An Open Letter to my Anxiety (Mr A)
Dear Mr A. (Mr Anxiety),
Firstly, I acknowledge you for what you are. You are mysterious, unpredictable, and unfathomable; you have every quality required to throw my life out of balance. I first felt your presence several years ago, during a deeply significant family event. I did not know what was happening at the time. “I must have caught a bug”, was my explanation as I struggled to control my body’s need to excrete until unable to hold up my own weight or force my eyes to remain open. Unfortunately, what I thought was merely a bug was something far more sinister and enduring. You. You continue to control and inhibit my ability to participate in life until this very day. You persist in making my life a painful experience. You continue to drain any positive energy I have managed to reserve inside my body and mind. You delete any sense of comfort, contentment, and predictability that I have begun to reclaim in my life. You snatch it away. Going, GONE.
Your rants include:
The world is doomed.
We as individuals living in this world are doomed.
I can’t handle this mess; I am weak.
I should be able to handle this; look at how far I’ve come with my recovery.
Isolation, isolation, isolation.
“Drama queen”, that’s me.
Over-reacting at the drop of a ha.
I’m a horrible person.
I don’t deserve to release a book.
I’m a fraud, nutcase, and disappointment.
Everyone thinks I’m never happy; they say, “Get over yourself.”
If nothing else, I must JUST SHUT UP. NO ONE CARES.
Now, go sit in the corner and cry.
Such thoughts began to dominate my mind, just as I began to embark on a dramatically different path; one where a very old acquaintance and most likely your friend too, Mr ED (Mr Eating Disorder), began to lose some of his power. I’ve always known that the task of defeating that other horrible voice, Mr ED, would be challenging. I’ve witnessed his ruthless victories over and over again.
Yet, with hard work, I began to succeed. I began to push aside embarrassment and shame. I found a real purpose and made it clear I was not giving up, no matter how hard the fight-to-be-free-to-be-me might be. For a short time, I felt I was making real progress overcoming my long-time tormentor, Mr ED. Living felt okay, and finally, I had something to look forward to. For the first time, instead of me, Mr ED was the one who was fading and withering away. And then you, Mr A, came along to cause havoc.
To the casual onlooker, heck, even to those who know me well, everything may appear to be just peachy. “Yep, Sam’s doing great,” and this is how you, Mr A, like it to remain. Maybe I should have considered acting as an occupation as a child; I’ve done a fine job of it for most of my life. Yet, bubbling away beneath the surface there has been this on-again, off-again stream of crippling pain, fear, panic, extreme bodily reactions, social phobias, and a feeling of being out of control and helpless regarding the well-being of my children and my own sense of well-being.
For me, Mr A, your presence is abundantly clear in everything I do, and if people look closely, they will see my nervous habits signalling your presence within my core. The more subtle habits, a fascination with touching and destroying my nails, my fleeting memory, the restlessness and even the clinginess. But the real killers, the life drainers, are far more severe; they begin in an instant, usually in response to a form of disturbing news.
My heart begins to flutter, progressing to a racing sensation. Some days I sweat and feel overwhelmingly hot; most commonly, you leave me with a never-ending sense of extreme and excessive nausea that is so impactful the most pleasurable of food seems disgusting, and on occasions, you’ve pushed me so far, I’ve been unable to control what comes out of my mouth. There is an extreme and unrelenting fear of change, social phobias, and extreme fatigue. You insert an unrelenting pain in my head that extends down my neck and into my shoulders, making sleep and even everyday activities all but impossible. My muscles tighten; it’s a struggle to move, requiring countless physical treatment sessions. I experience a thirst that can’t be satisfied, no matter how much water I drink. Insomnia, for weeks, leaves me resembling a walking zombie and as irritable as hell. An endless train of thoughts comes at me from every direction I turn. Thoughts desperately need to be addressed. I’m not safe; we’re not safe; this is one big disaster. God, get me out of here.
I wish life could reflect the normality that I’ve always craved. I’m sure my ED is laughing hysterically behind my back because look at what you’ve gone and done. Creating an ongoing sense of fear for how each new day might whip you, Mr Anxiety, into a fresh whirlwind of destruction with me firmly in your path.
