Back at it again with that anxiety

Recently I’ve been struggling and wrestling with intrusive thoughts quite frequently. My intrusive thoughts, the ones that i obsess over and constantly get stuck on, shift and change. They are quite intense at the moment, having moved on from “what if this happened” to “i want this to happen” even though I do not want it to happen.

These thoughts make me feel ashamed. I feel afraid of discussing them, and that gives them even more power. Because they are not nice thoughts, they focus on taboos or the bad stuff in our society and therefore I do not want to admit to having them.

So that probably makes me push them away, to not accept them, because I think that i should not be having these thoughts, i make myself feel bad for it. But I can’t control them, so why should I feel bad? It’s not like I invited them in with open arms, they are a product of my anxious mind, which just wants to keep the anxiety going.

I cannot change, stop or control my thoughts. Our minds are busy and sometimes we think things which seem out of the ordinary or “wrong”. I am trying to not resist or fight because its pointless and will only give them more power.

Thinking something doesn’t mean its true. Allow the thought to exist because it has no real power. It just feels like it does because it has the power to make me feel hot and upset and overwhelmed. I can’t necessarily stop that. I am trying to just accept what is, I have an anxiety disorder and part of that is obsessive/intrusive thoughts. I do not have to beat myself up for that. This isn’t my fault, its just brain chemistry! Try to stay mindful and in the present, these worries are not about things that are happening right now they are just hypothetical events/feelings/wants that have zero correlation to me right now, only that I have anxiety!

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Disempowering

I find that worries and intrusive thoughts have a lot of power of us, and it is this which causes distress. We feel like we are trapped by them, we have no control over them. I often feel this way, and part of my journey to being better at dealing with mental health problems is learn how to disempower them.

One of ways I do this is by talking to someone, usually my therapist. By sharing the worry it can help to get it out and look at it objectively and rationally. Having someone else just to look at it with you can make the process easier.

I have a lot of stuff I don’t want to share with people because I think it makes me sound ‘crazy’. I did not want to talk about my intrusive thoughts because they had so much power over me, I didn’t want anyone to know that it was happening. I am slowly trying to teach myself that my anxiety makes the problem seems bigger and scarier than it is. A thought is just a thought, a worry is just a worry, but with anxiety they seem like big terrifying monsters.

I’m having a rough patch and I’ve realised I still have some stuff I need to disempower. But that’s okay, totally retraining my brain is going to take time. and I am learning and growing, its just sometimes we need a helping hand to do so.

Bare skin = a beacon for harassers

I was walking to the shop, it was hot so I just wearing my dungaree dress and a crop top. On the way back I had to wait at a road for a while (curse you corner of Crookes and Crookesmoor) and I realised I was scared. I was wearing not many clothes and I was exposed, waiting to cross. A white van was waiting in the queue and the man in it was looking me up and down, in a way only feminine presenting people will know. At any moment he could shout something at me, that would make me feel defenceless, ashamed and embarrassed. I felt vulnerable. The traffic moved and I hurried into our house, just grateful that he had decided it wasn’t worth catcalling me.

This is something pretty much everyone who looks feminine, wears a short skirt with no tights, a cropped top, a low cut dress, will have experienced. The summer is one of the worst seasons to be a woman. Winter is pretty much fine, we’re all bundled up in layers of clothing (curse you British winter) and most of us are too cold/sad/thinking about a nice hot dinner to harass one another. (but of course women get harassed in winter because yay it’s always crap to be a women in public and quite often it doesn’t matter how much skin you show!!!) But summer, the moment my bare skin is on show, it like a beacon calling men to assault me in public.

I’m bloody sick of it. I feel really powerless when it happens and mostly I just ignore it, but that makes me feel crappy. I’ve got angry, swore and screamed, but then they just laugh at me because they’ve upset me and they think that’s funny. So what’s the solution? I have some ideas on how to respond, their pros and their pitfalls.

