In August of last year, I went to my doctor and told him that I was pretty sure I had anxiety. Now, to be clear, I didn’t Google my symptoms (general life note: never google symptoms. Ever). I have a background in psychology so I was familiar with the symptoms.
I was feeling panicky all the time, even over small things like getting the bus. I felt that butterfly feeling in my stomach constantly. I worried about everything, all the time. Things that I didn’t have control over, things that I did have control over, things I should worry about, things that should have been sources of enjoyment. Everything. I had fairly frequent anxiety attacks, and lived in constant fear of when the next one might happen.
I knew that I was not okay, and after trying to deal with it myself for a while, I knew I needed help. So I went to my GP, and after listing my symptoms, he agreed, and he put me on a course of anti-anxiety medication. At first I was hit with woejus nausea, one of the side effects of the particular medication I was on. But once that settled, it was like someone turned the light on. I’ve heard it said that sometimes when people get glasses for the first time, they marvel at the beauty of the world because they didn’t realise how much their bad eyesight was depriving them of. I felt like that. I realised that now that I knew what not feeling anxious was, that I had been feeling that way for much longer than I had been aware of.
Yesterday I went for a check-up and my GP broached the idea of coming off the medication. I told him that this terrified me because I realised the size of the difference that the medication had made to me. I genuinely feel like a different person than I did pre-medication. But I do know that my doctor knows me very well, and if he felt I should stay on the medication long-term, he wouldn’t suggest coming off them. He knows that I’ve been through a lot of rather big changes and stresses in terms of my career, my education and my health over the past few years, and we agree that they, while they may not have caused my anxiety, certainly didn’t help it. So he suggested that I really look at my life in terms of building in protective mechanisms for when I do come off the medication.
As I have been trying to mould my days into how I would like them to be recently, rather than constantly kowtowing to external demands, this is something I found very appealing. When I became unwell a few years back, I had to stop running, which had been my main method of reducing stress. I found giving it up very difficult and I know see the benefit of having multiple protection mechanisms in place.
To that end, I need to start consciously minding my mind better – in a preventative manner rather than waiting until there is some imbalance in my emotions or mental health that needs restoring. As part of my research I have to develop skills around reflexivity, and I feel that that’s a skill I could do with applying to my non-academic life too.
This blog provide a way for me to do that (sorry folks, for the extensive navel-gazing!) and I thought perhaps we could do it as a group effort – some extra self-care never hurt anybody. So, I’m starting a ‘Self-Care Sunday’ series, where I’ll share the things I’m doing to practice better self-care. I’m choosing to do it on a Sunday, aside from the alliterative title it provides, because I think personally it will help set me up for the week ahead.
Today’s self-care is a simple one, and I don’t even care that I’m jumping on the hipster bandwagon with it. This week I’m going to set aside some time to do some colouring. I love colouring, and have quite the collection of colouring books now. That said, I usually colour in tandem with doing something else, such as watching TV or listening to a screencast of a lecture or something similar. I feel like it’s something I do to keep myself occupied, in the absence of something else to do, rather than an activity in and of itself. I never schedule time to colour. So, that’s what I’m doing this Sunday. I’m working on a piece from my Asia-inspired book, which my boyfriend bought me for my birthday.
This may not seem like an earth-shattering approach to preventing anxiety (although there is some evidence that suggests it can work), that’s exactly one of the reasons I like it. I tend to do best with small, manageable changes. Bigger changes take up too much of my brain space and I tend to start letting other important things slide.
Why don’t you join in Self Care Sunday too? How are you minding your mental health and setting yourself up for the week ahead? Do let me know!