Ask any of my family for one of my main characteristics and they will probably tell you that I worry. All the time. Even my 6 year old daughter will say “Mum, you worry too much” (usually before tripping over or walking into a wall!”.
If you own the Moana DVD you may have seen an animated short called “Inner Workings” which shows a neurotic brain that over analyses every situation, always coming to the conclusion that everything will lead to death, thus stopping the attached human from ever having fun.
That is pretty much my brain.
A few years ago I went to the doctor to speak to him about my anxiety. I was given access to an online CBT course (which was absolutely useless) but one thing that did really help was learning to recognise what triggered my anxiety, therefore giving me a heads-up when it might occur.
Absolute top of the anxiety-causing list are my two girls. Like most parents, something happening to my babies is my biggest fear, but unlike most parents I can let my judgment be clouded by my worries. Nightmares flash before my eyes of them being hit by a car, choking, being kidnapped. These nightmares are so real and vivid that even the most mundane activity – walking down a road, eating grapes, playing on a park – becomes a potential life-threatening hazard.
The only way to explain this to somebody who doesn’t have kids is to imagine ripping your heart out and letting it walk around, unprotected. Of course you’re going to flinch every time it gets too close to danger. If it gets accidentally squished, your life ends. I believe I am a resilient woman, but losing one of my babies is something I can’t imagine I’ll ever come back from.
So, instead I wrap them in cotton wool, all the time knowing I’m driving them crazy by being over-protective. It doesn’t matter. I’d prefer that to my imagined alternative.
Low-flying planes and fast-moving cars
If you’re sat at home and you hear a plane flying over head, what do you think? “Hmm, I wonder if they’re going somewhere nice?” Not me. I assume that it’s about to drop a bomb on us. Or maybe that it’s about to crash into the building and we’re all going to die.
Same with cars rushing past the house. I brace myself for the inevitable moment when it comes flying through the front window. I start planning which way I’m going to dive and my chances of survival. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s all too real, as is my fear. I don’t think this is going to happen. I’m convinced it will. Fun, eh?
Being in the passenger seat
I have a separate, non-fear related anxiety that can cause me to have a panic attack when I’m feeling out of control. We’ll leave that for another post though. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because it ties in with my next big trigger – being in the passenger seat.
Whether in a car, train, bus, tram or plane, if I’m not driving I start to get more and more anxious. I’ve come to realise it ties in with my control issues in general life. I feel safer when I’m in the driver’s seat. I’m generally ok with Mr Mess as I trust him implicitly, but even then I can feel my fists starting to clench and heart starting to pound.
I’ve learnt it’s generally easier just to drive myself nowadays.
In the middle of the night
My longest anxiety trigger has to be being alone at night. As soon as I get to about 10pm, I start to get more and more stressed. When I lived alone, I started to get a bit better, but even now I will still sleep on the sofa if Mr Mess is away because I feel safer.
Once, when alone in my old house, I thought I heard a noise upstairs. Terrified, I ran out into the street, knocked on a neighbour’s door (who I didn’t know) and asked if I could stay there until my Dad arrived to check it out. Unsurprisingly, the house was empty. Our pet rats had knocked over their food bowl. Looking back it was a completely crazy thing to do.
It’s even worse when I’m out of the house. I will actively go out of my way to avoid being outside in the dark, but on the rare occasions it does happen I am a nervous wreck. I jump at every noise, I run rather than walk and I pray all the way home that I’ll get there safely.
No news is good news
Finally, there’s nothing quite like real life to make me worry. Every time I turn on the news there’s been a new bombing, shooting, terrorist attack, robbery or other horrific experience. By the time I step out in the real world I am a gibbering wreck, convinced that every person I meet is a potential threat to my well-being.
I talk myself out of travelling to big cities due to the risk factor (I may never visit London again) , I have emergency plans in my head and I always keep an eye on the escape routes. I sometimes have to put myself on a total news ban to try and stop filling my head with horror stories.
I could probably go on. I’m sure there are more triggers that I’ve forgotten about but these are my most frequent. I do understand that most of my fears aren’t logical, I realise that bad things could happen at anytime, when I’m least expecting it. I guess that’s the point with mental illness. It isn’t really logical.
Luckily, my husband knows very well how to manage me and knows how to look after my when I’m having a “moment”. If people think it’s annoying that I’m constantly fretting or being a “negative nelly”, they ought to try being me. Worrying this much is exhausting. I often wish I had on off switch.
Still, they do say the first part of fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. So, step 1 complete.