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On anxiety: a personal update for August 2015

I wrote at the end of last year about the personal crisis I had been experiencing and the steps I was taking to recover from it. Whilst that recovery has continued I have not entirely escaped from the depression from which I have been suffering, so I thought I would post an update about where I am with it at the moment and the progress I’ve made.

I want to do this because I’d like to let those who care, and who have been supportive, know how I’m getting on. I also, for some reason, find the confessional aspect of writing and publishing in itself therapeutic. But I also want to do this because I’d quite like to start writing about politics again. To do that properly I feel I need to write about the disillusionment with politics that I have gone through and what I’m going to do about it. But in order write about that I first need to establish the personal context in which it occurred, which in turn means talking a little bit about my mental health, starting with this personal update.

Don’t worry. I will keep it short and I’ll try not to be too boring.

The first thing to say is that I continue to make progress. I felt able to write that post in December because I felt a lot better than I had for a long while. Well I am also a lot better now than I was then. Yet it is slow progress. I’m aware that I still have some way to go before I can fully recover the old me that somehow got lost. I have found that I only really understood how deep the hole was that I had fallen into when I began to climb out of it.

The process of getting better has come with some elements of self-discovery. The most significant has been coming to understand that a key cause at the root of the problem is the role played by anxiety.

Obviously I was not unaware that at certain points in my life I have been, sometimes acutely, anxious about things. I am sure that I have described being “a bit of a worrier” as an element of my personality. I also have been aware that I was someone who would get particularly anxious about social interactions. But until recently I was certainly not aware of just how much managing anxiety, or very often not managing anxiety, was shaping my everyday behaviour.

I don’t know how much that insight would or would not surprise those who know me. I am sure that coping mechanisms, developing various learned behaviours and habits, and presenting myself in a particular way in order to deal with and disguise the anxiety that I was feeling has been as much a part of my personality as those more obvious times when I haven’t coped very well with it. I am now aware that many of those things that I’ve done in the past, although certainly not all, that I am most embarrassed about, ashamed of, or regret were driven by me not handling anxiety very well. It certainly has been responsible for many a missed opportunity.

So the upfront acknowledgement that anxiety is something that is a problem for me has been a hugely important thing to have learnt, and I now know how anxiety is identified as one of the key causes of depression. The cycle of anxiety leading to perceived failure, which leads to feelings of guilt and self-criticism, which in turn generates even greater anxiety has certainly been a big part of my experience of depression.

The good thing is that this new understanding, and my upfront acknowledgement of the role of anxiety, gives me the possibility to develop new strategies and behaviours to better handle it. Based on some of the lessons I’ve learned from cognitive behavioural therapy, I am trying to make better use of conscious choice and display greater assertiveness at times of anxiety. Which I find is as much about choosing not to do things when I’m anxious as it is about choosing the right things to tackle with my reserves of mental energy. However, this is very much a work in progress.

The area where I’ve probably got the most work to do is in tackling the social isolation that I have imposed upon myself. I have taken some steps to get out and about and to reconnect with old friends, and felt the benefit, but it does seem to be a thing that requires a lot of reserves of mental energy. It also seems to carry a degree of risk. The worst period of depression I’ve had in recent months was in the aftermath of what I thought was a fairly catastrophic social faux pas committed at one of the few social events that I’ve attended.

This year so far has seen my work and financial situation improve, although I still have some way to go before I will feel entirely comfortable, and I have been able to do some practical things around the house and garden. So now, alongside improved physical fitness, developing a more active social life should be something I concentrate on sorting out to get me where I need to be. Although it might give the impression of being a bit sad, at the moment I see a more active use of social media as being a small but helpful step towards that. I promised in December I would do more of this and I’ve managed to post the occasional item here, on Twitter, and some other places over the last few months. But there is room for more. So sorting out my social media presence and sparking some life into this website is something I will be working to achieve over the next few weeks.

So, what joy, expect to see more introspective ramblings and embarrassing but dull self revelation from me very shortly.

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