The one where I open up about my anxiety
It’s been a while since I last posted here. Obviously, we’ve moved to Prague and I started a new job, but there’s been a deeper reason why I kept postponing writing a new blog. I felt like the picture that Kirra and I were painting on Instagram and here on this blog is awesome, but it’s not the complete picture. It’s mainly the highlights, the fun stuff, the happy moments. This is of course true for almost all posts on social media, which is why I in general struggle with maintaining an online presence that doesn’t feel honest or true. Writing yet another post about travels or moving to a new country just didn’t feel right, unless I would first open up and share with you a more complete picture.
I struggle with anxiety. I had my first panic attack five years ago, on a plane. Which is probably one of the worst places to have your first panic attack, but then again what do I know? You only have your first panic attack once.
Anyway, ever since, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks on a somewhat regular, almost yearly base. These periods of anxiety generally last for about two to three months and mostly occur during the darker (literally) periods of the year. I’ve come to accept it as part of my life; as a part of the person I am. Which is not as sad or bad as it sounds, better yet it actually helps me deal with these periods of anxiety better.
If you want to read more about my first panic attack and the subsequent periods of anxiety I experienced, I’ve re-uploaded a post that I wrote in 2016 here.
The best way to describe my anxiety is as an extreme form of impatientness. If you think about it, it makes sense. From an evolutionary perspective, seeing something dangerous (a snake) puts your brain in ‘fight or flight’-mode. This causes all kinds of physical reactions like an elevated heart rate, an altered view of reality and a rise in body temperature. In cases where ‘flight’ is more realistic than ‘fight’, getting out of the dangerous situation as quickly as possible gives you the highest possibility of survival. The body of a non-anxious person returns to a normal state as soon as the danger has been evaded and life goes on as if nothing happend. A person suffering from anxiety however, may remain in this ‘flight or fight’-state for days, weeks or even months in a row.
My extreme impatientness works as follows. When we travelled to India last October, I started feeling anxious pretty much in the first week of being there. I had never planned a trip as long as our India trip was going to be ever before. And I’m a milestone thinker (I could probably write another post about that). The reason this is relevant, is that it made me even more aware of the fact that I was going to be away from home for the longest time ever. Which by itself is not scary, or anxiety inducing. Or maybe it is, for some people. And maybe it was for me. Because what happened in that first week, is that I started thinking:
What if I cannot do it? Being away from home for this long, in a county so different then what I’m used to?
Which turned into:
What if I’ll feel unhappy here? I don’t want to give up and go back home so soon already!
Which, after some downward spiralling, turned into:
If I get a panic attack here, at this moment, I’m totally, utterly screwed.
Which caused, well, a panic attack.
See the pattern here? This is what I mean with extreme impatientness; instead of just waiting to see what happens and let life unfold, I get stuck in my head and all the ‘What-ifs’ start piling up, until it’s so much pressure that it forces my body in the ‘fight or flight’ mode. But fight against what? And flight? There’s literally nowhere I can run. I would have had to drive for two hours and be on a plane for another nine hours just to be home. But then what?
If I would go home now, I would feel like I failed. Like a gave up. And I really don’t want to go home, I want to help SEDS and travel and explore. Why do I feel like this, this is exactly what I wanted. But now I’m here. And if I would get a panic attack here, at this moment, I’m totally, utterly…
You get the point.
I panicked a bunch of times in India and struggled with anxiety when we came back to The Netherlands and when we subsequently travelled to the Balkans after that. The reason that I joined Kirra and Laura a week later than planned was because I needed that extra time to recover. And I’m still recovering. Because the annoying, frustrating and, if you’re not careful, depressing thing about anxiety and panic attacks is that it teaches your mind certain patterns that can invoke anxiety in different situations as well. When I was back in The Netherlands, I didn’t immediately feel anxiety free, because my brain was still in anxiety mode:
It’s dark outside. What if I wanted to be somewhere where the sun shines right now?
Which, after yet another round of downward spiralling, turned into:
If I have a panic attack now, at 9pm, while the sun comes up at 8am the next day, I’m totally, utterly…
And I’m stuck in the same loop again. Extreme impatientness causing extreme stress a.k.a. anxiety.
It’s hard man. There have been days where I felt really, really low. There have been days where I felt so far away from reality and everything felt like a dream from which I couldn’t wake up. There have been days where I was certain that this was going to be how I was going to feel the rest of my life and there have been days during which I was absolutely convinced that I was going to have to go a mental institution.
But guess what, I’m still here b*tches!
As I said before, I have accepted that I will probably never be anxiety-free. There may be periods, maybe even long periods, where I will be free from anxiety, but I’m pretty sure it will come back every now and then. And that’s okay. It’s the challenge I’ve been born with. Like, literally. Anxiety runs in my family and there’s a strong indication that anxiety is hereditary. But there’s good stuff caused by anxiety as well. It has actually forced me to think about some deep, deep existential stuff. It has pushed me to read a lot about buddhism. It has shattered my young self’s naive believe of being invincible, only to make me more humble. It has made me listen to other people struggling with mental issues without judging them. It might even have taught me how to help others. And as my struggle continues, I will learn more and more about the world, people and myself.
My aim for this post was to paint a more honest picture of what my life looks like and I feel like I succeeded somewhat in achieving that goal. I also feel like I could write more about this subject, especially on how I personally deal with anxiety. What helps, and what doesn’t? What are common triggers? Should you even be drinking caffeine? But for now, go outside, take a deep breath and listen to the birds chirping: spring is coming!