Freelance writer, editor and podcaster Robyn Wilder has been suffering with anxiety since childhood. Here, she tells us how it manifests and the different coping mechanisms she relies on…
Robyn Wilder is a freelance writer, podcaster at The Naughty Step, and parenting editor at The Pool. She lives in Kent with her husband and two sons.
Can you pinpoint when you first started to experience anxiety?
I was first diagnosed when I was 21 and suddenly started having these debilitating panic attacks, which soon coalesced into full-blown housebound agoraphobia.
Did it stem from anything going on in your life, or seemingly appear from nowhere?
At the time I thought it was due to a sexual assault I’d recently experienced, but after some exploration I realised that, while the assault played a part, I’d probably unknowingly experienced anxiety from childhood. Before the age of 12 I lost a parent, moved around a lot, experienced racism and bullying and (it has since transpired) was neuro-atypical, so there was a lot to deal with.
How does anxiety feel now?
Like diabetes or asthma; a chronic health condition I have to live with. I have good days and bad days. I try to take care of myself, and keep reminding myself that it’s an illness, not a flaw in my personality.
As an adult, do you notice specific triggers?
Lack of sleep and overwhelm are two big triggers, and I have two small children, so I’m basically constantly triggered. Apparently this phase passes, though, I am reliably informed.
During a high-anxiety period, do you tell your husband and close friends how you’re feeling?
I try to; one feature of my anxiety is that I’m avoidant, though, so sometimes I don’t realise I’m anxious until someone asks me what the matter is.
Have you tried therapy, and does it help?
I do, and it does! I’ve run the gamut of therapists, from a very nice lady who was me “How do you feel about that” once a week for seven years, which achieved very little, to a man who practiced “intense CBT” when I had postnatal depression, which I found terrifying. You have to kiss a lot of therapy frogs; I’m now with a counsellor who isn’t too intense, but does offer strategies.
Do you make changes to your life to help you cope better – eg. more exercise, sleep, more/less socialising etc?
I try. I do find that if I habitually exercise, get lots of fresh air, sleep well, drink lots of water, and read lots of books, I do feel immeasurably better. As I say, though, I have two small kids (and work from home), so the best I can do right now is go to bed ridiculously early twice a week, get out of the house at least once a day, and make sure I get one date night with my husband every month.
How do you feel, once the anxiety eases off?
Like I can breathe again. Also, suddenly very aware of all the tension in my shoulders and jaw.
Do you have any advice for other women who suffer with anxiety?
When I first discovered that I had anxiety, I suddenly went on a mission to solve it: I read loads of books and tried different methods, when really it would have just been more helpful to sit back and try to be mindful of what my thoughts were saying from moment to moment. There’s a little running narrative in your head (mine tends to constantly tell me how awful I am at everything), and it’s only when you start listening to it that you can a) realise where your pressure points are, and b) discover the slightly quieter voice, which sounds more like you, and says more positive, helpful things.