Anxiety And I
Never do I really know how to write this sort of thing. One doesn’t want to over-share like a guest on Oprah, but at the same time one doesn’t want to be unduly clinical. Ah well, here goes then.
My name is Robert; I am a white single heterosexual Australian, 54 years old; and I have been all my life crippled by anxiety, OCD, and, to a lesser extent, depression. This has resulted in repeated hospitalisations, in the sabotaging of most of my employment prospects, and in levels of isolation that I would not wish upon my worse foe. Perhaps, rather than go into details about my own background, I can provide a few suggestions as to how others might cope better than I have done.
In some ways things have substantially changed for the better, as far as public awareness of mental illness is concerned. Perhaps they have changed too much, in that one has certainly encountered individual hipsters using ‘bipolar’ as if it were some kind of merit badge. But even that, problematic though it is, surely constitutes an improvement on the ‘Ignore it and it will go away’ attitude which was very common in the New South Wales of my youth.
As regards how much one should reveal concerning mental illness in one’s own life, my attitude – the result of hard-won experience and many mistakes – has been: don’t be surprised if even trusted friends and trusted employers can’t cope with your revelations. Professionals in the mental health sector are used to hearing such tales of misery without being wigged out by them. One shouldn’t expect a similar level of compassionate detachment to characterise those who lack similar experience of dealing with ill people.
To the extent that I’ve been able to overcome the worst effects of my condition, I can attribute this to nothing more obscure or glamorous than exercise (in moderation: I’m no gym-rat), forcing myself to social outings, and keeping busy, preferably with paid work, but with volunteering if paid work fails to materialise. I would love to be able to say that I’d been helped by CBT or by attending an ashram or by climbing Macchu Picchu, but that would be false.
The need to keep busy is why unemployment and underemployment are such tortures to an anxious person. As the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce put it: ‘Unless a capacity for thinking is matched by a capacity for acting, a superior mind exists in torture.’ Or even a common-or-garden mind, such as my own.