I used to lie awake in bed with a rock of doom on my chest. I didn’t know it was anxiety, and it didn’t occur to me to ask for help. I just found ways to keep my show on the road, until one day I couldn’t, which turned out to be a very good thing.
What challenge does this story focus on?
I come from a family of capable women, and when the chips are down, we just get on with it. Whatever *it* is. But in 2017 a series of events made me realise I was a high-functioning mess, and that I had been suffering from anxiety for years.
How has this challenge affected you?
Anxiety for me was constant worry, forgetfulness (and lots of lists), lying awake with a 'rock of doom' on my chest, bad dreams, and most of all, migraines. I spent so much energy figuring out coping strategies, I forgot about my dreams and goals.
What has or is helping you to move forward with this challenge?
I reached a point where the migraines were so bad I was starting to worry about holding down my job, and I had to ask for help. And people helped! I realised I'd fallen for the fallacy that tells us we're individually responsible for succeeding in life. I also realised that I might be capable, but not all the problems I can see are mine to solve - I'm still practising how to tell the difference. I'm hugely grateful to all the loved ones, friends and colleagues who have helped, and are still helping, me balance my life. It took a lot of time, talking, and trusting to get this far (not to mention all the cups of tea) and I know we aren't done yet.
What have you learnt as a result of this challenge?
The most valuable skills I learnt were to recognise my boundaries, figure out my priorities, and be ok with telling people I couldn't do something. It was so hard, I always want to help! But the people who valued me understood, and I realised that my value to them was so much more than my 'capability'. In a funny kind of silver-lining, figuring out how to manage my migraines really helped with this - avoiding being incapacitated for days is a strong motivator. More philosophically, I also learnt that there is strength in recognising that life really is like climbing a mountain; not only challenging, but sometimes just a sheer slog, and that's normal. Once I realised that, I stopped trying to figure out what I was getting wrong and it was much easier to see the positives.
How do you use this learning in your life now?
More than anything, I've learnt to make space for reflection, and gently question why I'm feeling, doing or accepting something that's making me worried. Sometimes I write it down, but mostly I go for a walk and talk to myself for a bit, before maybe chatting it through with someone who loves me, if I still need a bit of outside perspective.
What positive message would you like the reader to go away with?
Back to the life is a mountain metaphor, everyone's geography is different. For me, the most important things helping me up the hill are learning to prioritise health, nurturing my relationships, and remembering to stand still and check out the view!