My anxiety is getting out of hand. I feel panicked and distressed and it only takes the smallest thing to send me spiralling into a mindset where I believe my life is over. It was bad enough before the coronavirus hit, but now it’s off the scale. Every time the phone rings I think either someone has died or they’re calling to tell me they never want to speak to me again. I am married with a fairly high-powered job, and even my husband only knows a little about how I feel, as I am ashamed to admit the full extent. My colleagues think I’m terrifying because I’m so irritable. I’m alienating everyone, but I feel scared and hopeless. Help! — Desperate
You should know that both of us have experienced the same flavour of desperation.
Annabel: Emilie became so anxious that she started hearing voices, and I was so overwhelmed that I just got scarier and grimmer and more powerful-seeming, until I stopped sleeping and ground to a halt. So it’s not surprising that, given what’s going on in the world right now, dormant anxieties are raising their heads.
Emilie: As Annabel says, my anxiety tipping point was when I started hearing voices – and that was when I went to get help. It seems so strange to me now that it took a cacophony of negativity, come to life, before I did this. So I understand how much anxiety you can live with and also the shame, the horror of not being able to cope, and how the more you try to conceal it the more it leaks out in another ways. I have also lived through Annabel’s summer of insomnia and witnessed her emotional burnout happening in real time. But this much I know: there is help, understanding and support out there.
Annabel: ‘Turbo-charged with adrenalin but deranged from lack of sleep; hugely confident to behold yet increasingly viewing each day as a prison sentence.’ I wrote that when I was deep inside my anxiety – gasping for air. I cried more and more but it wasn’t cleansing, it was just grating. I knew that I had backed myself into a corner regarding every tiny decision that ‘needed’ making and – even through the fug – I had a vague sense that I was somehow robbing myself of a future. I was already homeless and bankrupt and alone in my head. I only tell you this because if we’re not in it together, we’re not in it at all.
Emilie: I went to the doctor. Make a phone appointment with your GP. And while you wait for your appointment, start meditating. I know that meditating seems almost impossible for super-vigilant, anxious types – but Annabel is one of those, and she’s been meditating for three months and is almost unrecognisable (said with love!). Get a good therapist (your GP can refer you, or recommend local accredited therapists) and have appointments over the phone or Skype or FaceTime until the restrictions lift.
Annabel: The meditation thing is super-annoying when suggested by others, but it has helped me. Having said that, anti-anxiety medications are useful for delivering a little perspective. I would recommend that, if possible, you get your GP to refer you to a psychiatrist who will have had more anxious, exhausted, distressed people through their door than you’ve had hot dinners. And – you don’t say how old you are – but it’s worth getting your hormones checked at some point, because perimenopause is absolute hell for this stuff.
Both: Find your people, Desperate. It is weird how, when you ‘come out’ as an anxious person, terrified that the confession will separate you from your peers, it will actually serve as the glue that binds you together. Find others with a bit of murk in their arsenal. Have Zoom calls with them until you can chat in person. Human frailty is so much more beautiful than perfectionists who are strangers to self-doubt. Small, steady steps. You deserve some solace and you will find it. You will find the blue sky in your mind. In the meantime, we send you our heartfelt love.
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Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on [email protected]. All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally