I’d say I’m pretty good at worrying. I’ve heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ plenty of times and I reckon that if that applies to worrying, I’ve got pretty good at it over the years. I’m also pretty creative. If there’s nothing obvious to worry about, I usually manage to find something. Even if I have to work pretty hard at it, I’ll get there. Over-analysing, catastrophising, you name it, I’ve done it. If I was really stuck for something to worry about, I’d start being anxious about worrying itself which was pretty exhausting to be honest. Spending time I wasn’t anxious being anxious about being anxious. When you write it down it makes absolutely no sense but it took me a while to come to that conclusion.
I’ve always been pretty determined in terms of overcoming physical obstacles. If ever I came up against a logistical problem, whether that was the wheelie bins which blocked my route to secondary school or the fact that I couldn’t stand up and be a goalkeeper during primary school kickabouts. To solve the goalkeeping problem I just ended up kneeling down instead (I’m not sure my physio was too happy but it did enable me to dive around the muddy goalmouth and join in with everybody else).
For some reason, I was more reluctant to engage with anything concerning mental health. I always felt that engaging with my anxieties would somehow make them more real. My instinctive tactic was just to sweep my worries to one side and hope that they disappeared, which of course they didn’t. A bit like trying to pretend Aston Villa’s years of struggle in the Premier League weren’t actually happening if I didn’t watch any of the games, ignoring my difficulties did not make them go away.
Once I’d realised that I had to acknowledge my anxieties, my thoughts initially turned to concrete steps I could take to ‘solve’ the ‘problem’. I had counselling and there were definitely some solid strategies that I could take away from those sessions, lots of them based around mindfulness. But I think the most helpful thing I was told was that it’s OK to worry and that I should try to be kind to myself. Obviously, the levels of anxiety I was feeling at certain points were having an adverse effect on me. However, expecting myself to stop worrying altogether was totally unrealistic too. As soon as I shifted my focus from ‘I was anxious about that today’ to ‘I was less anxious today than I was this time last week’, I began to feel much better about myself.
I’ve accepted that anxiety will always be an aspect of my character and that’s fine- it’s part of who I am. But in a way, I think it’s made me more sensitive to other people’s difficulties and that’s got to be a good thing too. Being more open with others recently has made me realise I’m far from alone in having anxiety. I’ve also come to realise that being anxious from time to time and being the positive smiley person I like to be are not mutually exclusive. I may not be able to do anything about Aston Villa and I might not be able to adopt a basset hound puppy but I can actively engage with my anxieties without making them worse or changing my generally positive disposition.
Initiatives like Time to Talk day are so important in helping to destigmatise the topic of mental health. The issues won’t go away completely but feeling able to talk openly with family and friends makes them a whole lot easier to deal with.