I have anxiety, you may have heard me mention it (only like every day!). I have lived with it forever, I don’t remember a time where my anxiety levels were what other people consider ‘normal.’ At the moment I feel the best way for me to explain it is that if the average persons anxiety level, on an average day, is around 0, mine is at least 3. My natural state of anxiety is just always higher than what is considered normal. Even with no external stimuli, no reason to be anxious, I still am. For me though, it is normal. It may not be healthy (hello increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease), but it is normal and mostly manageable for me because I’m used to it. I don’t know anything else.
In my early twenties that general anxiety got a new BFF; social anxiety. This manifested itself in my being unable to be outside without a ‘safe person,’ and sweating & panicking in groups even with a ‘safe person’ there. I had panic attacks before agility lessons, which led me to cancel on several occasions. I had panic attacks before French lessons, during music evenings at our house, before lunches out with friends, etc.
After that bit of background, I’ll move on to my point: Today I tweeted that I’d had two coffees and, as a result, my body was freaking out and my brain was following suit. I try to limit my caffeine intake for that exact reason, caffeine is a stimulant and it increases my, already raised, anxiety levels. I had this response:
Please don’t leap on Tattooed Mummy, she’s lovely and was just chatting about a TV show she saw. She wasn’t promoting it in a ‘this will cure you’ type way.
@MrsTeepot it to be excited instead is possible. It was about hormones etc. Fascinating stuff.
— Tattooed Mummy 🎭 (@tattooed_mummy) May 6, 2017
I actually saw a clip of the show in question, and an interview with the host, on BBC Breakfast the other morning, and it worried me. Not because I disagree with the idea, but because ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’
Many people with chronic illnesses, both mental & physical, will be able to tell you how eager other people are to ‘cure’ you. People, with no medical experience and no understanding of your illness, will offer you advice on how you can ‘get better,’ and share the trick that cured their step-auntie’s brother-in-law’s dog’s great grandmother from the exact same illness that you now have. And this is where the problem lies; not in the research or idea itself, but in how the general public react to it.
The idea behind the TV show in question, at least as I understand it, is that you can ‘retrain’ your brain so that it experiences anxiety as excitement. Now, obviously, it is far more complicated than that, but I worry that the nuances and complexities will be lost and this will lead to more ‘helpful’ and ‘well-meaning’ comments aimed at people living with anxiety. It will just add, “pretend you’re excited,” to the already endless list of nonsense statements that only add to the idea that anxiety is something you can snap out of, or somehow control.
It is because of my own experience that I believe that it is possible to ‘retrain’ your brain in certain circumstances. I absolutely believe that some mental illness, in some situations, can be cured. My social anxiety is a prime example; after several months of weekly sessions with the right therapist, using the right techniques for me, I feel happy to be outside on my own, or to be in a group of people. I now consider my social anxiety to be cured.
But please remember that that was after months of weekly therapy, and a lot of hard work emotionally. And even that was after months of CBT several years ago which had enabled me to go from housebound, to able to go out with a ‘safe person’ and have fewer panic attacks. It was, in no way, a case of “think positive” or “just pretend you’re excited,” and it certainly wasn’t an overnight change.
So my message is this; please don’t watch that show, or read some article, or listen to some friend, who gives a possible treatment for something, and then offer up that possible treatment as a definite cure for everyone with that illness. That’s not how it works. I know several people with anxiety, and their anxiety doesn’t manifest like mine, and different things help it, and different things make it worse.
People are different. There is no ‘one thing cures all.’