A friend recently said to me that he first started to cope with his anxiety when he realised that how he was feeling wasn’t his fault, but that it was his responsibility to do something about it. This is something that’s really stuck with me. I wholeheartedly agree and I’ve decided to bring this “fault vs. responsibility” idea into my own life, by constantly reminding myself of the following:
What I’m feeling isn’t my fault. But it is up to me – and only me – to change it.
Obviously, this is far easier said than done (like so many mental health solutions!). Blaming myself is pointless, damaging and a waste of time. At the end of the day, it’s all chemical. My anxiety is not my fault, and I need to constantly remind myself of this. I am not to blame, and I have nothing to apologise for. And yet I apologise for it all. the. time. Seriously. It doesn’t matter who it is, I will say sorry over and over again for this thing happening to me that I can’t control, that I have no say over and that I didn’t choose for myself.
My first office job was in client relations, which consequently meant I spent about 80% of my day apologising to unhappy clients. Sometimes the issue was my error, and sometimes it wasn’t. One day I was desperately apologising for something for which I wasn’t even remotely to blame and when I hung up the phone, my manager said to me, “You should never, ever apologise for something that’s not your fault.”
It’s difficult enough to adopt this mentality in a working environment, let alone when it’s a mental health issue – something that’s still a taboo subject and something I freely admit I’m still embarrassed and ashamed of. At the beginning of this year, I had an anxiety attack at work and was sent home by my very understanding boss – but not before I’d apologised about 15 times. Whenever I bail on an event because of anxiety, I apologise for said anxiety over and over again. A few months ago I ended things with a guy because of anxiety and I was shocked that my first instinct was to apologise for the way I was feeling. After a lot of drafting and redrafting, I finally came up with a text that explained honestly why I couldn’t see him anymore, that expressed regret and respect for his feelings – but that didn’t contain a single apology. This probably sounds incredibly insensitive and even rude, but honestly – apologising for feelings you can’t control can be so damaging and detrimental, and can inhibit recovery to a huge extent. Apologising essentially equates to believing you’re in the wrong, and no one is ever “in the wrong” for experiencing mental health difficulties.
I have no doubt I will continue to apologise for my anxiety countless times over the next few weeks/months/years. But I’m trying to be more aware of when I’m doing it, and to stop myself wherever I feel it’s appropriate. If I’m bailing on an event, for example, I will apologise for causing an inconvenience – but I’ll try not to apologise for feeling anxious.
So that’s the “fault” aspect of my new life motto. The responsibility is next, and this is something I’m also finding difficult. Accepting responsibility for my anxiety means conceding that all change needs to come from me. I can talk to amazing counsellors, go to wonderful yoga teachers and rely on great friends for support, but at the end of the day, all anyone else can do is help. The real change needs to come from me. If I don’t research counsellors, if I don’t take the time out of my week to go to yoga, if I don’t look to my friends for support, then nothing will happen. I’m the worst for thinking, “When A/B/C happens, then I’ll be fine”, or “If only I had X/Y/Z in my life, then I’d be fine.” But life doesn’t work like that. In order to actually create a change, I have to take responsibility and examine what’s going on in the present, not constantly rely on the unpredictable future.
It’s also not just about seeking help from others, although this is a big step towards making a change. It’s maintaining that discipline in everyday life which is, again, something that only comes from me. I’ve touched on this before, but in the context of this article – It’s not up to anyone else to tell me not to drink coffee, to think seriously before having a glass of wine or to use the Headspace app every day. My friends are amazing and will always be there to listen, but my daily routine isn’t their problem. Only I know what will affect my anxiety. Only I will know if I can happily go for a few drinks and be totally fine the next day, or if sharing a bottle of wine would be a really stupid idea at that exact moment. It’s up to me to work out all these things, and put them into practice myself.
So to sum up (and this is me giving myself advice here)…
Don’t: blame yourself. It will get you nowhere and will do more harm than good.
Do: accept responsibility for what’s happening to you. Know that change has to stem from you, and that it’s up to you to seek support from the people who love you and the resources that are there to help.
LOW OF THE WEEK: PMS is a bitch. Just going to leave it at that…
HIGH OF THE WEEK: Curious Arts Festival! It’s a literary/arts festival in Hampshire and I went with one of my best friends. Such a happy day of DMCs/books/gin tasting hearing amazing authors talk about their books and feeling far more intellectual than I really am. 10/10.