It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to live with chronic anxiety to anyone who hasn’t been exposed to it themselves in some way. My own anxiety manifests in a constant, nagging feeling that I’ve done something wrong or am about to do so. Invariably, I then begin to dwell upon the feeling and what may have caused it and so begins a cycle of negative thinking. I worry intensely about what other people think about me, I’m persistently paranoid and will repeat events and conversations over and over in my mind, convinced that I’ve said or done something bad.
This leaves me feeling constantly on edge and hyper-aware of how I interact with people - having a knock-on effect on my concentration and enjoyment of life in general; thus impacting on my overall mood. I sweat, I shake, I fret and I ache, but time has enabled me to learn what the warning signs are and calm myself enough to function, for example, in a supermarket or other public place. It follows me everywhere and sometimes it gets so intense that it hurts my head, gives me a headache and keeps me awake at night. My OCD is even harder to explain!
Obsession - Everything needs to be a certain way; arranged a certain way, done in a certain way – it’s all about order. Without order, bad things will happen, but I’m never really sure what those bad things are, I just know it will. I can’t really explain what the particular ‘way’ is either, it’s my methodologies that I believe are correct. It’s more to do with how they feel, certain ways of doing things feel safe, right and secure. Compulsion - I have plenty of compulsive behaviours, some rational and some ridiculous. The worst was a long-standing fear of urinating myself in public and therefore planning every aspect of my life around the availability of toiler facilities. It got so bad that I would go to the toilet for the sake of going, not because I actually needed to. Thankfully, over the last 3-4 years, I’ve managed to overcome this but there’s still a residual over-visiting of restrooms that lingers.
I combat anxieties with rituals that make me feel at ease. At the minute, I’m struggling with picking my fingers and with social media. I’ve always bit, scratched and picked for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, my fingers and nails are a bit of a mess and the skin on my face isn’t great either. I like to make lists and plan every aspect of my life, something explored further in this book. I call this ‘mapping’. This quest for ideal circumstance and perfection is pithy – I know that I can’t prepare for every eventuality, but it certainly makes me feel better. Birdwatching has been a marvellous coping strategy, distraction and relaxation aid. As you read further into the book and I share more of my positive experiences relating to mental health and birdwatching, I hope you are able to recognise how it has helped me and how I hope it may help others too