Lindsay Topham, Digital Innovation Officer for North West London shares some truths about living with anxiety and the road to seeking help.
A friend recently got me into this hilarious podcast by two delightful comedians Tom Elwes and Ali Woods called ‘All I Do is Fail’. The duo talk with their guests about failures in their life and what they have learnt from it, generally making light of times they have felt like a failure. Whilst the podcast makes my journey to work more entertaining it has also made me consider some of my own failures.
Listed below are some of the times I have felt like a failure:
- I once accidentally walked all the way to the train station without a skirt on
- I went on three dates with a guy who thought my name was Kate and I couldn’t find a polite way to correct him
- I recently met a man so handsome that when he shook my hand, I curtseyed
- On the first day of my first bar job at university I impaled myself on a till receipt spike, and on being completely grossed out by the whole thing, I fainted and knocked myself unconscious
- I experienced a prolonged period of anxiety for the first time and felt like I was a complete failure.
Living with anxiety
Anxiety is actually very physical. Can’t sleep, can’t eat. I have to be within three feet of a toilet at all times because my bowels can’t cope with whatever food I do manage to consume. I constantly have a sick feeling in my mouth. I constantly feel as if something very bad is going to happen. Procrastination levels are high and my ability to concentrate on anything is difficult.
Oh and the paranoia! Convinced I have failed all my loved ones as a human being. A friend of mine has to cancel a dinner date last minute due to work commitments. Usually, of course, I’m very understanding of this, but my anxiety has convinced me that despite being friends for 12 years she has woken up today and realised she hates me. I frantically scroll through 1000s of our text conversations to try and discover what on earth I have done wrong.
My favourite thing about anxiety is that it erases your memory of all the times you didn’t feel like this and makes you feel like this is going to be the way you feel until your last day on earth.
Because it is difficult to explain how anxiety manifests itself and you have no control over the things you will be anxious about, it can often be hard to explain your symptoms to someone. Rather than consider that I might need some help to manage my anxiety I convince myself that I simply cannot ‘adult’ and I am a complete failure of a human being and that the best way forward is to not tell anyone about it and suffer in silence. Side note – this chosen coping mechanism resulted in me having an emotional breakdown on a bus after accidently getting on the wrong one.
I tell my friend about it and she reassures me how I feel is normal but that maybe some support to manage my anxiety might help me. I agree with her and promise to call my GP in the morning. That is of course, a lie…. I don’t call my GP. What a daunting task to call my GP practice, be put on hold for the entire length of a Coldplay album then finally tell a stranger that I need help with something that I cannot describe.
Instead I use the mood tool on my NHS Health Help Now app (download free from the app store, search 'Health Help Now) on my phone and refer myself to my local talking therapy services. I answer a few questions about my mood and how long I have been feeling this way. Upon completing the short questionnaire my results indicate that I might find it useful to talk to someone so I refer myself to the talking therapy service with the click of a button. No need to talk to a single living person. Incidentally, all that would have happened at my GP appointment is that they would have referred me to the service anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone has highs and lows. Some days it is possible to be firing on all cylinders – exercise before work, eat your five a day, drink the recommended amount of water, get eight hours sleep, have a productive day at work, work on your side hustle, meditate, switch off, read a book, find a cure for cancer, finalise a Brexit solution.
Other days are more about eating your monthly allowance of saturated fat for breakfast, spilling your coffee over your laptop, going to the station without a skirt on and the only green vegetable you go near all day is the bit of iceberg in your kebab – I think this is what people refer to as ‘balance’. But if ever you do feel like the wheels are coming off a bit and you do need some support then it is easier than you think to get help.
Anxiety is normal. You are not a failure. Asking for help is a powerful play. Telling your friends you don’t feel yourself is healthy. Not having the answers is ok. Seeking help with how you are feeling even if you cannot really describe it properly is a very natural part of the process.
You are not a failure for seeking help.
Blog by Lindsay Topham – Digital Innovation Officer, North West London