Anxiety At Christmas

The festive season comes with all sorts of pressures and expectations which is a shame because these details detract from what should be a relaxing time in the company of loved ones. The ideal Christmas image leads us to think that we have to achieve perfection in everything we do; in how we decorate our homes, buying expensive ornaments and gifts, maintaining completely harmonious family ties, being a social butterfly and flitting from one Christmas party to another and immersing ourselves in an environment centred around food, alcohol and indulgence. Whilst all of these things are part of the Christmas image we are sold and look good in the Instagram pictures we are inundated with, they can also produce a lot of anxiety in the many people who worry that they cannot achieve or keep-up with this level of so-called perfection.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be about competition; who’s got the best Christmas tree or how many designer gifts someone has received but the airbrushed images we are presented with lead us to believe that there is a certain standard we have to live-up to, no matter how unattainable it really is. For many, anxiety can be produced as a result of fearing failure or worrying about external expectations. When it is expected for people to attend their big work Christmas parties, for example, fear of being overwhelmed by the hectic environment and the unnecessary pressure to do everything in excess are not a part of the conversation. So, each person who struggles with anxiety at this time of year feels isolated and alone, like no-one else is going through the same things as them.

The following can be sources of anxiety during the festive period:

  • Christmas shopping in busy areas
  • Seeing relatives you do not meet with often
  • Christmas parties
  • The expectation to be festive and merry in all of your interactions
  • Buying gifts and worrying if they are adequate
  • Receiving gifts and stressing about opening them in front of the giver
  • The expectation to indulge in food and alcohol when, for many, our relationships with these things are complex

And so many, many more situations, which others may view as tiny details in the bigger picture of their Christmas, can be anxiety-provoking.

Christmas is meant to be a time we feel the opposite of isolated and fearful of judgement. So, let’s make mental health and inclusion a part of the discussion within the bigger picture of Christmas this year and make sure that no-one feels iced-out of the celebrations.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @RyanBInNature

 

Here are some more of my Christmas-related posts:

The Christmas Tag

Unpopular Opinions – Christmas Edition

 

Don’t feel alone this Christmas (resources about the festive period and mental health):

Support at Christmas – Mind, the mental health charity

Coping at Christmas – The Priory Group

Real Christmas – Samaritans

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I’d Be Invisible

You know when you’re asked as a kid what superpower you would chose to have if you could? The answer has always been the same for me, without doubt or question; I would chose to have the power of invisibility.

The power to become invisible at will has always been enchanting to me. Perhaps it’s because I am someone who suffers from anxiety, perhaps it’s because I am cynical and instantly see threats around every corner and a potential bully in every set of eyes. Either way, invisibility seemed a perfect superpower to summon whenever it was needed.

If I could be invisible whenever I wanted, I could drift through the journey from flat into Uni, rather than have to look at every person crossing my path and wonder about all the thoughts which could possibly be crossing their mind. If I could be invisible, going to put the rubbish out wouldn’t have to be an ordeal, wondering whether I might see someone as I walk down the stairs and panic about what on earth I would say to them. If I could be invisible, I could attend lectures without feeling sick at the thought of other people seeing me.

In short, the shame and worry and wracking fear which churn my stomach would no longer plague me if I could summon my power of invisibility at the drop of a hat.

Perhaps then I would not be trapped inside my flat fearing the threats which lay outside my door, agonising over the assassins which I am convinced lie in wait for me. Invisibility could solve a lot of problems, it would be the superpower above all superpowers for people like me.

Therefore, it follows that people like me have to reconcile ourselves with the fact that invisibility is not a superpower we can conjure onto ourselves whenever our thoughts threaten to overcome us. Instead, we set about making ourselves appear and feel invisible instead. So, the next time you see someone with their hood pulled over their face or shaking when they hand the cashier their money, do not snicker and laugh or wonder ‘what the hell is their problem?’ Have some empathy and realise maybe, just maybe, they are wishing themselves invisible in that moment too.

What Is Wrong With My Voice?

People who spend any time with me will most likely notice that my voice is, in many ways, unusual. My voice is very soft. When I talk outside my words can get blown away by the wind and no mater how much I believe that I am elevating my volume people will continue to have to go through the futile effort of straining to hear what I am saying. Also, my voice tires after a short amount of time. Speaking a few sentences out-loud leads to my throat becoming sore and tightening-up, then my voice disintegrates and it is an effort to produce words.

Over the years this has become a problem when I have met with counsellors or therapists. The whole point of attending such therapies is to talk through your problems, which is a struggle when your voice gives out and your words become dry husks which only distantly relate to the sounds you are trying to make! More recently, I have started driving lessons which are two hours long. My instructor remarked that I am very quiet, little did she know that I would have no voice left if I attempted speaking regularly throughout a two hour period.

