This week I am moving on from depression to look at another issue I suffer with, anxiety, paranoia and low self esteem. Now, a key part of looking at anxiety in my opinion is truly defining what it is and what it means. I think that it is fair to say that one is a biological reaction that everyone suffers from to different degrees of severity when there are moments of stress or more accurately anticipation. That is nervousness. I then believe that Anxiety is a much deeper condition that is engrained in the mind and is very much to do with confidence, how we view ourselves and how view the world. I realise that description of anxiety may seem very simplified to some people but I will expand on why I think that as the post goes on.
Is it Nerves or Anxiety?
I often think that there is confusion when talking about anxiety. I think that many people confuse anxiety with nervousness. It is very often that before a significant event that you are about to participate in you may well be nervous. You may suffer from butterflies in the stomach, light-headedness, shakes/tremors or poor communication skills. Whether you are about to deliver a speech at a work conference, participate in a competitive sporting event or approach someone to ask them out on a date. In the lead up to the event we are nervous both about our performance and the outcome.
All of the things I have said above are also symptoms of anxiety. There is, from my experience, a large difference between the two conditions though. When it comes to being nervous about something is that it is generally noted by many people (professional athletes, professional businessmen and women, professional speakers) that once you actually come to the point of performing whatever task it is that has got the nerves jangling, your body tends to react biologically, adrenaline kicks in and the nervous feeling goes away as you focus on your task rather than worrying about what might go wrong. Your mind becomes focused on participation rather than outcome; you lose yourself in the moment in what you are doing. To simplify it, nervousness is a biological response to a situation. That is how I see it anyway.
However anxiety is a condition that is very different to a person who suffers from nerves. I find when I am suffering from anxiety; I tend to look at things in a much larger and broader view. I see the consequences of my potential actions and my failures, before siting what I would do if or when that potential consequence comes around and so on and so forth. I continue to look at the potential negative outcomes of my actions and my decisions and then create a trail, a story made out of potential scenarios that haven’t even happened yet but nearly always end up with a bad outcome.When I have built this imaginary mind map, all of the things that could go wrong (in my experience) generally come from mistakes or bad decisions I would make. When Then I start to examine myself, looking at the things I am bad at, the skills I don’t have instead of focusing on all the things I am good at.
My Social Anxiety
In the early stages of anxiety and how the condition develops (this is just my opinion, I am speaking in terms of what I think about the way my own mind works, not from medical fact) I focus on my flaws, my mistakes and my lack of skills rather than the positive parts of my mind and myself. When the lack of certain abilities sabotages us in a particular way, that memory will remain with us and so will the emotional response that came with it whether that is sadness, anger, embarrassment or any other negative emotional response you wish to think of. Those times where we have been unsuccessful at certain things or certain abilities where we are less able have been highlighted act as a catalyst for periods of anxiety. I think that much of the anxiety I suffer from is doubt in my abilities and myself and having to put myself on display in a place where those, for lack of a better term, weaknesses may be exposed.
I can also be prone to small emotional breakdowns that can strike at any moment. I think lots of people who have suffered an ABI, TBI or even a severe emotional trauma can relate to that. When stresses in public places such as (for me) an invasion of personal space, strangers approaching me, an unexpected pressure being put on me or a decision that needs to be made it affects the way I think, my social and communication skills as well as my mood. An alarm bell goes off in my head because any of those situations that occur now are a threat to my safety and my wellbeing. At this point I want to turn tail and run. I want to hide somewhere, I want to go back home, get into bed and hide under the covers where I am safe and I cannot be exposed as a cripple or a spastic or any of the other negative generalized terms that ignorant and uninformed people use to describe people with disabilities. Words that have somehow found their way into my mind that, in times of darkness in my own mind I apply to myself. It is an attack of self-sabotage. When I re-read these words I can’t help but think what a coward I am. I’m a coward for caring what these people think. Their opinions will be informed by the actions I perform and the things I say which are not always in my control and are in no way my fault.
Anxiety – Is It A Cyclical Thing?
When I look back at what I have said regarding my social anxiety it does, it all comes back to how I view myself, my own abilities and caring about how people perceive me and my disability. The last point is what really makes me angry with myself though, why should I give a damn about what a bunch of strangers or uninformed people think about whom I am? Why should I feel ashamed of the way I am as a result of my ABI? Finally, why do I allow their opinions and thoughts to pressure me into revealing the worst manifestations of my disability? It becomes a cyclical thing; trying not to upset or offend anyone with your disability or even reveal your disability, when you’re in a situation where the consequences of your disability emerge upsetting or scaring someone with your actions or what you say, then going back to trying to hide your disability or offend or upset anyone except this time with more of a pressure on you to not reveal who you truly are. The anxiety and the pressures are amplified each time we try to hide from who we are. The best thing we could probably do is just to be ourselves and say, “This is me, take it or leave it.” But are we brave enough to do it? Are we brave enough to overcome the pressure, the anxiety and the expectations of a fully-abled society? I have proven in this section that I am not. Not yet anyway.