Finding your ladder; A story about anxiety

Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, were some very brave individuals will be telling their stories about how they deal with important issues and for the readers of this website who might be struggling I thought it would useful to share my own experiences.

I suffer from an Anxiety disorder. Since 2011, I have battled something that in a nut shell makes me panic, feel unable to relax and can make doing some of the things you might find easy, really hard.

To somebody who doesn’t suffer from this, I know it can be hard to understand. The way I explained it to my brothers was imagining you were on a really fast rollercoaster or watching a scary movie; your heart races, stomach tightens and your mind goes at a million miles a minute as you fear the worst. Now imagine, feeling like that all the time and never being able to shake it off, that’s the difference between me and somebody like them.

At your lowest moments, you can become absorbed by anxiety which means you will always think about the worst case scenarios and you panic that you can never climb out of the position you find yourself in.

However and this is the moral my story that I want anybody who is in a similar position to take, there is always a ladder available to you, no matter how deep the hole is.

In 2012, I felt really battered after months of suffering from anxiety and a sense that I was never going to get any better after trying several programmes and nothing seemed to work. Then a ladder came, I was accepted to speak at a conference about my PhD research for the first time. I sat up, wrote my paper and I kid you not rehearsed it about 20 times in my living room. I felt that energy that my anxiety has sucked from me returning and I slowly started gaining confidence. Then, I got a call from BBC Radio Ulster who wanted me to come on to Good Morning Ulster on the day of my paper to discuss my arguments (Unionism and North-South relations if you’re interested).

Cue palpitations and more anxiety consisting of what if I mess up? What if my supervisors are listening in?

Here’s the thing, all the worst case scenarios in my head if I had paid them in any serious attention would have forced me to pull out of the conference and the radio programme. But I went on, delivered my arguments to Mark Carruthers and received some lovely comments from my colleagues at Ulster University about how I did and then I delivered my paper in front of academics from across the UK and Ireland.

In the weeks and months that followed slowly but surely I began to feel better.

That breaking free from anxiety for just a spell, led me to write a piece on the same topic for the News Letter, which then brought me to the which then led me to Slugger and the rest is history.

I still have problems with anxiety and there are days where things like going on holiday are a struggle for me.

But my anxiety does not define me, nor should your anxiety define you.

Find your ladder, whatever that maybe, for me it was writing about politics and doing a bit of Yoga along with discovering Camomile tea on the side helped too.

Another thing, trust others to help you. I struggled to tell some very close people to me about what I was going through, but when I opened up the response was nearly always “what do you need & how can I help you?” Anxiety is a very lonely process, but there are others out there who suffer from this who on the surface you’d have no idea about, don’t be afraid to open up.

In conclusion, be patient with yourself and other people too. You will have some tough days (I do) but your better ones will far outweigh your negatives. So, take a deep breath, take small steps forward and find your ladder.

Here’s to your success and hopefully this has helped some of you.

  • AntrimGael

    You would be extremely surprised at how common this is and how it affects family members, friends, colleagues etc you would never have thought of in a million years. Some people are just better than others at hiding it but it affects a hell of a lot of people.
    The mind can be your best friend or worst enemy. When it’s on your side the confidence and self esteem flows through you and you feel like Superman spinning the world back round on it’s axis. When it’s fighting you it’s the loneliest, most isolated, scariest place you can be; I know, I’ve been there. Blokes aren’t good at this sort of stuff, society has deemed that we aren’t meant to be but that’s changing. Well done David, talking about it is the best therapy and take heart. Many of us have walked in your shoes.

  • Jag

    Fair play to you David, you certainly brighten up our lives on here!

  • Korhomme

    Not just you.

    Anxiety’s alter ego is depression.

  • AntrimGael

    Very true

  • Paul Hagan

    Thanks for sharing this David, very brave of you to admit it, I’ve also suffered badly from anxiety in my life. Respect to you for sharing this and best of luck in beating it in the future!

  • Granni Trixie

    Well done David in analysing your situation and writing about it.

    I had a terrible life in early childhood and beyond. I longed to break down and often wondered why I did not. My sibling who experienced the same family conditions ended up in every mental institution in Ni.

    People who speak out open the door to ideas for addressing mental health problems and make them less scary.

  • Jim M

    Thanks for sharing this David. I have always been pretty anxious and for various reasons this has increased over the last few years. I am finally starting to address this properly but I know it’s probably going to be a long process.

  • AntrimGael

    I know social media gets a bad press but sometimes it gives people an outlet for inner anger, demons, anxieties etc. I often think that some outrageous political comments people come out with on Slugger, myself included, are often a cover for deeper insecurities and worries swirling about in their heads.

