Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Battling Anxiety in the Face of Terrorism

Red leaves against a blue sky

Living with a mental illness in a world where terrorist attacks are becoming a common occurrence is difficult. From what I can remember, the number of terrorist attacks has increased at an alarming rate since the Charlie Hebdo attack in France in January 2015. Wherever terrorist have happened, the news of each one has hit me with such sadness, fear and despair. This year it's felt constant - it's already June, and I can't count how many attacks there have been - and with each new attack, the longer it's taken for me to shake off the despair. So much death, so many injured. And the fear. The fear has been really difficult for me to get past.

The attack on London Bridge was the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to my anxiety. With all the other attacks, despite the range of emotions I've battled with, my anxiety hasn't been a problem. But with London Bridge - the third attack in the UK in three months - it became too much, and my mental health couldn't take any more, and I've had a bit of a relapse. I went to work yesterday, and anxiety was pretty much a constant all day until I came back home. I work in the West End, and with how popular and busy an area it is I've been worried that it's a prime area for an attack. Only last Wednesday I was talking about the attack in Manchester, and saying how I felt it was only a matter of time until the West End is hit. Three days later, London is hit again, and my fear rocketed. I was lucky that I was able to keep my anxiety at bay enough that I didn't have an anxiety attack, but I have never experienced the affects of anxiety for so long - for most of the day.

Now I'm off on annual leave for six days, and it would be so easy to just stay in and not go out - especially as the weather isn't going to be great this week. But staying in because I'm anxious is just not something I can do. I'm fortunate that my anxiety is mild compared to others, but if I am to give into it, I can feel that it would only get worse, and it would just get more and more difficult to go out. What I'm struggling with is that this fear I have is not irrational, the thoughts that scare me are not irrational. Terrorism seems rife now, and I don't think it's irrational to think that I could potentially, at some point, be in an area where a terrorist attack happens. Likely is a different matter, but it's not irrational. I can't tell myself it won't happen. I can tell myself it's unlikely, try and convince myself I'll be fine, but I can't tell myself it won't happen. But at the same time, I can't let my anxiety or terrorism stop me from living my life.

I went out today, shopping. I could have gone local, grabbed what I needed, and got home quick, but I didn't. I chose to go to a shopping centre. I looked around some shops, bought a couple of tops, picked up the few things I needed, and ate out. I was out for a few hours. It was hard, but I knew I needed to do it. And it wasn't that bad, as I knew it wouldn't be. My Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is recent enough that I still remember my strategies, how to get through things, and I was fine. This one day isn't going to stop the anxiety, it's going to take time, and going back to work on Monday will be difficult again because of the area. But I'll keep working at it, and trying and, moving forward. It would have been easier to stay home, I would have felt safer staying home. But that wouldn't have been harmful and unhealthy. So I'm proud of myself for going out, and so glad that I managed to stay calm throughout.

I know that what I'm going through is nothing compared to what the families of those who have died, those who are injured, and those who witnessed it. But all of us are going to be affected by these attacks, and those of us with mental illnesses may be even more. And we've got to look after ourselves. Today was me looking after myself, and me living my life as usual.

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