• Fiona Martha

What says no?

When talking about ‚what says no?‘ or ‘what’s stopping you?’, I have to write this from the perspective of someone with a severe anxiety disorder, and put aside my chronic illnesses/disabilities for a while. Because anyone in this community knows that our bodies tell us far too often what we can and can’t do, and there’s no arguing with that. I’m not trying to.

I have a severe anxiety disorder that expresses itself through panic attacks, amongst other things. My social anxiety is so severe that I can’t order food at a restaurant, or raise my hand in my classes, despite knowing my answer is right. I even find it difficult to speak around people who aren’t in my closest inner circle of friends – often beginning to stutter or choke on my words. My anxiety disorder revolves around many other things than just the social aspect of my life, but going into that endless list of fears and worries would be counter-productive.

I am not ashamed to say that I go to therapy. And that therapy (cognitive behavioural therapy) works for me, or is at least beginning to. It is, after all, a long process. I remember a few months ago when I was speaking to my therapist about how to lessen my stress levels and avoid my panic attacks. My suggestion was to avoid situations that trigger them, and to try and create a comfort zone around myself. It seemed like an incredibly logical and solid plan to me, so I was incredibly surprised when she said – “No.”

It was through a lot of explaining (from her side) that I realised my original mistake. You see, anxiety disorders open the door to constant avoidant behaviour. As soon as you experience an upsetting or triggering situation, our brain registers it, logs it, and keeps it on a list of potential threats. The next time a similar situation looks likely to arise, our first instinct becomes to avoid it. This instinct, should we follow it, can become dangerous. And one day we’ll look back and wonder when our lives became so constrained.

So I started using a method that sounds easy, and actually is. The next time an opportunity arose where I knew I was terrified, and every cell in my body screamed at me to stay at home and avoid it, I said yes. I committed myself to doing it, convinced myself ‘it’d be alright on the night’ and just went along with it. I ended up ‘procrastinating’ worrying about it for so long that when it got to the actual event itself, I just did it.

The first of these situations, I have to be honest, did not go well. I was in charge of holding a speech in front of my year at school, and a very important European politician – the EU commissioner for Germany. While on stage, I had a panic attack. I began swaying on the spot, my mind went fuzzy, and I stuttered around everything I said. I was mortified, but when I returned to my seat, my friend grinned and laughed with me. I laughed too, and the politician even congratulated me on my speech a few more times.

Since then, I’ve always said yes. Or rather, I’ve asked myself: ‘What says no?’ If a situation isn’t doable for health reasons, then of course that’s unavoidable. But if my primary concern is my anxiety? Then to hell with it. That isn’t to say I won’t panic. It isn’t a mechanism which eases my anxiety disorder, or makes it at all easier.

What it does do, though, is make sure I don’t regret what I didn’t do. It ensures that no matter the outcome of a situation, I can safely say I gave it my best shot, and that I tried.

And it has changed my life. The amount of opportunities coming my way because of ‘yes’ or ‘why not’ is staggering. My life suddenly seems so much bigger now that I’ve decided that the sky is the limit.

Not everyone can be as drastic as I am, and make a sudden ‘click’ decision to change the way they work. But everyone should start trying to say yes to things, even if they seem like the tiniest things in the world.

You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.

(Title photo credit to @natashalipman on Instagram)

#spoonie #anxiety #anxietydisorder #mentalhealth #panicattacks

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