I grew up in a family where my emotional needs were neglected; where I didn’t feel understood, always felt odd and questioned if I belonged. As a highly sensitive child never feeling seen, heard, or understood, I internalised a deep sense of shame until it became a dark hole inside of me.
As I grew up, I had bouts of depression. Anorexia and bulimia became a way of taking control of a part of myself to try to ‘be’ a better person. At the time, mental health issues just weren’t talked about. I’ll never forget when the university nurse shouted at me thinking she was being ‘cruel to be kind’. I faced humiliating weigh-ins at the doctors, and frustrating conversations with my parents where they couldn’t accept anything could be ‘wrong’ with their daughter.
The relief at being diagnosed with anxiety later in life was profound – finally there was a name for what I’d been feeling. It became something I could manage with help, and I didn’t feel such a deep sense of failure at just being really bad at coping with life.
I’ve found walking, meditation, journaling, and other mindful hobbies help to keep me out of my head most of the time. If there was an award for ruminating, I would have won first prize! Being open about my struggles with people I trust has been a wonderful way to halve the burden of my thoughts.
But, sometimes, I’ll be thrust into a situation or meet someone new, and I get tripped up, my demons bursting forth to sit heavy on my shoulders again.
Often in those moments when I am in anxiety’s grip, I lose the ability to act in the way I want. It’s fight or flight in action. It can be a feeling of being frozen in the headlights, or a deep sense of impending doom, or just the inability to be in the moment, attuned to someone as I’m so wrapped up in managing my own experience (and not coping with it).
I don’t see things as they are – I see them as I am. And if my outer reality is experienced and influenced by everything going on inside of me, it makes sense that I seem to break everything – because the remnants of shame and blame keep me broken.
The most difficult part of all is looking back at those moments and wishing I’d done something different, said something different, been someone different.
I think people with anxiety are harder on ourselves than most. I know I am. Shame spirals are a real thing.
I try my best to remember afterwards that I’m experiencing a past injury in that moment even if I don’t recognise it at the time. My nervous system is dysregulated or flooded, and I respond impulsively, behaving in ways that can make things worse.
It’s often painful to reflect on times like this but necessary because I want to learn better ways to be more present and manage my emotional responses. I’ve even been able to feel grateful and look at my triggers as a gift, showing the areas of myself that still need healing. It will take time and I’m a work in progress, but I’ll get there.