The physical symptoms of anxiety are like the beginning of a thriller. Your heart rate goes up. Pupils dilate. Breaths are short. Your mind spins at maximum revs, pinging one thought into another as you search for some calming fact, some sense of direction, anything to keep going. Were your vital stats being measured, they’d be perfectly at home pulsing up and down on a slick flatscreen , being assessed by an NSA wonk calmly plotting your demise as you hunker down in a disused Moscow bus station.
So far, so terrifying. Except that when it’s happening for the hundredth time, early on a perfectly ordinary weekday morning, with nothing more threatening on the horizon than a slightly tricky work meeting, it’s dull. Even at the height of my anxiety, when the urge to flee any and all responsibility gripped me almost totally, some tiny voice in my head would be complaining. ‘For fuck’s sake, this again? Really??’
I’m an anxious man. Over the last three years, medically so. Meaning my anxiety – mainly about work – reached such a pitch that I could barely function. After days on end of pacing around outside the office, desperately sucking down fag smoke, pinging awake at 5 am with adrenaline sprinting through my nervous system and being constantly plagued by visions of personal rack and ruin, I would collapse into exhausted sobbing. I’ve never asked for the medical definition of anxiety, but I would imagine this comes pretty close.
In yet another example of how idiotically the brain behaves when you’re suffering from low self-esteem, or anxiety, or depression, or any of the things my particular malaise has been labelled over the last few years, I actually resented how boring it was. Before you start, I know – I wouldn’t want to swap it for the more interesting kind in a second. But the fact that anxiety made me feel the same way, all the time, was incredibly boring. The fact that it’s one of the common forms of mental illness – boring. Taking the most prescribed SSRI, at a low dose – boring. I actually started beating myself up not just for the anxiety and my inability to control it, but for the fact that it was all so half-hearted, so mundane, so everyday. Even my mental illness is ordinary? That’s great.
I’m a bit better than I was. My boring, everyday pills have given me room to think more clearly. My boring, everybody-gets-it Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has given me a different perspective on my problems. And I no longer wake up every morning gripped by a physical anxiety that makes me feel I’m about to fight a war. I’ve gone back to my ordinary, everyday life with its boring, fixable little ups and downs. And I’m pretty happy about it.