The Putting Yourself First & Putting Your Loved Ones First Paradox
This is probably the hardest thing for me to get to grips with when dealing with my anxiety. It’s something that I’m trying really hard to do but ultimately I end up feeling selfish and unsupportive.
Many of my counselling sessions have centred around learning to put my needs first, to look after my well-being. This is good advice, it’s advice that we could all benefit from acting on in an ideal world. And there in lies the problem – we don’t live in an ideal world.
The main theme of my sessions has been that of internalising my feelings. By doing this I’ve been giving them too much power and allowing them to increase my anxiety levels. This has been going on for probably over 15 years although it’s hard to know when my symptoms started. I struggle to remember if I’ve put boxer shorts on or not most days so it’s asking a bit much.
Internalising our feelings isn’t good for us yet at the same time it’s just often too hard to speak out. I get that. It hasn’t gone unnoticed to me that I’m putting all this down in a blog but rarely talk about it to anybody. It’s the easy option, I didn’t claim to be a pro at this shit! So after all that internalising it’s only natural that changing the mindset is going to be a slow and painful process.
Whether they realise it or not, every single thing I do, I do it with my family and friends in mind – and I mean everything. The nature of an anxiety sufferer is that they over think even the smallest decision or action and every one of the thousand odd unnecessary extra thoughts I have each day revolve around other people. How will it affect them, will it upset them, how best should I approach it to limit their discomfort etc etc. So clearly the putting myself first thing is difficult.
Anxiety and the Need for Balance
As with most things in life the key for me is balance. I don’t follow the advice I’ve been given to the letter because it’s not practical for me, as a family man. However at times I will take a nap or skip a shopping trip, weekend activity, so that I can rest and have some time to myself. If I didn’t have such a brilliantly supportive and understanding wife I wouldn’t be able to do this. I’m so lucky in this sense. My wife knows me better than I know myself and will often make plans that don’t include me because she knows I need time out. She won’t make me feel guilty or try and persuade me to do things I’m uncomfortable with.
For my part I really do try to do as much as I can – I never take advantage of my condition to just skip something I can’t be arsed with, or to watch football. Never. I feel strongly about this, I’ll never use my condition as a free pass.
It certainly hasn’t always been this easy, for either of us. Before I opened up about my condition I would just plough on and pretend I was fine. This benefited nobody, I ended up feeling uncomfortable, spaced out and exhausted. The people I was spending time with had to deal with a distant companion who appeared disinterested.
Internalising stopped me from spending quality time with my loved ones for a long time. I was spending time, but not quality time. Fortunately I’m in a much healthier and happier place now. I have the patience and support of my loved ones to thank for that.
Male Mental Health
Men are not good at sharing feelings. I guarantee that every male reading this blog relates to it in one way or another. I won’t try and persuade people to suddenly open the floodgates and spill out their inner most thoughts. It’s often the sort of advice that is scoffed at. Please take small steps though, at your own pace. Open up bit by bit and encourage those you spend time with to do the same. Importantly never feel ashamed of how you feel and as I discuss in my recent article, NEVER apologise for being unwell Be proactive about your mental health, you’ll reap the benefits.