Generalised anxiety, Social anxiety and “low mood”

Writing about my mental health

I want to say first off that’s it has been really bloody hard to write this and give props to anyone who has had the strength of character to talk about these things in public before me. It doesn’t come naturally to me and you have lead the way. I wouldn’t have attempted it without you, so thank you.

This is a story. A story which is jumbled, opaque and full of lies; I’m an unreliable narrator.

Bear with me on that.

Bryony Gordon in her book, Mad Girl talks about having and living with OCD. I managed to persuade her came into my work in the summer and talk about it. One thing she said stuck with me.

Mental illness lies to you. It lies.

I’ll start where I am at the moment because it feels as good a place as any. My current opinions of myself are that I am impulsive and muddled and untidy in a place of poise, quiet contemplation and achievement.

It’s not the fault of the place I work, or the people there, and I know it’s probably not quiet true. But that’s what my brain is good at. Making stuff up.

I see intelligent people thinking quietly and biding their time to say the intelligent thing. The right thing. The good thing.

My mind a mess of tangled, flailing swans legs.

Here is a list of some of the things I value about myself in work;

1. Being able to think on my feet, and work quickly,

2. Coming up with ideas, so many ideas, and not keeping them to myself. Linking things together and spotting opportunities that others don’t spot,

3. Being able to “predict” the future and plan ahead, strategise,

3. Being able to see how certain actions will affect people.

Some of these things are actually symptoms of anxiety, they just happen to also make me good at my job.

When my son was born I felt intensely lonely, for a long time.

When he was about five months old, a rubber band in my head snapped.

I was on holiday with my husband, baby, parents and in-laws. One afternoon I fell asleep on the grass in the garden of the Wiltshire cottage where we were staying.

It was a warm September day, and the garden was beautiful. On one side was a pond and a weeping willow, on the other, a field of cute, funny alpacas.

When I woke up I could not stop crying. Big, heaving, messy, snotty crying. I knew something was badly wrong.

Home from holiday I called the Dr. and was immediately referred for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). I was lucky, they saw me quickly.

It is the best thing I have ever done.

My therapist spent time talking to me about “generalised anxiety” and “low mood”.

She told me how these things are linked and armed me with some skills, that I still use, to talk myself round when I feel like I can’t cope.

She let me bring my little boy to therapy and doesn’t get annoyed when he tries to empty the rubbish out of her waste paper bin or stick his tiny fingers in a plug socket for the hundredth time.

I tell her I’m lonely and I don’t feel like I should be allowed to say it.

My friends feel few and far away. My family are far away. My husband more distant as I sit on my own in the house with a baby for hours, while he goes out to work.

Sometimes I go out and sit on my own in cafes. I go to parent/baby classes where I participate, quietly fret about my baby’s crying, and then leave, often without speaking to anybody.

I use Facebook continuously. A substitute for real interaction.

I have always thrown myself into work. I have thrown myself into work because it is relatively safe. As long as I don’t really mess up people will probably get on with me and maybe even like me.

I find social interactions more of a challenge. At any point I could be judged, found wanting, be rejected. It happens.

I was bullied at school, but you probably guessed that already?

Social anxiety manifested itself 10-fold in the pressure to “be a good Mum” (whatever that means).

The complete impossibility,at times, to do anything right and stop the crying. The lack of sleep. The feeling of being judged.

I can be a difficult person to be friends with too.

I am in a pub drinking beer with a friend. This isn’t a great start because beer peaks my anxiety, but I’m fine, lucid, first pint in.

My friend is describing her new job at a marketing company who specialise in writing awards submissions for bigger companies.

My eyes roll as a thought flashes across my mind. How pointless awards must be if companies can’t be bothered to do the work to earn them themselves. (These ideas I’m so proud of. Where do they come from? I wish I could record them all and make my fortune.)

The conversation moves on, the thought is fleeting, I forget.

Later that night she will tell me that I rolled my eyes at her new job, I clearly think it’s stupid, she is stupid, but it is important to her.

I will have had more pints and won’t be able to remember what happened, so I make something up. She is wrong but I am unconvincing.

She will call me “too cool”. She means cold really; detached, disdainful. That will be the last time I see her.

Too cool. For years I wanted to be cool and here it is, an insult.

I have built up protective walls throughout my life.

I can picture myself in nightclubs standing, arms crossed, back against the wall, scowling at the people who have the audacity to dance to a song I have decided I don’t like for completely arbitrary reasons.

That same me stands scowling and sarcastic when people come to speak to my friends and I.

I don’t trust new people. I don’t know them. What do they want? What’s their motive?

I leave the club wondering why I’m so unpopular. Ha! Morrissey would be proud.

At toddler groups and baby classes in my 30s this still stands, I’m probably giving off all sorts of defensive vibes. Though internally this time I am screaming “Please speak to me! Please!”

I cannot see myself. I can only hear the voices in my head.

The worst thing about anxiety is the sense of detachment that comes with it. It’s difficult to feel what’s good. Hard to see what’s going well. Impossible to live in the moment.

I must be infuriating.

I understand that I have a life that people might envy. I found love, got married, bought a house, had a baby, have a pretty good career, can afford nice things. I am lucky.

I can see how I might seem ungrateful. I should have nothing to have “low mood” about.

But I am detached from the real world. Living in my head. Always seeing problems. Always trying to plan for every scenario.

If you have read this far you will understand a bit about how my brain works. Tired?

Having a brain that thinks like this is tiring. I use so much energy through my working days that I need a lot of time to relax and recover.

As a result you will never catch me being rock n roll, even at festivals. I wish I was more fun. I am not. I like sitting on sofas in pyjamas.

Also, “real world” things slip. Life admin, cleaning my house, looking after myself, eating well, replying to texts (even those from friends).

Strange things also happen sometimes. I woke up one day unable to get the tube to work, developed a fear of flying and sometimes struggle in large crowds. That said, sometimes I have no problems at all. It ebbs and flows.

Anxiety and low mood can create a cycle of detachment that gets steadily worse if you don’t keep an eye on it.

So I have to work really hard to look after myself, get 8 hours sleep (hard with a toddler), not drink beer, not drink too much full-stop, try to eat better, try to exercise and be active.

It doesn’t always work. But it maintains a level of ok-ness and at the moment that’s enough.

If you made it this far, thank you x



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Sam Villis

Sam Villis

Now: @socialfinanceuk Prev:@ldgovuk, Head of Digital at National Leadership Centre. GDS. Proud to be @OneTeamGov.