In this post last week I follow up on an edited extract from first, we make the beast beautiful in which I outline all the contradictions inherent in why we need people, but push them away, when we’re anxious.
Today’s share is the antidote, geared at at our loved ones; you might want to tag them in the comments so they can get some tips. Again, it’s another edited extract from The Beast (which you can buy here):
So what is a poor loved one to do when faced with all this? When we’re in primordial flight? When we aren’t coping with other people? When we’re being as complex as all get-up? When we wobble our way into a spiral or panic attack? Ohhhh, what a good, hard question. First, if I can extend this to anyone living in an anxious person’s orbit:
1. Take charge when we’re not good
I share this interaction with my mate Rick who knew I was not good recently. And that I get Weekend Panic when I’m not good. It’s perfect. It helped. And was not particularly onerous or demanding on him, I don’t think.
Rick (7:40am Saturday morning): Hey Love. Fancy dinner out and maybe a movie? Are you happy for me to plan the whole thing and you turn up?
Me: Yep!!! I’m going to use the above email as an example for how to make an exhausted control freak’s day!
Rick (11:40am, the earliest time possible to come back to me with confirmation, once cinema and restaurants open for bookings): Ok movie and restaurant booked. Meet us at trafficlights at 6pm prompt!!!
2. Just stay
Another simple thing you can do, dear-loved-one-of-someone-with- anxiety, is to just be there, patiently, when we wobble. Just stay. And be entirely certain and solid about doing so, even in the very convincing face of pushback and the frantic wobbliness from us. Your patience and calmness will exist in such stark contrast to our funk that we’ll start to feel silly and return to Earth. Our anxiety does pass. Website TheMighty.com regularly posts things its anxious readers wished they could tell their friends and family when they’re spiralling. The comments, from around the world, kind of echo this simple wish for you to simply . . . stay and be stable for us. Reading them might also see you feel less alone in your challenges with us.
Don’t give up on me when I isolate myself. — Jen
Give me some space, but don’t forget me. — Vickie
Get me to a quiet room where I can just be alone for a moment. My panic attacks normally happen because there’s too much noise or too many people. So getting away is the best. — Amber
Help me to let time pass and let the panic attack run its course. Possibly, assist me in getting to a ‘safe’ spot. — Kevin
During a panic attack, ask if it’s OK if you come close. Getting in [my] face can make the attack worse. Sometimes holding my hand helps, sometimes it’s a trigger. — Ashly
Keep yourself calm. I will eventually feed off your calmness and I’ll be able to calm down. — Marissa
I need you to reach out to me, even when I’m so anxious I’ve stopped leaving the house. I need to know someone still cares and wants to see me. — Hayley
I understand you don’t get it, but your efforts mean the world to me. — Avery
3. Come and get us from our cave
I, of course, ache for [the above] kind of compassionate and resolved ‘I’ve got this one, babe’ sturdiness from loved ones, even when (especially when!) I isolate myself, go numb, flee, run bra-less, push people away and all the other very ugly things that generally bewilder the handful of people who’ve seen me in a spiral. But I do think it is too much to ask another human to fully understand the complexities of what happens when we go down. We anxious folk are fierce in our self-protection. We don’t want our ‘fix’ to be taken away. And we’re very seductive in the art of pushing people away. I know I test others, to see if they can handle me. I think that’s it. Or perhaps I’m just testing for sturdiness. Please just make the decision! Please be the sturdy thing I can grasp as I spiral! Please just tell me in no uncertain terms that we’re going for a walk around the block. And then we’re going to cook nachos for dinner – definitely nachos because you feel like nachos (PLEASE don’t ask me what I feel like!!!)! All of which can be very confusing and demanding and testing for others. And so I think we have to help them out. It’s a responsibility. My mate Lizzy can sometimes spiral into what she calls her ‘emotional cave’. It used to freak her husband, Johnny, out and he’d run from the house, until she found a way to help out. ‘I told him when I go to the cave, it’s not about him. I’m upset, I’m not upset with him. And then I said, “I give you permission to come and get me from the cave”.’ And this is the important bit that she added: ‘And I promise I will respond cooperatively when you do.’ I reckon just the act of helping loved ones with our panic also sees the anxiety lift. It sees us draw on our inner strength, which we do have in bucketfuls by virtue of the fact we have to manage a bloody beige buzz all day.
It’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of writing this book – witnessing how those without anxiety issues are so willing to understand our condition and to help. Do feel confident sharing this post with your loved ones. I’m sure you will be stunned with how generous and caring they are when they understand better ways to cope with us when we’re not in top form. Feel free to add extra tips below…