By Erin Taylor


Taking the sting out of anxiety

I suffer from anxiety. There, I said it and it seems like the most straight forward way to start this blog.

My turn on the blog roster came around and it always takes me a little while to think about what to write. Sometimes it’s easy when there’s some hot topic in the media that also traverses the law, other times it’s harder. Do I write something about my areas of practice to try and generate business? What can I write on those topics that won’t send people snoozing after the first few words?

Hopefully with my first sentence you decided to stay in. If you’ve got this far, I thought I might talk about my experience with anxiety because ‘they’ (as in the people who are experts on things) say it’s a good thing for people to talk about these things to allow other people to feel able to do so. I felt compelled to do this because I have noticed in the last few years that these sort of health issues are becoming so prevalent. My experience has been that being able to be open about it has made all the difference.

I think I’ve always had anxiety but wasn’t diagnosed until my, ahem, thirties. Once I was diagnosed a lot of things made sense. I used to go over and over things in my head, small things would become big things and before long they would become seemingly insurmountable. I remember after my first exam in my HSC, which was English, I convinced myself I did so badly and that the disaster was such that there was no point doing the rest of my exams because my life and career hopes were over. My Mum had to ring my English teacher and get him to call me to convince me that all was not lost. I ended up getting the best score I’d gotten all year in that exam, but the buzz of my anxiety bees had me convinced otherwise for a time.

My anxiety manifests mostly in rumination which usually occurs in the middle of the night. Most nights I can get to sleep – but if the anxiety bees feel so inclined, they buzz

around and wake me up and, once I’ve heard the buzz it only gets louder. Then I start feeling anxious about the fact I’m not sleeping and as far as that night’s sleep goes the fat lady has well and truly sung.

I have lots of anxious habits. The worst is probably biting my nails. I do it so mindlessly that sometimes I don’t realize I’ve bitten down all the skin, ripped out my cuticles and bitten the nails so short that sometimes I lie in bed that night with throbbing fingers. I try to get acrylic nails when I can to stop me biting, but the last few times I’ve tried they’ve told me my nails are too short and there’s not enough nail to stick on the tips. I also mindlessly scratch. Usually my legs or arms, but I’ll scratch so much I end up with skin off or big bruises all over me. The only advantage of biting my nails is it probably reduces the damage I do when scratching. Those times I can actually get acrylic nails are disastrous for my poor arms and legs once I start scratching.

I go through phases where it gets worse and phases where I feel on top of it. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out why I’m going through a particularly anxious patch (life has been fairly eventful in the last few years) sometimes it has no discernible starting point. It never goes away, but that’s ok – sometimes just understanding it’s always there to manage and not something you cure helps. And being anxious makes me analytical – which as a lawyer is a must have skill and that at least allows me to use my anxiety for good and not evil.

I’m not an expert on mental health or anxiety and anyone reading this who feels like they’re struggling should seek out professional help. I’m just writing it in the hope it will resonate and maybe make someone feel a bit less anxious about being anxious (or depressed or any of the myriad of mental health issues there are out there).

I find I manage mine the best when I do the following:

1. Exercise – I know it’s cliche but exercise literally burns off the stress hormone. For me, getting to the gym every day kills more anxiety bees than a counseling session.

2. Be organized – I have to have a to do list on my desk every day or I am completely lost.

3. Check in with my counselor – sometimes it feels overwhelming thinking about talking about all the things that are making you feel bad, but every-time I’ve been mine gives me a little pearl of wisdom that changes my perspective for the better.

4. Watch rubbish TV – there’s nothing like an episode of MAFS or Vanderpump Rules to make you realize there are people out there way more nuts than you.

5. Talk to my besties or partner – the people that know you best always help – even if it’s just to plan the destruction of your anxiety causing thing (metaphorically of course, not actual destruction).

6. Talk to my Mum – this is a fail safe method for me. Every time.

For now, I’m off to bed so I can get up early for the gym tomorrow. Hopefully the only buzzing I’ll hear in the wee hours will be my alarm at 5:30.

If you or anyone close to you is experiencing a mental health disorder, I encourage you to seek help. Do not be afraid to reach out and begin a conversation with a friend, a family member or a professional service such as Beyond Blue, Menslink or Lifeline.