Continuing from part 1, this is an analysis of the second half of my day trip to London, comparing how I think and act as someone without anxiety, to how I was when I had an anxiety disorder.
As we approach the ticket barriers on mass, most passengers are either confused, tentative or follow each other like sheep to one of the barriers. They don’t want to go first. Or they don’t know which barrier to go through so blindly follow someone they think knows better (not realising they are just as clueless!).
Baa’s along with them.
Ignores the large queue and heads for the small one. Some people are waiting, scared to put their ticket into the machine. I go ahead of them and show how it’s done. I savour the feeling of total control.
You see, I have used those barriers before and my ticket didn’t work. It’s embarrassing! You hold up everyone behind you, the official has to come over and sort you out and it looks as though you are trying to get in without paying. It hardly ever happens though and here’s the thing; even if it does, so fucking what? It wasn’t MY fault. I had a valid ticket. The people behind can wait or use another barrier. They might curse me but I won’t let that ruin my day!
What I really notice in that situation, is just how much stress and anxiety and lack of confidence OTHER people have.
Scared of making a wrong move.
Worried about going first.
When you have anxiety, you tend to think everyone else is confident and doesn’t have your thoughts.
IT’S NOT TRUE!
It’s just that most of those people will be anxious only in that moment. They will forget about it afterwards. It won’t ruin their life. Anxious Tim would be plague by that moment for a long time.
I consider myself extremely confident now but I still have many of those negative thoughts. I don’t know if that’s true for people who have never suffered with anxiety.
My guess is that only a tiny minority of people have little to none of these kind of thoughts drifting around. After all, we have around 60,000 thoughts EVERY DAY. Some are bound to be anxious, no matter who we are.
I arrive at the cafe where I’m due to meet 4 new people who already know each other and are good friends. A scenario enough to keep me sat away at home, as Anxious Tim. I’m slightly early but can’t see inside to check who has arrived, so I take a walk around the block. Anxious Tim would do the same. The difference is, New Tim isn’t panicking. I saunter down some residential side streets, excited about the meeting, a tad nervous, I fully admit, but who wouldn’t be?
Is full of fear. Not just about the meeting but about the wait. He’s totally preoccupied with what is going on during the walk. That would mean an irrational fear of other people looking at him, wondering why he’s wandering around aimlessly.
Laughs at the INSANE notion that ANYONE could possibly know where I was going or why!! Instead, he just studies the houses and the trees and starts to miss London.
A feature of being anxiety-free is that you notice a lot more of the details of your surroundings. When you aren’t preoccupied with worries, focused entirely on what other people are doing or thinking, your mind and vision become clearer. You notice things that would never come into your line of sight before. That includes the beauty of nature.
Is in a constant spin-dryer of worries. My aim would be to get away from the meeting having said as little as possible, to have the focus kept away from me but at the same time, say SOMETHING, so I at least don’t seem boring, aloof or miserable. That’s a tough balancing act that inevitably leads to much ruminating after the event.
I care about what other people think of me but at the same time, I couldn’t care less!! Sounds contradictory – let me explain! I want to give off a good impression, for people to like me and to get to know the real me. But at the same time, I don’t give a fuck if they dislike me!
I won’t change who I am or pretend to be something I’m not or hold back my opinions, to fit in or make others like me. I don’t go into these situations with an action plan. I just go with the flow – I speak when I feel like it and I make sure I’m heard. I’m not afraid to disagree with something or interject.
Sure, I feel a tad uncomfortable at points, like when the four of them are talking about something I haven’t experienced which they all have. I feel a little out of place because they are so close and I’m the odd one out. I feel a bit of pressure on myself to “perform” and showcase my personality. But I also know it’s hard to do that if you aren’t relaxed.
You could argue that I’m a bit anxious. Yes, I said it – ANXIOUS!! But this is important to understand;
Anxiety isn’t something that you can eliminate entirely. It’s a natural emotion that is NEEDED in life. But it’s the level of anxiety and the amount of time you experience it, which determines whether it is a problem or not.
Would feel high levels of anxiety the entire 2 hour meal, over;
- how I was eating
- what the others were thinking about me
- the quality of my conversation
- the amount of eye contact I gave
I could go on!