  1. “Alright chill out mate” – make him seem like he’s being hysterical and needs to calm down. Pro – a non-angry way to show how ridiculous he is being. Pitfall – they get aggressive at being told by a woman to chill out and i cry.
  2. Make a double chin and weird screeching noises. Pro – just straight up weird him out. Pitfall – Says something offensive and then I cry
  3. “OH FINALLY MY PRINCE HAS COME, LET US WED AT NOON” – pure sarcasm. Pro – top comedy reaction which highlights the ridiculousness. Pitfall – he doesn’t understand sarcasm, says something rude again and I cry.
  4. Laughter – make him feel small. Pro – easy to do. Pitfall – hes gets aggressive and I cry

Those are just the top three, my other ideas that I have dreamed up after being harassed and mentally reliving the situation for hours afterwards, but some also involved running after him and smashing his windscreen, drop-kicking him in the balls etc. but apparently you cant do that???

Why does it have to be our burden? Why do I have to feel afraid when I wear shorts and why do I have to call them out? Why can’t some men get it into their heads that shouting “NICE TITS” or “I’D FUCK YOU” at a woman in the street is not a cool thing to do? I’m tired of being angry at the world. Sort it out lads.

Power to everyone who is wearing less clothing because its hot and has been harassed. You do not have to react if you do not want to, it is not your job to reeducate assholes. Be safe. It’s fine to go home and change because you feel vulnerable, you are not being a bad feminist, you are protecting yourself. Try to be an ally if you see someone being catcalled or harassed. Maybe call the harasser out if you feel able or just ask the person if they are okay.

p.s. Also fat people can wear crop tops and shorts and get their fat bodies out on show and you don’t get to shame them because you can’t handle fat people being comfortable with their bodies. But that’s a whole another blog post.

Change

CN: Anxiety, Self checking, intrusive thoughts

 

Change is one of the only constants in our lives. Our feelings and thoughts are constantly shifting, the weather goes from sunny to rain and the seasons change like clockwork.

It is something that I don’t find very comfortable, big changes like moving house and small changes like dinner with friends pushed back half an hour. I’m trying to be more okay with change, and I think I’m getting better at dealing with it. I take it moment by moment rather than think about the whole thing as it makes it easier to deal with.

My anxiety changes too. The things that cause me to feel hot, panicked and tearful have shifted over the years. The fear of talking about the fears/worries/thoughts makes it even worse because it means I keep pushing it away rather than try to accept it.

I used to worry about being late. Then I worried about getting breast cancer. Then I worried about being psychotic. Then I worried about intrusive thoughts.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to other worries because they are easier than others. Its a lot easier to deal with a fear of being late for a train than to fear intrusive thoughts! Currently my worry is about self checking, I self check that I am sane and together, so I question thoughts in my head, question my strong side, doubt my coping strategies. It hit me very badly before Easter and I had two days of being paralysed and trapped by this fear. And its hard, because you try to think your way out of it, but that’s hard to do when your mind is busy worrying!

I cannot think my way out of anxiety because then it keeps the cycle going. Instead I accept it. I let the worry come and I let it take up space. Then I just breathe and allow it to pass again. I try to not get caught up rather just say “Ah I know this thought! This is coming from my worried side and it’s not something I have to give attention too”

It’s slowly helping. It’s getting easier to be with, but its going to take time.

So change is important in life. I’ve changed my coping strategies, changed the colour of my hair, seen my friends change. I am learning to find a comfort in change. Because it means that things will shift and pass, but also some things will get easier to deal with and that is change in itself.

Exam season

Today I woke up and felt something shift. I carried on like normal, until I sat down to meditate and my mind started to wander back to anxiety. So today has been difficult, but I feel as if I can do this. I think I am managing my anxiety better, reminding myself to stay calm, watch the thoughts and breath instead of getting caught up in it.

And what triggered this?

Exams!

I have two exams over the next 3 weeks, and I was handling with the stress fine. But then yesterday I got a little worried and today it blew up into a more noticeable and present worry, that turned into the classic symptoms of my anxiety – intrusive thoughts, feeling hot, doubting my capabilities etc.

I think exams are stressful for everyone and not necessarily the best way to examine students – people don’t always cope well with exams because of the time constrain for the pressure they feel. I think people should get more coursework to test their abilities – you will never have to work under exam conditions in the professional world. Engineers will always have access to a computer to work out complex mathematics. Teachers can plan lessons and use powerpoints to remind them about their class.

