#Blogmas Day 9: Anxiety

I’ve had anxiety for most of my life. It’s something that I have always believed to be a large component of my personality. It is only recently that I have used the term anxiety as in the seventies they would say that you ‘suffered with your nerves’ or you were, ‘a worrier’.  My anxiety centered around just about everything. There was a road by my ballet school, Balfour Road, that was very steep and when I had to walk up it, I would become extremely anxious and cling onto my Dad. My Dad would make it worse by trying to make me laugh and pretending that he was falling down the hill himself. It terrified me. From then on my anxiety was named by my very unsympathetic brother, the Balfour Road Syndrome.

full frame shot of text on wood
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I worked hard at school and was naturally clever. Yet for some reason times table and spelling tests filled me with dread. I used to break down in tears before most tests, even though I would always receive full marks. One day my Year 4 teacher, Mr Thomas, became so exasperated at my tears that he shouted at me and told me that if I didn’t stop crying he would chuck me out of the classroom.  It worked in a way as I stopped crying. However, I also developed a fear of men shouting that has stayed with me ever since and my test and exam nerves became internalised instead.

When I did my ‘O’Levels, I would frequently be sick just before an exam. Nothing ever helped me with exam nerves and no one ever offered any suggestions apart from to point me in the direction of the toilet when I started to go green. I managed to survive and in my final year at University I did fifteen three hour exams in the space of two weeks. So perhaps Mr Thomas’s words did do me some good in the end.

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Over the years I’ve developed all sorts of anxieties. I am terrified of heights, bridges, and open staircases. I’ve never liked flying. A few years ago, I tried hypnotherapy to enable me to fly without being such a nervous wreck. I was placed in a deep state of relaxation and given a piece of rose quartz. The idea being that when I did fly, I would hold the quartz and revert to my state of relaxation. This did work once and I remember the woman who sat next to me on the flight commented on how relaxed I seemed and wanted to know my secret. “Oh this is just a mask.” I explained.” Deep down I am terrified that we’re all going to crash and die in a horrific plane crash.” She didn’t speak for the remainder of the journey.

Anxiety is an incredibly strange condition to have, as sometimes new anxieties come and there is no reason for them. They can go just as quickly. One example was about twenty years ago. I went to eat my dinner and suddenly became very aware of my swallowing. I then started to find it difficult to swallow.  I went to see the doctor who told me that there was no reason for the problems I was experiencing but that it was probably anxiety. The difficulty in swallowing remained with me for a few months and then magically disappeared. It reappeared about ten years later when I was going through a school inspection and then it disappeared again. Another condition occurred, about a year after I had my son, when I had to go to London with work. I was about to cross a large road and then suddenly became very aware that there was nothing protecting me from the road. I was used to pushing a pushchair in front of me and wondered if that was why I felt so unprotected. Suddenly I felt as though I was balancing on a precipice and about to fall over. I felt very nauseous and dizzy. These episodes started to become more frequent and I still have them now even twenty years later. There was also a time when I found it difficult to speak as my mouth would become so dry and I would panic that I would not be able to carry on a conversation.The worst issue with my anxiety has been driving. I have always found driving difficult, mainly because I always overthink everything. It took me four times to pass my driving test. The first time I nearly killed a pedestrian when I went through a red light. The examiner tried to keep me driving but I turned to him and said,’There’s no way you will pass me now!’ After four attempts, I finally passed and I bought myself a brand new Ford Fiesta. After a few months I scraped the side of the car on the driveway pillar. I didn’t drive again for about seven years.  I started to have driving lessons again to try and rebuild my confidence. Yet I would only drive within a mile of my house. When my marriage broke down and I had to return home to Nottingham, I somehow managed to drive with no anxiety whatsoever and for a period of about ten years, I drove quite happily. I would never go on the motorway though. Then I had a minor bump in my car and suddenly I started to worry about driving. I would lie awake and worry about the drive I would do the next day. I ended up tying myself in knots and then I eventually decided to stop driving. I now take taxis everywhere. I may drive again one day but I’m really not that bothered.

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I take medication now for my anxiety and in all honesty I don’t know if it helps. My anxiety is not the worst it has been but I’m aware that it could just come back like a shot. I find that my gardening helps a great deal and I do a lot of meditation and relaxation to help. For a long time I let my anxiety win and I avoided a lot of things. However, as I have become older I have learned that sometimes overcoming your anxiety can be the greatest way to cure it. So over the past year, I have been trying to do those things I avoided. I’m not so sure I’ll be driving again soon though. I keep promising my Dad I’ll drive again when he buys me a brand new high-spec Range Rover for my birthday. That’s obviously never going to happen as my dad’s a pensioner. But overcoming the small anxieties has helped me to start to tackle the bigger ones. I’m not quite up to walking up Balfour Road again just yet!

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