That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

When you live with anxiety, you never really live

In 2011, I spent the entire year with a headache. Tired of the pain, I went to our family medical clinic sure I would be diagnosed with a brain tumour. I came away with a prescription for antibiotics and a general feeling of malaise.

Unsatisfied, I went home and Googled cancer and brain tumours and depression, because they were the only words I knew to describe what was going on beneath my skin and in my wired mind. My Google Machine would understand me in ways the doctor didn’t, and wouldn’t make me feel ashamed for my obsessive thoughts about illness and death.

It turned out the brain tumour was all in my head.

When I was eventually diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, I imagined my diagnosis would ring out clear like a bell. I watched the GP’s mouth move, and I heard the words, but I had prepared my mind for CAT scans and chemotherapy and surgery. What exactly does she mean, anxiety? How could my thoughts give me a headache?

The diagnosis didn’t ring clear for me because I hadn’t officially met anxiety yet. When I did, it was like meeting my shadow, or an evil twin, for the first time; it was dark and strangely familiar, so familiar I’d never looked directly at it before. When I did, it articulated all that I ever thought was wrong with me as a person. Being permanently, sometimes debilitatingly worried, was my normal. Having a sore stomach at swimming lessons: refusing to do show and tell: avoiding oral presentations: skipping class and valuable teaching because of it: avoiding parties and social events: panicking in my year 12 English exam, even though I had aced the subject till that moment. And then the mountain of guilt that comes with living a life half lived. A lifetime of worries concertinaed into one neat little screwed up package of Not Living.

When the anxiety got on top of me as it did in 2011, I struggled to explain to my husband exactly how I was feeling, because the things I thought about hadn’t happened yet. How can you rationalise irrational fears and concerns? My worries were vivid imaginings, catastrophic dreams that happened when my eyes were open. My mind was so full of these thoughts that even folding a basket of washing or doing some housework seemed overwhelming. All this while trying to raise three kids under five.

“But it’s just housework,” or “You’re doing a great job,” my husband would offer, trying to soothe me, not knowing that my tears weren’t over the housework or the kids. It was the feeling that I couldn’t stop the thought trains that ran through my head. This was the point when my worries began to strangle our lives.

I wasn’t living, I was trying not to die.

 

Anxiety is something I’ve learned to manage through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and meditation. Two years on, I can’t say I’m free of it permanently. Armed with these tools and knowledge of the condition, I’m better able to manage my worries, talking myself around irrational thoughts and coaching myself through fearful situations.

I refuse to let anxiety get the better of me.

This is what anxiety looks like.


In Australia, approximately 14 per cent of the population experiences anxiety, which makes it even more common than depression.

Beyond Blue are currently running a campaign to educate the community about anxiety and to give us the tools to untangle its symptoms. You need to know anxiety to be free from it.

If any of this story sounds familiar to you, please visit Beyond Blue to get to know your anxiety and learn how to free yourself from it.

Have you met anxiety before?

21 Responses to “When you live with anxiety, you never really live”

    • rhythm & method

      It’s an uphill climb, that’s for sure. It’s easier knowing there’s other people in the same boat. Sometimes I worry I’m the only one worrying … how’s that for irony?

      Reply
  1. Melissa

    I have a 9 year old with General Anxiety Disorder. It’s hard to explain to people that many of his habits and behavioural issues are due to anxiety…

    Reply
    • rhythm & method

      That must be so tough. One of my kids displays anxious tendencies, so we try to talk him through his thoughts and tease out the irrational ones. Very tricky though because they don’t always know how to articulate their thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  2. lifeinzuri

    Really well told – living with anxiety is difficult and it’s such an overused word in day to day life that people don’t really understand what it really is. It’s a day by day struggle but it has taught me so much about myself, that before was just rolled up into the anxiety…. that was me! Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • rhythm & method

      It is an overused term, and why I think this Beyond Blue film clip is so good as personifying anxiety. It’s easy for talk to gloss over the finer details, but the real meat of it is in the physical feelings of anxiety. That’s it’s power, and the more people who realise it’s power, the better we’ll be at managing it in our communities.
      Love your blog BTW. 🙂

      Reply
  3. catbeloverly

    That clip is amazing! I know this all quite well. More well than I’d like to. For me, it has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and being a Mum has made it worse again. And I had no idea there was support for ways to deal with anxiety. Thank you Karen.

    Reply
    • rhythm & method

      I totally relate Cat. Being a mum and getting older means more anxiety for me too. There are heaps of online tools you can access through the Beyond Blue website to help yourself through anxiety. Many of these activities are about unpacking irrational thoughts and retraining your brain not to run away with itself. x

      Reply
  4. Terri S. Vanech

    Good for you for meeting this head-on. My 17-year-old daughter struggles with anxiety and depression, so we live this at my house, trying to make sure she has the tools necessary to cope. It is, indeed, an uphill battle. You are brave to share it here.

    Reply
  5. Twitchy (@TwitchyCorner)

    “…the mountain of guilt that comes with living a life half lived. A lifetime of worries concertinaed into one neat little screwed up package of Not Living.” Oh my. These are the words that rang out to me.

    I’ve never blogged about the details of my own situation and I don’t know that I ever will- it’s different, but those words still ring out loud and true. At least in my case I think to understand oneself is to make the biggest step of all. Thank you Karen.

    Reply
  6. Gill

    You express yourself so beautifully, Karen.

    Interesting read – though it has left me confused as to my own feelings. I can certainly relate to most of what you mentioned: the worrying, the irrational thoughts and feeling anxious before social events and oral presentations ( I also displayed OCD tendencies as a child) but I couldn’t relate to the feelings expressed in the clip. I’m guessing this is the difference between feeling anxious and suffering from GAD? Beyond Blue are doing fabulous work.

    I’ve love to read more about your meditation?? I’ve just enrolled in an 8 week meditation course at a local yoga school…..

    Reply
  7. Travis

    Anxiety has been my curse. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and if I could go back to the day before I had anxiety, well… I’d be tempted.

    Without anxiety, I could have gone on to live a comfortable “safe” life.

    But, now life is full of risk. The risk from anxiety is comparative to the earlier risks I had before anxiety. Because of anxiety, I can allow myself to do things I would never dream of doing, while at the same time I can no longer allow myself to do the things I hadn’t a dream about!

    I can’t say how I’d have turned out if I never had anxiety. I have a few over-glorified ideas. But I think I know now what it means to be free, and what it takes to be free, more so than if I had never gotten anxiety.

    Reply

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