When I was 15 I started seeing a psychologist for anxiety which predominately manifested in eating disordered behaviour.
Anyone who's attended a workshop or a course with me will be not be surprised by the 'anxiety' part of that admission, but the eating disorder part I don't tend to talk to many people about. The psychologist explored with me in the first session about why I thought I was there. I said I was unhappy because I wanted to lose weight and I didn't seem to be able to. I vividly remember weeping on her sofa saying "I think I'll be okay, if I can just lose 1 more pound". The psychologist looked at my Mum with the sort of expression that says "we've got some work to do here". My poor, poor mind. I was fifteen years old and underweight.
I'm going to talk about eating disorders more at a later date, I really want to do the subject justice. What I do want to talk now about is what my psychologist taught me. She told me about Freud. There's a lot about Freud that I don't love but in this situation it was life-changing. She told me about the 'id', she described the part of the mind that was instinctive, sought pleasure and was somewhat childlike. She said to me that the 'id' within me had no opportunity to express itself because the superego (the moral and parental aspect) had become too controlling.
Nothing had ever seemed more accurate to me. From the outside I probably just seemed like a sensible, mature teenager with a very tidy bedroom. Inside I was screaming. I was so desperately unhappy and I had no idea why, except that I was pretty sure something was very very wrong with me. I had to control everything in my life. I thought i had no idea how bad things would be if I didn't rigorously control them, and I was terrified to find out. I restricted every care-free and joyous instinct in my being and I replaced it with discipline and time-consuming-worrying about the future. I was anxious. I don't know what came first; the anxiety which gave me the need to control everything? Or the controlling behavior which then made me anxious?
I know this much; there were (and still are) so many things in life that I couldn't control and trying to control them made me unhappy, tired, and stressed. And that desire for control became apparent in my eating behaviours (more on that story later). I often describe this phenomenon to my clients who are struggling with anxiety. The tighter you try to grip on to something, the less control you seem to have and the more unhappy and stressed you'll become. And actually if we can find a way to let go and allow things to be the way they are, we become more resilient. We become stronger because we find a way to be flexible. By letting go of our need to control we acknowledge that life is unpredictable, and wild and beautiful. And gradually we develop faith in ourselves that when things so wrong we will cope and we'll find a way to manage.
If you're struggling with anxiety, this will be very unfamiliar and disconcerting. In the throws of anxious thinking you believe that you're a hair's breadth away from your world crashing down around you. And it will be so awful that you won't survive. Life will seem scary, dark and dangerous. And you may spend night after night awake, wondering how you'll cope when everything goes suddenly and irreparably wrong. Anxiety convinces you that in order to deal with bad things you need to start worrying about them immediately. This results in you spending hours replaying and analysing miserable scenarios that may never even happen. Want to know the ironic part? All that worrying and anxiety actually makes you a hell of a lot less able to deal effectively with challenges when they come your way. Isn't that cruel? I always felt like I should have dealt with difficult things better then I did, I'd say to myself "Really? You just spent hours panicking about your whole family dying and now you burst into tears because you dropped something?!? Why was I not prepared for this??" But the truth is, being worried all the time makes you live in a constant state of low grade fear and panic. So when something truly bad happens you are primed and ready to full on-spiral.
At fifteen I truly felt as if I was on the brink something unknown and terrifying. I was worried about what was going to happen but my psychologist was able to show me what was already happening; I was throwing away the last precious years of my childhood and preparing myself for a life of complete misery and discontent. She didn't word it like that, thank God! She just told me about the parts of my mind. She said they were all important and they should all be respected and listened to. She also introduced me to a little thing called mindfulness, which changed my life forever.
Having fun is one of the most important things you can possibly do. Having fun allows us to be balanced, and free, and to not take life too seriously. If we don't have fun we aren't taking care of our mental health. And if we don't take care of our mental health everything can rapidly seem terrible and pointless. I know that we can't all have fun all the time, everybody has commitments. But perhaps next time you're deciding how you'll spend your free time, you allow more space in your schedule to do something enjoyable. To give yourself a break from the seriousness of life. I now go so far out of my way to be free and joyous; I do things purely because they're fun or they feel good. When I'm running outside just for the hell of it, or laughing until I cry, I imagine that I'm paying tribute to the anxious preoccupied child I was. I'm making up for the time I lost in being too serious. Here's to you young Agnes! Live wild and free.
If you're struggling with anxiety, please reach out to me. Whether you live in Aberdeenshire or anywhere else in the world, we can find a way to make it work. Take care of yourself. You are precious.