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A loved one of mine suffers from terrible anxiety. It is a crippling and debilitating condition that has extended icy fingers into many aspects of his life. Taking the corners of his existence and slowly but surely drawing them closer, dragging each claustrophobic corner in and making his sphere ever smaller and more suffocating.
He describes his symptoms to me. The panic of being far from home and unable to return. Adios adventures, spontaneity, and holidays. Snip, snap. The fear of being taken ill alone and passing out. Confidence and independence are handed crutches. The sparkle of parties is extinguished by reluctance of seeming off-colour and retiring.
This is his battle, not mine. He is the sufferer, not me. The pain takes place in his mind, his body, not my own.
Yet, I suffer too. On an infinitesimally smaller scale, of course. Where he worries his heart will stop beating or slow until he loses consciousness, mine bleeds emotionally for him. I would do anything to take away his pain. Yet I lose patience. I fail to empathise. Where he needs support, love and solidarity – I am weak.
Why? I find it so hard. His anxiety is my anxiety – in that our lives are intertwined. When he cannot go, I choose to stay. It is my choice, but our reality. When he cannot be, I must wait. Where he suffers most, I feel pain with him. This is a grain of sand to his ocean, but it is hard.
My point is this: Anxiety victims need help. Whatever scale their anxiety, however much or often they are affected, it cannot be fought alone. There are support groups, online forums, medication, hypnotherapy podcasts and exercise is an unsung hero.
Small steps and many hands, and progress may be slow. Anxiety is a global crisis. According to the World Health Organization over 300 million people around the world suffer from some form of anxiety.
In the US alone it affects 40 million adults, and in 2013 there were 8.2 million cases in the UK. Within this dark umbrella there is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD) and social anxiety. Of this latter, sufferers typically experience symptoms for 10 years before seeking help. Then there are phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD. People experiencing anxiety often also grapple with depression and for many it comes alongside other conditions such as being bipolar. Around 1 in 13 people globally experience anxiety.
What about their friends and family? I know from personal experience that helping – or trying and often failing to support a loved one – comes with its own pain. They say you become like the people you spend most time with. I have an extrovert, active and often dangerously gung-ho personality. Or better said, I used to have one.
I find myself heavy with the pressure of responsibility. Sympathy. Weighed down with frustration which would be appalling to express. My life feels equally curtailed. The dementor of anxiety may not be sucking at my soul but I feel his cold presence every day. How can you blame an innocent victim for your petty losses of freedom? How selfish.
Yet is it? I think the friends, families and partners of those suffering from anxiety should also seek help. It is important to share your experience. Offload in forums, bounce your worries off the people how may understand, who know exactly what you are going through. I have done this, and it is hugely cathartic.
My fear was not death. It was of anxiety itself. In order not to succumb to similar mental pressures and vices it is important to share the load. Communicate, open up. There are expert therapists at your door. There are online resources (like this website!) and free therapy such as Betterhelp or iPrevail. Even just confiding in someone close to you. Take time out; long walks, a soak in the bath, give yourself the breaks we all need. The stronger you are the more you can help. And always remember, you are not alone.
Nellie English is a freelance writer, free thinker and ‘self-styled pirate’. She has published two books on Amazon.
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