A two day old baby, feeling like I couldn’t swallow, full of adrenalin and fear and reaching out to anyone else in the hospital room for reassurance. The nurse asked me if I suffer from anxiety, to which I responded ‘no’. She obviously disagreed and I was served up a batch of ‘tough love’, told to get on with it, to get over it and ‘snap out of it’.
Obviously, that is the least helpful thing anyone can say to someone in an anxious spiral, because no one has ever calmed down by being told to ‘calm down’. So, from that day on I put on a brave face, but was often paralysed inside.
Months went on and I believed I was the problem, and that I should be ashamed to be feeling the way I was, which only added to the terror of it all. My fear factor heightened and my ability to ‘suck it up’ and I carried on, feeling diminished and powerless, but trying my best to keep the brave face in place.
From the moment I opened my eyes most days the panic would envelop me. I would spend the rest of my morning trying to be the mother my son deserved whilst also monitoring everything I did so as to desperately try and avoid a full-blown anxiety attack. I so desperately wanted to feel as care free as the other mums, but I doubted myself every step of the way and constantly felt like I was unsafe and failing, even when I was smiling. I was living within a prison without bars until finally I reached out to my GP in a teary, snotty mess for guidance.
The umbrella term for the feels that I had been experiencing was in fact anxiety and knowing that this beast had a name was so flipping reassuring. For me anyway.
For others around me, not so much.
At first, I succumbed to the shade that they were throwing, allowing it to add to the fear and shame. But I soon came to realise that our power lies in sharing our truth and it was time to stop allowing others to take that away from me.
Knowing what I know about other people’s opinions (how they say nothing about me and everything about them) I carried on sharing my story and how I was turning things around.
The look on some people’s faces was of shock. Others changed the subject. And don’t even get me started on the reactions of those when I spoke of ‘anxiety medication’; something I fought for so long because of the stigma around it (tablets are bad, medication is bad, no, no, no!). Now, I’m proud of the way that my life has improved because I’ve pushed myself to be open to all possibilities. I am finally able to use my rational mind and apply the tools I’ve gathered accordingly.
The more I spoke about my anxiety, the more I saw people respond with a stigma that associated it with weakness, the more it spurred me on.
I had conversations with anyone who would listen. I wrote about it, shared about it and read books about it.
And then I realised that there was a flip side to this incredibly intense and physical fear-response. I realised that our fear is nothing more than a chance for us to be brave, and eventually I wrote a book about it.
In talking openly about anxiety, sure there were those who shied away, but there were also so many people who leaned in. These are my people, the people who are willing to keep showing up even when it feels like it would be easier not to.
I never want anyone to feel as though a label that can be so judged is a reason for them to stay in the shadows, like some people expected of me.
Experiencing anxiety doesn’t mean that you’re broken, hard work or crazy. It doesn’t mean that you need to live a life shrouded in fear and spend your life avoiding anything that will ‘set you off’. When you see your feelings and emotions as signals and messengers, you change the game. Your anxiety becomes a teacher and you are front row centre to the best show in town; understanding who you are.
Why is this feeling coming up for me?
What is the message that I’m avoiding?
What am I really fearing here?
What do I really need in this moment?
My experience of working with hundreds of women and speaking with thousands is that there is a common limiting belief that swans around under all the micro-managing, predicting, controlling and avoiding.
I am not enough.
There is also the fear that you won’t have what it takes to get through the ‘thing’ if it happens.
In those two instances I call bullshit. For one, you are already everything you need to be in order to be everything you ever dreamed of. We just need to get the stories you’re telling yourself to reflect that.
Secondly, those who experience anxiety every day show up to a war that no-one else can see and continue to survive and believe in a better tomorrow. That my friend is incredibly badass, and if that doesn’t show you how ‘enough’; you are I suggest you lovingly check the yard stick you’re measuring things against.
Anxiety affects 1 in 3 women in Australia, and it’s time we start speaking about it in a positive light.
It’s time we took the dooms day prophecy from this super common side effect of caring a whole lot.
It’s time we showed what anxiety really looks like because it’s not all dark alleys, bottles of pills, despair and angst.
It’s a conversation, an invitation and a chance to show yourself and those you love compassion.
It’s possible to thrive alongside your anxiety and the women I work with every day and myself are living proof. It’s time to share the ‘Real Face’ of anxiety and the #5ways5days campaign does just that, by shining a light on the strength of women with anxiety, not the weakness.
September 3rd-7th we will be taking over Instagram and sharing an image a day of what anxiety looks like to us. Posts can be funny, it can be deep it can be anything you feel is right for you. #5ways5days. It will be run alongside Women’s Health Week and is a major step in putting our hand up and saying ‘YUP - What of it?’. I know, I know we are going to help other women feel less alone under a label that has felt so isolating.
This is for anyone and everyone who’s experienced (notice I didn’t say suffered so let’s scrap that word right away) anxiety in some way and wants to blast the stigma and change the way society views mental health, by starting even more conversations about it.
If you are worried about yourself or someone in your care, the best thing you can do is talk to someone.
You can contact:
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Lifeline 13 11 14
SANE Australia 1800 187 263