.

I also changed my mentality. I forced myself to be productive and actively invited positivity into my life. My productivity as a writer had stalled indefinitely because I had become incapable of seeing anything through, always criticizing myself and feeling mentally drained before I had even begun my work. But I kicked back and eventually the wall barring my way was broken. That’s not to say that I’m free of it entirely, but I have made significant progress and now rarely experience the pain that had caused me so much distress.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, I allowed myself to get away for a while. It took a lot a lot of forward planning and preparation financially, but I did it. In the end it took a trip to New Zealand to help me to let go, and to remind me that life is, after all, worth living.

Peace and love,

Joe

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