The “Why” Question: the (possible) root cause of my anxiety

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I’m in two minds about how useful the “why” question really is, for me personally. When I say I have anxiety, or when I’m feeling particularly anxious, most people’s first question – family, friends, colleagues, counsellors – is “why do you think that is?”. That’s a perfectly natural and obvious question to ask, but I can very rarely answer it. Sometimes the answer is clear – when I’ve had coffee, for example – but most of the time I just don’t know, and I have to come up with several theories which may or may not be correct.

Don’t get me wrong; of course, it’s useful to diagnose a problem. It’s only by diagnosing a problem that you can start treating it. Personally, though, I find it easier to narrow possible causes down to one or two and then think about and discuss them with others, rather than rushing to identify any one single cause. For me, there is rarely one overarching reason; it tends to be a culmination of factors. But these are often only obvious in hindsight, and so my “policy” (for want of a better word) tends to be to just accept my anxiety when it comes and, in that moment, to just focus on a coping strategy, whether that’s heading home to be with family, going to a yoga class or colouring. With family, close friends and a counsellor I’ll discuss what might have brought it on this time, but I won’t pressure myself into identifying a single overarching cause, as this can lead to me just clutching at straws. My reasons will usually make themselves clear through gentle discussion and hindsight and, in the meantime, I prefer just to acknowledge the anxiety is there and then immediately engage in something that will help me deal with it.

That said – I believe there is a possible (dare I say obvious) cause that has in all likeliness contributed to my anxiety. I’ve deliberated for quite a few weeks now about whether to include this incident in the blog or not. It’s highly sensitive, very difficult for me to talk about and I’m unsure as to what extent it’s affected my general anxiety, particularly as I was experiencing flashes of anxiety before it happened.  However – I don’t think I can ignore something of this magnitude and I’m certainly not naïve enough to assume it hasn’t affected me at all.

For those who don’t know – I was on the tube with the bomb that partially exploded at Parson’s Green tube station last September. I saw the flash, felt the heat and have an image imprinted on my memory of a mass of people screaming and running backwards, away from the tube. I was very lucky in that I didn’t suffer any physical injury, either from the bomb or the stampede in the initial aftermath. I ran in the opposite direction down the tube track with around 10 other people and we waited some distance away from the platform until it seemed to be safe enough to go back and exit the station.

I have counted my blessings many times since that day. For the bomb not exploding properly, for the fact that it didn’t explode while the train was moving or in a tunnel – I can’t even imagine what that would have been like. I was very lucky.

I’m certain this experience has affected me (as is only to be expected), but I don’t yet know exactly how. I suspect it *may* be the cause of my disassociation – a particularly scary aspect of my anxiety. I’m going to go into more detail on this in my next post, but essentially it’s the fear that either I, or the world around me, isn’t real. From the reading I’ve done, disassociation can be a symptom of PTSD and so it’s something worth considering. To me, this makes sense. This is pure conjecture, but having a near death experience could cause my subconscious to doubt whether I’m really here.

I also have a new obsession with “making a difference in the world”, and this sometimes brings on a lot of anxiety. I think that’s largely to do with the fact that I don’t have a permanent job at the moment, so am lacking a purpose, but I also (and I’m completely guessing here) imagine that to some extent I feel guilty that I was a victim of a terror attack and I survived, unlike so many other victims of similar attacks. I wonder a lot these days whether my need to make a difference in the world, to feel like I’m changing people’s lives for the better, stems from a form of survival guilt. I survived, so I need to earn the right to my survival.

So now that I’ve outlined a potential cause, how do I now move forward? I honestly don’t know how much this experience has affected my anxiety, especially as I did experience flashes of anxiety for up to a year before it happened. However, if I am going to treat it as a potential cause (and I think I probably should), then I think processing and coping with it will come from counselling and from gradual acceptance.

LOW OF THE WEEK: Saturday morning. I had the worst anxiety attack I’ve had in a very long time and ultimately I had to cancel on one of my best friends and bail on what would have been the evening of a lifetime (literally) at Glyndebourne.

HIGH OF THE WEEK: Probably arriving into the Isle of Wight on the ferry and feeling the enormous sense of relief I feel when I’m arriving home after a really bad bout of anxiety. The Isle of Wight is probably my favourite place in the world (specifically my parent’s house) and it always makes me feel better, without fail!

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