Just like depression, anxiety can be majorly misunderstood. Many struggle with anxiety without the burden of depression and vice versa. However, for me when depression has been at its worst anxiety has been there holding its hand.
So what is anxiety like? How does it affect me day to day? Essentially it turns quite a normally shy, but internally confident me, into a shaking wreck. Yes anxiety actually brings physical symptoms too.
My chest tightened, my breathing became fast and shallow, I felt extremely faint and dizzy, I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I was having my first panic attack. Luckily I have only experienced two of these and both times the same amazing colleague and friend has managed to come to my rescue. Panic attacks are devastating. A close family member suffers from these regularly. Ambulances have been called. Is it a heart attack? Is he going to live? What is happening? No just a severe panic attack.
But anxiety isn’t just a panic attack. Anxiety has affected me physically in the following ways:
-A tight chest. Sometimes I have been teaching classes and not been able to catch my breath. It is like a breathlessness that I experienced when climbing stairs whilst pregnant. Pain and spasms across my chest have led me to worry even more. Am I seriously ill? Is this the start of a heart attack?
– Pain in my back and shoulders. At their worst these appear as a dull ache and make sure that with everything I do I’m reminded of being unwell. Rolling my shoulders is constant. I try in vain to relieve the pain.
– Ok yes I’m going there. It seriously affects my water works and digestive system. Needing to urinate regularly when you cant just run to the toilet because you are teaching 30 teenagers is tough. Diarrhoea. Constipation. An endless cycle.
-Muscle and jaw ache. Muscle aches in my legs at the end of the day are a common place. They make it even more difficult to sleep as the constant dull pain plays on my mind. My jaw is constantly tense. At one point it ached and even caused tooth pain. I started to worry that I needed to go to the dentist and then I realised that my anxiety had been translating its way to my jaw as well as everywhere else.
Loss of appetite Most people will be aware of the analogy butterflies in your stomach. Anxiety means that my stomach feels like it is so full of those butterflies, that their flying around inside it is making me nauseous. Sometimes I have actually been sick.
One of the worst parts of my anxiety has been adrenaline overload. Now adrenaline is a powerful “fight or flight” chemical that is so helpful in the right situation. However, any situation where we feel stressed, threatened, insulted or guilty can signal our body to raise the level of adrenaline. It can be helpful in the right amounts, however when there is an overload it can hijack your thought process. When these parts of our brain have been shut down it can lead to us making risky decisions or judgements.
The physical and mental symptoms of this adrenaline have been really extreme for me. Almost like a panic attack I have had a pounding head, a heart that seems to be beating out of my chest, I get sweaty and hot, tense, and have shortness of breath. My thoughts seem to become all jumbled together, I can’t seem to take anything new on board and I can’t seem to speak clearly. I often talk very fast and appear quite frantic.
The adrenaline leads me to come draw rash conclusions. It makes me feel like the whole world is against me. I develop a stutter and struggle to articulate myself. After the adrenaline overload I am usually so mentally drained that it leaves me physically exhausted. I have to sleep to overcome how ill it makes me feel.
As well as depression anxiety has seriously affected my ability to function. The often irrational and continual worry has infected my every thought and moment. Anxiety is a barrier to you being able to do your job, be happy in yourself or enjoy your friends and your family. Your mind, is consumed with fear. It loses perspective on everything else.
At its worst all of these symptoms appear in the run up to teaching a class. Amazingly I have always managed to overcome this anxiety when in front of the class. It is like I walk through the classroom door and a switch is flicked which turns off the anxiety and turns on the teacher. However the after effects of putting myself through this are horrendous.
Unbelievable tiredness. After any anxiety causing situations I’m wiped out. Physically it is like I have just run a marathon. Mentally it is like I have just been grilled on mastermind. This is why I sleep so much. I have to. Also the anxiety is a major cause of being unable to rest effectively. I have sometimes tried to relax, by turning on the TV. I haven’t even been able to focus even on this and have spent hours flicking back and forth through the channels almost in a comatose state.
And I haven’t even started on anxiety at night. It is so bad I struggle to switch off at all. It is at night I have been the most suicidal. When I eventually drop off I’m usually awake an hour later with my heart racing and head pounding as a dream/nightmare has been so real I feel so anxious. And then the overthinking starts again. This isn’t one night. This is every night!
Depression with anxiety is so difficult to face.