I have inadvertently had an intense and lifelong relationship with anxiety. She’s kept me safe (or believed she was) and controlled me for a lifetime. We would constantly put our heads together and analyse the safety of a given situation, we would fret and cry over the worst possible outcome (it was always death by the way). When I was as young as my sweet daughter she would compel me to eat my sandwiches off the plate like a dog, it may have looked like a childish game but in fact, my hands felt heavy and laden with germs I was desperate to scrub off. She would stroke my back as I sobbed my heart out whenever I was separated from my mother, fearing she would be taken from me for good, a worse fear that actually came to pass in later life. As I grew she would whisper notions to me in the playground, if I did this or that she believed it would keep my loved ones safe. In the years to come we would lament together over how I would not be able to cope with life, we’d stay up late walking around the house checking the doors and then checking again because what if? She was even with me in those precious early days with my new baby and she remained for far too long (years in fact) leaning over her crib checking her chest still rose and fell. Our relationship reached it’s climax last year, she would scream and drag my arm to pull me to safety whenever I heard a siren or a helicopter overhead. She’d tuck me into bed at 6 o’clock because we weren’t safe in our own home at night and if we could just fall asleep before it got dark we could pretend we were…
It took enormous effort, it took every resource I had to break up with her. She had always been there, she was my friend who kept me safe, except she wasn’t. She was feeding me lies and holding me hostage. But it turned out I had to be kind to her, she was a scared little girl and I had to hold her hand and tell her it would be ok, explain, logically, what was actually going on. As I relearnt how to think, cope and react she started to leave me. Every now and then she would storm back in screaming at me to pay attention, it petered out to just the odd message, ‘hey, saw this and thought it might be something worth worrying about?’. But those visits are few and far between now, I’ve learnt to live without her and learnt to accept and gently converse with her when she does stop by.
It’s a funny life, post break up. I have never known myself without ‘her’ and it’s taking some time to find my feet and start to recognise the girl reflected back at me in the mirror. I have a freedom the likes of which I have never felt and that is all too exciting, I’m forging forward in those areas and doing stressful, big things and, may I add, coping (something that seemed perpetually out of reach before). But I am also being kind and gracious to myself. In other areas I am still unpicking a lifetime of warped lessons, rethinking and relearning with my fresh eyes and (slightly more) balanced mind.
I guess what I’m saying is that break up is possible, there is hope. A lifetime lived with anxiety can be unpicked, I know you can’t imagine not feeling this way but it can be done, I promise you. I will always be a little higher on the anxious scale than some but I’ve set out firm boundaries in my relationship with anxiety and she no longer takes up permanent residence in my life.