My sister has just been offered a new job. I am really pleased for her, really I am. It’s just that this has brought home all sorts of emotions about how unfulfilled and unhappy my life has become. I have been crushed under the weight of having a mental illness and it is showing few signs of improvement.
I have been struggling with anxiety for years but it is only in the last six months that the anxiety has become severe and I have been diagnosed with general anxiety and panic disorder. I never realised how awful having an anxiety disorder could be. It can cause such unbearable physical sensations. Often I feel like someone has wrapped their hands around my throat and is choking me; I can’t breathe and my lungs are collapsing. I feel like I am going to die all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night and bolt upright, gasping for breath.
These physical sensations are horrible and it leads to me avoiding doing anything which may trigger it further. I avoid going out to see friends because I get anxious socialising. I don’t go anywhere without my partner or a family member in case I have a panic attack. I won’t go to the cinema or travel on public transport because they are enclosed spaces where I won’t be able to escape.
Having this level of anxiety makes it impossible to work. I was studying for a PhD but I haven’t been able to study for over a year now. I don’t know if I will ever be able to go back. I was brought up in a very education focused family and they see study as really important. They were really proud when I was working for my PhD. Now I have lost that, I feel adrift. I haven’t got anything to focus on or anything to feel proud of.
You can’t help but compare yourself to those around you, particularly a sibling that has grown up in the same environment as you but has managed to achieve a whole lot more. I compare myself to others all the time. I know that this is a path to anxiety and unhappiness but I can’t seem to stop myself. I tell others to be kind to themselves and see the positives but I don’t extend this same reasoning to myself.
Not many people realise how important something like work or study is to your feeling of self-worth. Most people work all their lives and don’t particularly enjoy it. Many people really hate their jobs and have an awful time in the workplace. Work isn’t often that pleasurable but the alternative isn’t that great either. In the society we live in, your worth is often determined by your work. This is obviously wrong. People are worthy because of who they are, not what they do. Even though I know this intellectually, emotionally I still feel tied down to the idea that I am worthless because I don’t work or study.
It doesn’t help when I read all the ‘scrounger’ headlines in the news. People who don’t work are vilified by the media. If you are disabled, unemployed or elderly you are often seen as a burden on everyone else. These people are viewed as a drain on the ‘the taxpayer’. The idea that you are only worth something if you work is shoved down our throats all the time. Even though I realise that this is obviously wrong and unfair, I still feel the weight of society’s expectations and I suffer with guilt and shame because of it.
It is strange because I would never ever think of anyone else as less worthy for not being able to work. If someone was in my position, I would tell them how it is not their fault that they are ill. I would tell them that mental or physical illness can strike anyone and it is only right and fair that we support those people in any way we can. Everyone deserves understanding and compassion.
There are many other things in life that aren’t to do with work that give our lives meaning. Our relationships with people are important and are what we should be focusing on. Just because I don’t work doesn’t mean that my life has no meaning or purpose. I just have to keep telling myself that and reminding myself that I am just as good as everyone else and I am lucky to have many good relationships in my life.