Exams cause stress, and while I know that I am capable at managing my stress, allowing it space to exist and treating myself with kindness, I don’t think it’s fair to put people through a situation which may not be a good test of their abilities.

Good luck to anyway with exams, remember to take time to relax and have a deep breath if you find yourself getting caught up.

Today’s rant: student culture and sex

Student culture has long been associated with excessive drinking, just about passable living conditions and lots and lots of sleeping around. Freshers week is usually a haze of drinking, stumbling home and waking up next to someone who turns out to be in your weekly seminar. or that’s what everyone assumes is going on. At university a culture is created that assumes everyone is permanently on the pull, desperate to have as many notches on their bedpost before they have to settle down and be ‘real’ adults. Thus student flats have tally charts of how many girls you’ve managed to have (probably mediocre) one night stands with and most interactions on tinder involve an assumption you’re both game for something sexy as soon as possible.

Now if you want to have a university experience like this, then that is 100% fine. its your life, your body, you do what makes you happy. My issue is that it places a lot of pressure on students to conform to this kind of attitude to sex. It means that (male students especially) have this sort of pressure to be regularly pulling on nights out and having lots of sex. It also leaves a lot of people feeling inadequate or unwanted, because it creates the idea that everyone is out there getting some and you’re stuck in bed watching netflix with only some biscuits for company.

I have definitely felt this pressure and I felt left out of university life a lot in first year because I couldn’t join in on the night after recapping of hilarious pulling stories. It made me feel bad about myself, it seems everyone else was able to go out and get some, but I wasn’t, so something must be wrong with me. I used to stand in clubs, convinced that I was the ugliest girl in the place, hence why no one was interested in me. I just assumed that I should be having a wild time at univerisity, and that because I wasn’t, then i was somehow defective.

It wasnt until my third year I had a sudden realisation that actually nothing was wrong with me. I just preferred to meet someone in a sober context and get to know them before anything sexual happened. And there wasn;t anything wrong with not getting with people in clubs or having one night stands, it just wasn’t for me. It was the student culture that was telling me I was the one who was weird and making me feel bad for something I didn’t even want to do deep down.

Basically student culture needs to change and be more inclusive. There is A LOT wrong with student culture (excessive drinking, lad culture etc.) but this is something which very much bothers me. I think it’s defintely not a blanket culture, I don’t think the pressure is that bad among my peers at university because we’re generally pretty good at letting people do what they want. But in the kind of general culture there is still this idea that as a student you should be having lots of sex as this is your only chance to do so and not having sex is weird or funny.

Do the things you want to do and try not to beat yourself up because you aren’t doing the same things as those around you. Respect that people are allowed to constantly ve having casual sex or don’t want to have it at all, or anywhere in between.

 

Chapter Twenty Four

I recently did a meditation about observing your thoughts, imagining you were sat by a river and just watching each thought pass through.

I’ve been working hard at this, because it’s definitely something that I think will benefit me.

But my self critic has been quite strong and not feeling comfortable with this new passive form of dealing with thoughts. I keep doubting whether its working, whether I’m doing enough. I seem to have got it into my head that recovery means constantly being proactive in dealing with my worries.

maybe part of recovery is being more laid back, not always something to combat anxiety but rather seeing what needs to be done in the moment if the time comes.

Chapter twenty three

I have been feeling at odds with myself for the last couple of weeks, my mind has been so busy but I haven’t been feeling the same anxiety. This change or shift has made me worry that something is seriously wrong. I am so familiar with feeling panic, the same old worries, the same old thinking traps. But it feels like something shifted inside of me and it’s making me panic.

So I’ve been pushing it all down. Trying to force myself to be okay with constant thinking and constant vigilance. the moment i feel worried or tense I just try to shut it down with re-framing thoughts, diffusion techniques or mindfulness.

And that’s the problem. I’ve been seeing it as a success as I counter every thought with reassurance or distraction or something that I’ve got in my toolkit of “dealing healthily with anxious thoughts”. I’ve been so focused on BEING WELL and DOING THE RIGHT THING i haven’t noticed I’ve actually been hiding from my thoughts and feelings.