At first, I was unable to see the pattern. But now your pattern and your intentions are increasingly evident. You cling to all that is negative and make it feel 10 times worse. The announcement of another case of COVID-19 puts my head in a frenzy with every bodily sensation intensifying by 100 per cent in an instant. You tell me I’m a freak, over-reacting to an event that the rest of the world is taking in its stride. You make me want to give up on recovery, inflicting symptoms that are progressively worse and more frequent, leaving me to question the meaning of life.
I haven’t always been aware that you, Anxiety, have been a dominate presence in my life. You hid during my years of struggle with an Eating Disorder; you just weren’t as easily identifiable. Yet, with my intent to conquer the ED bully, your emergence has become increasingly felt in many different ways. My mind and body have acted out in a malicious manner, with the intent to hurt only me.
The good news? I have caught onto this new pattern that is my life, my reality. I am receiving help from many directions, from people who understand and acknowledge my inability to defeat this new intruder—with experimentation of medication and counselling to understand the “Why?”s lurking behind you, Anxiety. Yes, I can admit my struggle; try to explain it to those who have never personally experienced the deep, piercing, and endless hole that you, Anxiety, create within. I can ask for help and try to educate others on what I am going through to the very best of my ability. While I haven’t quite figured out how to take your power to cause you to go away, I’m listening to many experienced and educated people. It’s just a matter of time before I’m empowered. This is a positive step.
For anyone feeling the struggle
With the world in an uncertain state, and the real-life experiences being broadcast daily on TV and social media, the likelihood of experiencing Anxiety or other serious mental illnesses is high. Unfortunately, the experiences we’ve witnessed have been too great for many of us to emerge unscathed. Anxiety is not an easy struggle to get through or overcome, but I choose to believe we can each achieve this. If I could wish for one thing, it would be for our governments to stop the bickering and come together for the greater good; for you, your family, my family, everyone’s family. Let us collaborate and get our lives back on the road, as close as possible to a place we all know and love.
If, like me, you are finding daily life a struggle, believe there is hope. While I’m not suggesting Anxiety can be banished for good, it can be transformed into something more manageable. Trust me when I say there are good people, well-intentioned people, and highly skilled professionals who can and want to help me and you begin the journey away from the grips of Anxiety to freedom. I’m in no way sugar coating anything; after all, I’m in the midst of my own deep, dark struggle, but I believe that I can find my way out, and you can too. Therefore, I’m hereby putting my Anxiety on notice. We don’t serve as a good team, Mr A. We are incompatible. You, therefore, are on the way out; it’s just a matter of time.
The Picture Healer
A wonderful piece of writing Sam that not only could I relate to personally but I can also relate to your struggle to contain this and the many negative aspects of self talk that accompany anxiety. I do not know whether you know but in my late 30’s I had a couple of bad incidents occur in my life which helped to make this a very real and present experience in my life story as well. Due to these incidents one being a car accident with a death which I witnessed as a first responder and then I hit a cow coming home from work it really tried to take over my life as well. I am not going to go into the symptoms and signs that something was wrong that I was feeling at this period as I do not want you to carry them into your story but they may already be there. Obviously, when reflecting back once I had a measure of control I could see that it had been lurking behind me since childhood. When driving home one night from Geelong I was crossing the Barwon River bridge near Balyiang Sanctuary and I just thought I would feel much better if I drove off this bridge and into the river. The temptation to do this with 2 young kids was so strong I drove straight to Winchelsea Medical Clinic and explained to Dr Peter Smith who was my Dr that I had something very, very wrong with me and I needed to see a psychiatrist as I did not know what the hell was wrong but it was something that was not going to go away. The treatment fom the psychiatrist and his explanations about what was going on in my head and body really helped me and I have been on medication ever since I saw him and still on same medication today. It as you say is very real, but unless it is happening to you many people do not understand and just think the “pull yourself together” idea is going to banish this. Positive self talk is very important and was very helpful for me in controlling what I then knew was anxiety. Never surround yourself with people who cannot be sympathetic toward any form of mental illness and yes I have absolutely mastered the acting course as well. I think it is just par for the course and a coping mechanism we all try to use to please others. I especially admired your positivity from about 3/4 of the way through the article and I wish you all the very best with your journey to recovery. Lots of love Julie x