  • AntrimGael

    I also believe strongly that if Slugger, TalkBack, Twitter, Facebook etc had been around in the 70’s and 80’s MANY people would not have died. For all their faults they do provide an anger and frustration outlet for people that simply didn’t exist 30/40 years ago.

  • Oggins

    Thank you for sharing David. My kid brother suffers the same. The past six months I have seen an amazing change from him, as he has been finding his ladder.

    The more we are open about mental health, the better an understanding and acceptance by all. Thanks you

  • Robin Keogh

    What amazes me is the way in which we tend to bully each other in political discourse yet each and everyone of us would be horrified by bullying elsewhere.

  • AntrimGael

    Very, very true. We speak to THEMMUNS in awful, self righteous, disrespectful, condescending patronising ways but would be outraged if that was about disabled, gay, ethnic people or if we were spoke to that way in work.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well done David for telling your story, it takes some guts.

    I’ve only in the last decade or so become more aware of my own anxiety being a problem (partly through watching my mother’s anxiety ramping up exponentially – oddly enough her dementia has now released her from that). My main approach is to be around the people I love as much as possible and actually do stuff I like doing as much as possible. I have this thing of wanting to feel everything is OK around me before I can allow myself to be happy myself and of course it never is. An old boss of mine kind of diagnosed it when I was a fretful new parent: it’s big mistake to negate yourself to please other people, however virtuous it feels. You’ll make yourself miserable and actually it doesn’t please other people that much. Of course, that can turn you into a selfish pr***, but actually it probably won’t. It’s all about balance.

    Before that I thought the black dog was my curse – I had some terrible periods of it when I was at school, including what I might look back on now as a breakdown. Luckily I’ve had nothing as intensely awful as that since, but I still bear the scars big time. It’s hugely affected my approach to life, career choice, lifestyle, everything – I think, in a positive way. I have had an acute radar ever since for anything that might put me back there and I avoid it like the plague. It does mean I have never had interest in climbing career ladders or even “fulfilling my potential”, whatever that means. Because those things are usually oblivious to your emotional needs.

    So I risk coming across to work people, especially demanding clients, like I don’t give a sh**. But actually I get by. Many of us could beat ourselves up a lot less and focus instead on grabbing little moments of pleasure – and not feeling guilty about it. A couple of belly laughs a day go a long way, as does a nice glass of wine.

    We get educated into thinking life is a competition or a test and it really isn’t either of those things. It is just the passage of time between birth and death, at the end of the day. It makes sense to put good things in it where you can. However low you feel in any one period, it’s not set for life – there is always good stuff to come.

    Anyway, that’s my therapy for the morning! All easier said than done, and I’m a miserable b****** a good bit of the time, and I have very little will power, but actually facing those issues has given me a much better life than I ever would have had by ignoring them. Good enough will do.

  • Gaygael

    Maith Thú

  • David,

    delighted you have found your “ladder” and hopefully brave personal disclosures
    such as this will allow more of us to identify our own way out of mental health
    problems. Too often alcohol and other
    drugs used to relieve symptoms only further compound the problem. The process you describe is similar to
    Cognitive Behavioural Technique (CBT) the most effective of the talking therapies
    and highly effective for anxiety disorders.

    In CBT, Negative
    Automatic Thoughts (NATs) suggests the thinking involved for our unwanted
    emotions leading to anxiety is involuntary.
    Due to early life experiences in similar situations we developed certain
    emotional responses. These emotions are
    provided when we meet similar situation in our current lives. Events shape us. Our NATs are closely linked to enduring
    assumptions we hold about ourselves and our world. Sadly, too often, NATs become pernicious, and
    they end up making us; unhappy, anxious and as a consequence depressed.

    CBT is
    focused on identifying, targeting and modifying thinking errors. Any
    simple event causes the individual to focus on “the worst case scenario”, the
    most extreme outcome that could result.

    For six
    months I have kept a list of issues/events that triggered a severe anxiety
    response and, at the time, I noted down why I felt this issue/event would lead
    to something really bad happening. Of the 25 events I have recorded not one
    turned out to be catastrophic and the majority have had a positive
    outcome. This type of exercise, which
    is part of CBT, is a powerful way of changing poor thinking patterns.

    counsellors may be a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, or other
    health care professional who have completed a required level of training. There
    are a limited number of CBT therapists available in the Health Service but
    there are plans to increase the number in coming years. But a therapist is not always essential. Self-help
    for programmes that use CBT have been shown to be useful for; anxiety, phobias
    and depression. More recently,
    interactive CDs and websites are being developed and evaluated for
    self-directed CBT for a variety of conditions. I hasten to add I am not a CBT counsellor

  • Granni Trixie

    That is all very interesting Terry, many thanks.

  • Brian O’Neill

    As the great Irish social philosopher Damien Dempsey would say, “don’t best yourself up, there’s enough f*ckers out there who will do that for you. “