I’ve been making myself more and more scared of them because I haven’t allowed myself to just let them come and go, watch them as an observer. I’ve skipped that step and immediately rushed onto the part that always makes me feel better. and its stopped making me feel better. so then I’ve been worrying that all of its going to pot and i’m failing in my abilities, despite trying so hard to be DEALING WITH IT HEALTHILY. And my critical side has been running wild – saying i’m not doing well enough or i’m not coping well or i’m not making progress – which had lead to stress levels.

It all came to a head this morning when I woke up and didn’t want to get out of bed. I just wanted to lie in the dark and wake up again totally fixed and brand new. I cried and cried, positive i was going mad or getting sicker or was going to have to start recovery all over again. After a long chat with my mum, I let myself breakdown. I let myself feel what I’d been pushing away. and it was hard and difficult and meant i had to face up to my pain.

I will move forward now. I’m going to try my best to not get too introspective of my thoughts and feelings, to not constantly monitor “am i okay? oh no i need to feel different to this!!!”. I will watch my anxious or intrusive thoughts as they float into my mind and I will let them do so. Pain is pain but adding resistance to pain makes you suffer more.

I will try be kind to myself. I am undoing years of distorted thinking and behavior and I do not have to have it all together all the time. i am not supposed to always be the strong one, I can allow myself space to feel crappy. I will try pay more attention to my body, my external world and try to stop constantly monitoring my inner one.

I will get up tomorrow and try make peace with my mind again.

Chapter Twenty-two

One of the most challenging products of my anxiety is that I experience intrusive thoughts. I was terrified to tell my therapist about these, I thought they made me sound dangerous and that no one else would understand the distress they caused me.

I did it thought. I sobbed and finally told her that I had them and it felt like a weight off my chest. Finally I didn’t have to box it up and pretend it wasn’t happening, finally it wasn’t an unidentified monster under the bed – it was just a way my anxiety expressed itself.

OCD is, for me, a scary label. Because of the stigma attached with the less palatable mental health problems, I was afraid to accept that I was experiencing intrusive thoughts. My therapist explained that it comes under the umbrella of anxiety, and actually its not scary. I don’t describe myself as having OCD, for me I say I am dealing with anxiety and part of that makes dealing with intrusive thoughts.

If you are out there, crying and frustrated, feeling guilty or ashamed, please know that you are not alone. Intrusive thoughts actually happen to everyone! Who hasn’t had a thought that seems strange and out of character? They are just thoughts, and thoughts are ever changing and coming and going, like the waves!

I am trying to use mindfulness for my intrusive thoughts. First I try not to immediately react, i try to go “okay wait before i panic and feel bad I know that that was an intrusive thoughts and I’m going to wait for it to pass, then I will refocus my attention on what I was doing or my feet on the floor or my breath”.

Its taking time to learn to cope better with them. I experience them during times of high anxiety – and its hard to be mindful when you are feeling stressed and restless. I also find that I can find myself several minutes later reminding myself of the intrusive thoughts. Again a mindful approach helps; “that was then and this is now, it was just a thought and I have permission to let it go, let that memory go and continue to be in the right now.”

But intrusive thoughts are nothing to fear, they have no power over you unless you let them have it. So step back when they occur, watch them objectively, label them for what they are and then continue with your day.

Chapter Twenty-One

Do you get it where you can spend an entire day not thinking about your anxiety? How sometimes your worries force you to do nothing but stay in bed and try to distract yourself?

And then, you suddenly remind yourself, oh yeah I need to remind myself that I should be worrying, that not everything is perfect.

I find myself constantly trying to make my worried part strong, trying to get involved in those worried again, despite having gone over them again and again.

I’ve tried to reason with my worries. I’ve tried to rationalise them. and sometimes that helps! I can think okay I know that’s just a worry and just a feeling and that’s all it is, it holds no power over me.

But sometimes I can get too caught up. I can’t rationalise because the worried side is going “but what if!! but how about it!! no this is wrong i need to panic!!” and I get tripped up by my thoughts.

I’m trying a new thing. I’m allowing myself to not have to respond. I don’t have to respond to every thought and feeling, I have permission to just let it pass. I don’t have to give it the time of day, because I’ve gone over it so many times in my head it doesn’t need any more attention.

Sometimes its okay not to respond. You don’t have to reason and rationalise with a thought again and again, you can just think oh okay that’s that worry again, i’m just gonna let it pass.