Here’s a story about egg and chips. More specifically the egg and chips I ate yesterday. Bear with me because this will have a point.
At the beginning of this year, something strange started happening. Suddenly my favourite foods made me feel ill. My favourite cafes became haunted houses. Even my own dinner table was a place of struggle not home cooked comfort. Anxiety was making me fear food and more than that, fear being sick. Which of course led way to the fear I would lose so much weight that one day I would literally fizzle out and disappear from the planet. Let me explain, it is not an eating disorder. I feel things in my stomach. Nerves, upset, anxiety. Even excitement makes my appetite go haywire. So anxiety, when it hits, picks on my stomach. It plays horrible games because it knows I’m conscious about my slim weight on a good day. That’s the thing about anxiety, it doesn’t know when to stop.
Anxiety has no logic. There’s no warning signs that you’re about to spend 6 months of your life unable to see a way forward. It isn’t at all logical which means there’s no reasoning with it. And to make sure you never relax, it will come and go too. As I mentioned, my anxiety is particularly centred around food which takes over your whole day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner become hurdles to jump over. I don’t know why and I’m not sure my brain does either. The thought of eating out can make me nauseous. If I have to, I’ll pick the “easiest” meal on the menu (salads or fish are the least stomach churning). I have gone weeks only eating bland food in the hope it’ll make mealtimes easier. It doesn’t always. I’ll avoid situations where we might have to eat out – which sometimes means avoiding social occasions I really wanted to attend. Restaurants are the devils work because there’s no jumping up from your seat and running to the toilets without causing a scene, as if it isn’t embarrassing enough. The list of restrictions being anxious puts on your life is too much to put in any one blog post.
Anxiety affects people in different ways and I had to accept this was mine. And that was the first step – accepting it. For a while I tried fighting it. I tried to carry on with my life the same way I had before and expected things to get better. But often what anxiety is telling you is that something is off balance in your life and needs addressing. I assumed it was stress from work, and maybe it was or wasn’t. But regardless, I made positive changes. I took long, lavender smelling baths every single night. I read more books in the first three months than I’d read in the past three years. I found meditation apps and an old hypnosis CD my Mum used to use for her panic attacks. I took calm tablets at first but a side effect being nausea, I wasn’t sure if they were working or making me feel the thing I wanted to escape! It all took time but it started helping. By June our summer holiday arrived and I had the biggest test of all – to eat at the airport and in the buffet restaurant every night. And although wary at first, by the end of the holiday I joined my fellow holiday makers in piling up my all-inclusive plate. That was the first turning point. After all if I could eat in Ibiza (and I wilt in hot weather!), I could eat anywhere. Those turning points kept happening all summer until finally, yesterday afternoon, I ate egg and chips.
Now when I say I ate egg and chips, I mean I practically ran into the cafe because I had been craving it for about a week. I ordered, alongside my compulsory mug of tea, and proceeded to eat. I talked about holidays and work and didn’t think once that I might need to escape out the door for some fresh air. By the time I’d crossed my knife and fork on the practically polished plate I thought to myself, you know what, well done. Well done for getting this far. For coming from crying on your bed to here, eating a greasy lunch without a care in the world.
It may not last. But it might. Anxiety isn’t very forgiving so I’m under no illusions. But I now have two things. Proof that things can get better. With the right coping strategies and time, the storms do pass. And secondly, I have hope. Hope that something I feel so strongly and that can be so frightening can still make way for the good.
And as an added bonus, the weight I lost through stress and worry is starting to creep back on. I actually did a celebratory jump off the scales this week when I realised I’m almost back to what I was before this year’s drama began.
So there’s my experience this year with anxiety. And it may return tomorrow or next year. If I’m honest, I still feel it bubbling in the background but that’s all it’s doing, bubbling. So for now, I will just think of my egg and chips. I might even make it a double next time.