Consumed by worry

Anxiety is the most disabling of my mental health problems. As long
as I can remember I’ve had a huge propensity to worry. During
school and college if I felt under pressure I would faint. I would
rearrange books on library shelves and food in cupboards believing
that if items weren’t in the right place I would have bad
luck.

My worries were focused on food and weight when I became anorexic.
Despite being of normal weight I was certain others saw a chunky
body. For six years I thought about food during every waking
moment. Being admitted to hospital was meant to take away this
obsession but it exacerbated it. As an in-patient, and later a
resident, in a Richmond Fellowship hostel I was terrified of the
placement suddenly ending. Nothing reassured me despite funding
being agreed in principle for as long as I needed it. In my only
experience of work I was distracted by worry. I was a trainee with
a year’s contract but couldn’t stop thinking about what I would do
when the 12 months ended. When a restructure of the organisation
was announced I took it personally and thought it was to reduce the
cost and burden of employing me.

I can feel paralysed by anxiety over what others think of me. I
think strangers, as well as those I know, talk about me. This
especially applies to voluntary work. In that situation I always
thought the manager was about to tell me my work wasn’t good
enough. I go over what I said to colleagues again and again and
whether this was the “right” response.

Being acutely and continually anxious is draining. It’s like being
on a hamster wheel – a frantic scramble with no exit. The only time
I can remove myself from it is if I make myself physically ill. In
the past this was through starvation, now it is by cutting myself.
The outcome is crashing out at accident and emergency or as a
hospital in-patient and having no choice but to rest.

I would be able to work through the anxiety if it weren’t for my
depression. Feeling both is intolerable. As soon as the anxiety is
less intense the emptiness and despair resurfaces. At these times
doing anything, even answering the phone, feels impossible. There
are supports that help me get through each day. Talking to my
community psychiatric nurse about issues that cause me to worry
excessively definitely helps. I also have a support worker. My
antidepressant does make a small difference and I take an
antipsychotic drug which ensures I sleep. I try to channel my
energies into different projects and I am a member of the patients’
forum for West Kent NHS and Social Care Trust.

Social care workers need to be available to those who with severe
anxiety. Phone contact is important because users are unable to
leave home at times. Workers should realise that it isn’t only
severe mental illness that debilitates users. Those with common
mental health problems, including anxiety, have complex and
challenging illnesses.

Alex Williams is a volunteer and a mental health service
user.

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