The following image was on Facebook a few months ago. It was re-posted or liked by a couple of my friends. They thought it was amusing.
I did not.
Am I saying it’s not funny? No, humour is subjective, after all. To deny or decry someone being able to find it amusing is not my point.
What I can say, with one-hundred percent honesty, is the second I saw that picture and read it to the end I recognised my own thought patterns. I said to myself, That’s my anxiety. Right there. It’s basically a chart.
I’ve gotten better at – perfected, really – accelerating the process of contemplating a problem, taking it from what is (usually) small or inconsequential and turning it into a Big Fucking Deal. When I was first becoming truly aware of my anxiety in my teenage years, I would spend hours – days – going mentally, step-by-step, through potential scenarios: when I was being bullied, I would plan out my day as best to avoid those people who were doing it, what I would do when it was happening, how to ignore them, what time was best to go the canteen, when to cross the road after school to walk home, when to leave the playground. I could go on.
Later, during my eating disorder, the mastery over controlling my weight was – I thought – a mastery over my anxiety (“I’m winning, see?”). It was very important to be the thinnest person in the room and for a few years I was the thinnest person in a room. Really, I guess, the eating disorder was how the anxiety physiologically presented itself and, as I recovered, the anxiety gradually returned to its mental roots.
Or so I thought.
You see, I’ve been my own doctor about it, essentially. The only times I’ve been treated have been externally funded or provided: first while I was at university, second when I had my breakdown and my previous workplace allowed me one visit to a psychologist, and third with my post-partum anxiety with Riley. During one of these phases, I can’t remember which, I was diagnosed with GAD. And each time the funding ran out, I didn’t continue. At university, it was because I didn’t like the therapist, and later because I didn’t want to be burden on the household budget (Adam and I were living together then). Am I saying I didn’t consider myself to be a worthy enough investment? That my self-confidence and self-worth was that low? I wish I could say no, blaming it instead on my youth and fierce independence. The truth is, I’m not sure. I do know I said to myself a lot: I can sort it out on my own.
And I did.
Or so I thought.
I have had a pain in my stomach since February.
I was first diagnosed with an ulcer when I was fourteen. This was in the early 90s, before they discovered the majority of stomach ulcers are caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacterium. Back then, it was generally believed – by us laymen – that ulcers were caused by stress. When I was diagnosed with mine, ‘anxiety’ as a term was rarely used. Neither was stress, for that matter.
“Karen is a worrier,” was the preferred nomenclature. “She worries far too much.”
To this day, I don’t know if that bacterium caused that ulcer, because I’ve tested negative to it, and as that ulcer healed in time, I’m not sure it matters now. So when the familiar pain came back in February, I did my best to ignore it. When I couldn’t any longer I saw a doctor. I took medication. The pain went away. Then came back. With a vengeance.
It came to a head over Easter, when I was in bed, clutching my stomach, nauseous, unable to eat, in pain, my bowels behaving in a terrible manner (I’ll spare you the details), and I thought to myself the diagnosis of gastritis the doctor gave me was wrong. Had to be. All sorts of dire alternatives presented themselves, even though there was no evidence – and tests have come back negative – it didn’t matter.
That is how anxiety is for me now; instead of mulling over something for days, like I did as a teenager, I immediately short shift and head straight for Worst Case Scenario. Not just for myself, the kids too. It has to stop. I feel sheepish at this tendency to catastrophise. It’s not healthy.
Back at the doctors (again) the other day he asked me, “Do you have a mental health plan? Has anyone set one up for you before?”
I blinked. I didn’t even know what one was. In those few times I’ve been in care, that hadn’t been mentioned. When dad died, I was advised to get grief therapy. I didn’t. When I’ve sat in doctors chairs in the past, they’ve written me Valium prescriptions, which I’ve taken, gladly.
But I need to do more. I need to try and re-program how I think and react to situations. Ulcers may not be caused my stress, true. But gastritis can be.
And I sure as hell don’t want it any more.
Image by: Mariana Zanatta