Coming Clean: My Struggle With Anxiety

I think we all know by now that social media isn’t real life. We’re constantly bombarded with images of happy, successful people who don’t appear to have a care in the world.

Even our friends are shown in a more positive light on Instagram and Facebook – we see snaps of their fabulous holidays, adorable babies and jet-setting jobs that take them across the globe. It’s almost impossible not to feel envious sometimes!

I’m very aware that my social media makes it seem like I have a wonderful, carefree life. In many aspects, I do! But there’s something that I very rarely talk about, even to the people that I’m closest to. I guess you could call it my hidden secret.

I usually write and edit my blog posts meticulously, but I think this one is going to be more ‘stream of consciousness’ style. Hopefully it all makes sense in the end!

I’ve been open in the past about my anxiety journey, and how attending therapy helped me greatly. But for the past year, and particularly in recent months, I’ve felt those familiar thoughts and behaviours creeping back into my mind.

Unfortunately, anxiety has very much taken hold of me again.

In case you weren’t aware, in 2015 I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder after suffering from severe cystic acne brought on by the birth control implant (read more about that little adventure here)

With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that I was suffering from generalised anxiety disorder which manifested as social anxiety due to the stress of what was happening to my face.

Attending regular CBT sessions helped greatly, but I don’t think it was enough. I wasn’t treating the full, underlying cause of my anxiety.

I’ve always been an anxious person. Even as a small child I worried a lot about almost everything! If my parents weren’t waiting to pick me up as soon as school finished, I would burst into tears. I began clock-watching around 30 minutes before the bell rang, and worrying that they wouldn’t be there to meet me. I don’t know where this came from – my parents have never abandoned me and I’ve always felt safe and loved. 

I’ve always just chalked it down to my personality, as annoying as that is!

I first noticed the physical symptoms of my anxiety when my family and I moved to New Zealand, although I was way too young to understand what it was. I quickly picked up a nail-biting habit, and when I managed to break that I started biting the skin around my nails (that one took a few years to quit!)

Then I began grinding my teeth in my sleep. My parents bought me a mouth guard to wear, but I soon ground through that too. I didn’t speak to my family about any of these issues, as I honestly didn’t think I had a problem. I guess I just assumed that everyone felt that way.

These feelings of worry and anxiety have only increased as I’ve gotten older and taken on more responsibilities. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and while this often ends up working to my advantage in some ways (my work is often more thorough, I constantly push myself to reach my goals and I am meticulously organised) it has been to the detriment of my mental health.

Lately, my anxiety has been manifesting in physical ways that I can no longer ignore.

My sleep is suffering the most – I fall asleep pretty easily (worn out from my brain spinning frantically all day!) but very rarely wake up feeling rested, even though I usually get my full seven to eight hours every night.

Aside from tossing and turning all night, the worst symptom is waking up with sore joints and muscles – particularly in my back and jaw. At first I thought it was our new mattress and complained to Elliott, who was surprised as he finds it very comfortable! But we recently stayed at a hotel for four nights in the most luxurious bed, and I found myself with the exact same problem.

I Googled and found something called sleep tension, in which the mind sleeps but the body retains the tenseness of anxiety in the muscles.

This makes sense for a number of reasons – of course the main issue is my anxiety, but I can think of another one.

For the past 15 months, we found ourselves living above an extremely noisy family. They had two young children, one of whom was particularly loud and screamed throughout the day and during the night. They also walked heavily, slammed doors, yelled at each other and just generally made almost constant noise.

It got to the point where going to bed became a source of stress instead of relaxation – I was constantly tense and waiting for a noise, and ended up having to wear earphones to sleep (which is not particularly comfortable!) 

Thankfully they moved out just over a week ago, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that seeing that moving van was one of the best moments of my life. An older couple bought their apartment who seem (touch wood!) absolutely lovely, and more importantly very quiet. It is blissful.

However, my anxiety around sleeping has persisted. I still need my headphones and I constantly find myself on edge, waiting for a noise that never comes. I’m hoping that in time my body and mind will realise that the ‘threat’ is gone, and will relax. Fingers crossed!

I’m also able to pinpoint another source of stress, which I definitely didn’t expect.

In a previous post I mentioned that I had resigned from my job and would be working with Elliott at his new start-up. While I’m really enjoying the new challenge and responsibilities, my anxiety has reared its ugly head in a big way.

I had been working at my previous job for almost three years – I knew the people, workload, responsibilities and routine very well and felt extremely comfortable there. Nothing really stressed me out, as I knew exactly what to expect and how to handle any issues that arose.

Ultimately I was too comfortable, which is why I knew that I needed a change.

However, this new adventure has awoken the voice of doubt and negativity within me. There’s a constant whisper in my ear that I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough and that I’m going to let Elliott and his business down.

As you can imagine, it’s almost crippling.

I’m very aware that I’m putting far too much pressure on myself to make a success of this business. I’m expecting myself to be perfect, to know everything and to never make any mistakes. A pretty tall order for someone working in an entirely new industry and doing things that I’ve never done before!

This is manifesting in never feeling like I can switch off, anxiety around even the smallest task in case it’s not perfect and even snapping at poor Elliott!

I need to work on being more patient with myself. I would never have such high expectations for anyone else, so why put them on myself?

I often catch myself feeling annoyed at myself for feeling this way. I have a healthy body, a great job, a wonderful partner, a loving family and a beautiful home. I have so many amazing opportunities and experiences, and yet I still struggle with almost constant anxiety.

Sometimes I sit there and ask myself, ‘Why do you feel like this? Why can’t you just be relaxed and laid-back?’

I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m really hoping that therapy will be able to help.

I’m in the very lucky position of being able to afford private therapy, so I’ve decided to book a couple of sessions a month in order to talk about my anxiety and find ways to relieve it. I’m planning to start next month and I actually feel quite excited about it!

It’s very easy to normalise feeling this way, and it creeps up from being the occasional pang of anxiety to a constant underlying hum of stress and worry.  I’ve finally realised that I don’t have to live with these feelings and will be taking steps to understand and hopefully solve them.

I usually like to write about things once they’re all tied up neatly with a bow, but I feel it’s just as important to talk about these issues when you’re actually dealing with them.

Humans are messy and flawed and imperfect, and we need to realise that everyone is this world is going through some kind of struggle – no matter how amazing their lives may seem.

Phew! I think I’ve rambled on enough, and actually feel much better after putting pen to paper (or in this case, fingers to keyboard!)

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. I simply wanted to share my ongoing struggle with anxiety, in the hopes that someone else out there can relate a little. I actually wrote most of this at around 5.30am after another restless night, so please forgive any grammatical mistakes or sleepy spelling errors.

If it helps someone else, it was definitely worth it.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled vegan and autumnal blog posts!

2 thoughts on “Coming Clean: My Struggle With Anxiety

  1. Thanks so much for sharing in such a raw and real way Jenna! I recognise many of these struggles very intimately myself – especially the part where you wonder “why can’t I just be relaxed and chilled and happy-go-lucky like everyone else?”

    You’ve got this! x

    1. Ahh it’s so good to be understood! Thanks so much for reading, I appreciate it so much! And same to you – you’ve definitely got this! x

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