The question of what is wrong with my voice is actually quite a simple one to answer. Essentially, my voice is very weak. This stems from the fact that, throughout my life, I have not used my voice enough to make it strong or able to withstand substantial conversations. Even as far back as nursery, I was so painfully shy that talking to the other children was a very rare occurrence for me. Therefore, I rendered myself almost wholly silent for the hours of the day whilst I was there. When I was young, I was most relaxed when nobody was requiring me to speak. If people left me alone for an afternoon, I was very happy to remain quiet and retreat into my own imaginary worlds. Again, this meant that I would not use my voice for stretches of time.

Whilst I could form words as a child if I wanted to, for the most part I decided that I would rather not. My primary school was very small and I was rigidly polite but would often not branch-out into the same socialisation that the other kids did with ease. I had a very small circle of friends and I saved my words up for conversations with them. Beyond that, speaking out-loud seemed to just be a way of drawing attention to myself and this was something I wished to avoid at all costs.

At my second primary school, I became even quieter, speaking less and less until it became a standing joke amongst my year group. I withdrew into myself and so my words were very few and far between. I did not know anyone at my new school and found it impossible to make friends. Therefore, there was no need to converse with others and I certainly did not volunteer any contributions in class. Again, my voice shrivelled inside of me, growing weaker with disuse.

At secondary school, I made a very small group of friends and I would largely hang-out with only two people at a time. We would find very quiet rooms away from the hustle and bustle of the over-crowded school hallways and chat to each other there. There was rarely ever a need for me to raise my voice within such situations. I did not have to elevate my voice to be heard because there was no other noise to compete with and again I resolutely refused to offer contributions in class.

Then, when I moved to college, I would spend my days being almost completely silent. Friends were very few and far between and I mostly spent my lunch breaks lost in my own thoughts rather than mixing with others. Back into the present day and I am still sensitive to noise and do not talk at length. At Uni, I can go days without uttering a word and whilst to others this may appear to be a sad admission, for me this is just me being my authentic self.

I prefer articulating my thoughts through writing rather than expressing myself verbally and personally I do not see why this should be viewed as sad or shameful. The world is made-up of a extremely vast range of people, it has to be because social progress requires variety. Some people are very extroverted and use their voice with great authority and they are valid in themselves. Other people, like me, chose other avenues which do not require so much verbal communication and we too are valid. There is whole host of different characters and personalities which fill the void in between these two extremes and guess what? All of those people are valid as well.

Scared of Rejection

My anxiety to be likeable –
It seems ironic to me –
I’m an fear-ridden introvert,
Yet I base my worth on praise
And people’s eye contact,
Whether they whisper about me
Or consider me favourably.

I’M IMPLODING (POEM)

In the least I am the rainbow coloured contradiction,
I’m filled to the brim with quiet,
I’m exploding with ‘that’s okay’,
I’m bursting into flames with a submissive smile,
I’m fizzing with subtlety and obedience,
I could kill you with kindness;
But don’t worry, I’ll give you a hug instead.

You can smother me all you want with your loud,
But don’t you know?
I’m simmering with silence
But I’m soaring with the voice inside my head.

AM I BROKEN?

My meeting with my student support worker went as per usual today.

It started off as usual with me updating her on my progress and what I was doing currently but then inevitably the conversation turned to my lack of socialising. She began questioning me on all of the clubs that are on offer at the University and the surrounding area and was enthusiastic about me going out and meeting people and forging a group of friends.

This is the point that I can never seem to convey to counsellors, therapists or support workers; having a group of friends does not appeal to me. I don’t enjoy organising trips out and meeting up with people to chat, I find it draining and daunting. I always feel that there is an invisible block between me and other people which stops me being able to fully immerse myself in conversation with them. Instead, I am constantly counting down the clock until a reasonable time that I can leave without being impolite. Also, I have nothing to talk about, no funny anecdotes to share unless they want to hear about the successive nights when I have stayed in my University room and chuckled to myself about inane youtube videos! I have a narrow set of interests that I find hard to talk about when someone asks me about them on the spot because I feel like I have to prove to them that I like whatever it is and then I just panic and fail to get any of my points across.

Does this all make me broken? My student support advisor has told me before that humans are sociable creatures, they are not meant to spend prolonged lengths of time on their own. So, does the fact that I have no desire for any relationships (whether romantic or otherwise) mean that I am a non-functioning human? Has a wire come loose somewhere in me and need re-connecting so that I spark back into animated life?