Had mild levels at the start which deteriorated as the meal went on. But in all honesty, I was so comfortable with myself as a person, I knew I would come across well and if the others thought otherwise…..well, that was a problem with them, not with me!
Most anxiety disorders stem from a lack of self esteem at some level. So once you eliminate that and love yourself, there really isn’t a great deal to be anxious about.
After a very productive meeting which left me feeling excited, accepted and uplifted, I had time to kill till my train, so headed to nearby Regent’s Park. I’d never been before and was struck by the beauty of the perfectly manicured lawns and neatly sculptured plant life.
One thing I love about London is that although it’s a teeming hive of millions (which you would assume to be the antithesis of what an anxiety sufferer would want) it has the effect of making you anonymous – which is perfect! No one cares what you do and everyone is ultra-busy anyway.
You can sit in a park slap-bang in central London, by yourself, and never feel lonely or like a billy-no mates, because there are so many others doing the same. That wouldn’t have made a difference to Anxious Tim though!
He still wouldn’t have had the bottle to sit alone and eat in public (what if I drop my sandwich or look like a fool when I eat!) or the nerve to sit on a bench and read without worrying who was watching (he must be a horrible person with no friends if he’s sat alone!).
I even managed to do something I’ve never done before – feed the squirrels! They are incredibly tame in Regent’s Park and will come right up and place a paw on your hand. I’d never seen this before, so wanted to try feeding them some of my banana.
Now I’m gonna admit something; I chickened out at first. I actually walked out of the park before giving myself a quick talking to and returning. Again, this is showing how I now have control over my thoughts. Instead of worrying about other people watching me, I shut them out, peeled my banana and held out pieces for two squirrels to munch happily on!
It was a beautiful moment, I felt so close to nature but more that that, I was proud of myself. I spent a good hour by myself in that park and yes, at times the old thoughts crept back in such as;
“I’d like to switch benches and go to one that is in the sun but what if people think I’m weird?”
“I want to feed a squirrel but what if the animals run away instead of taking the food and people watching laugh at me?”
But I didn’t let thoughts dictate my actions. I always did what I wanted to do.
The Return Journey
This was arguably my biggest test. First I had to negotiate busy rush-hour tube stations and London roads, then get on a rammed to the brim train home. Buoyed by my successful day (and meeting those cute nut gatherers!) it turned out to be really easy. No one likes being stuck in rush-hour jams but in all honesty, I was absolutely fine.
This would have been the nightmare scenario; tube and train full of heaving, sweating bodies, invading my space and able to bore their eyes into my very soul from inches away! The main fear was always being watched and criticised by multiple people. I hated myself and my esteem was on the floor, so it’s no wonder!
That has all changed now. I genuinely love myself and accept who I am. That’s the man reason why now, I just calmly listened to music and read my book. There are times when I do wonder what on Earth I used to get so worked up about; this was one such time.
Two hours later, I’m back at home.
Instead of ruminating over the entire day, over the meaning of every word spoken, every scenario played out and every “mistake” I made or thing I avoided, I don’t dwell at all. In fact, I’m proud of myself. I’m getting closer and closer to the person I want to be.
What this comparison has shown is that everyone has anxious thoughts. They don’t entirely go away. But they don’t rule my life any more. Once you learn how to RESPOND positively to those thoughts, rather than REACT negatively and irrationally, you can gain control over them.
Yes, I do occasionally have to do some work to prevent the initial thought growing (such as affirmations or a deliberate change in posture or forcing myself to take an action) but I no longer hide away from people or situations, avoiding the fear. Instead of a day full of anxiety, it’s now just a brief few thoughts which last seconds. And that’s a MASSIVE difference in quality of life. I believe that one day, most of those anxious thoughts that I had today, will disappear too.
Really insightful post Tim. I know I think all of those anxious thoughts too and hopefully one day I will have the same control you have.
Thank you Monica and you will have too one day. Just keep working at it every day and never give up – build the habit and it will come 🙂
I like this, gives me a good sense of what it must be like to have a anxiety disorder. Thanks.
Glad I could be of service George. Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