Category Archives: Anxiety – Anxiété

The Long Read – Anxiety and ASMR

I suffer from chronic anxiety on which PTSD likes to surf happily but, when PTSD started in my teenage years driven and fed by extreme bullying, my anxiety has always been there. As far as I can remember, I heard my relatives telling me I was anxious but never really understood what it meant. I now do – but that’s another post.

I have learnt to live with my anxiety on a daily basis. I do have some freak-outs but I have a mother and friends who are good at keeping me grounded so it has never stopped me from moving and living abroad on my own for nearly a decade, from working, from having a life. Overall, I see myself as a cat: a control freak who only likes attention when I define the terms of it, otherwise I need to be left alone to enjoy solitude, or I’ll scratch everything in sight.

Anxiety isn’t too negative, except for one manifestation: the sleepless night. Even as a child, I vividly recall that once-a-week sleepless night when no could do: music, radio, rocking myself, getting up and doing something before going back to bed, reading, sucking my thump to soothe myself…I just wouldn’t sleep. I used to appreciate the next day for I would be so tired that all seems like a blur. No freaking out, no care for the world anymore, just me and going slow. No break of sweat for no reason, no heart-racing, no overthinking. A normal day for me after a night without sleep. However, as I grow older and take on more responsibilities, I can afford these zombie days less and less.

What keeps me awake, and I realised this a couple of years ago as I had a complete nervous break down, is my brain. Occupied all day, he is fine and for a long time I lived close to main roads or with a motorway yonder so there was something to distract him because at night, once the light is off, instead of enjoying the silence and peacefulness to drift into unconsciousness, everything goes bonkers.

“Now that we’re alone, how about we review everything single thing you said in your life and you regret, their consequences on you and others, how they perceived you because we both know this is still how they think of you everyday?!”

“No? Okay, so let’s remind ourselves of every single missed opportunity you had to prove your worth and snap a good come back to the bastards who took pleasure bullying you?”

“No, you actually have pity for them? Why? Because they were acting like such for they suffered themselves? Okay so you know the ‘little talk’ you want to have with that student/your manager/these parents? Yeah, we both know it’s not going to be ‘little’ so let’s rehearse it and plan for every eventuality. Especially, those when they get angry so you can snap a good come back that would shut them up.”

The hours I spent tossing and turning, getting increasingly restless, edging on the rage, wanting to scream out loud: “Shut the fuck up and let me fucking sleep!” The countless times I actually did it as my legs were burning up and started to sweat even though it was winter, the windows were open the water in my bottle was so call, it ached my teeth. Many times, I even resulted to getting up to shower call water on them so I could finally stop irradiating my bed.

Then I remembered the music of my childhood. There was noise that had disappeared over the years and it seemed to coincide with the increasing number of sleepless nights. I had music to fall asleep and throughout my teenage years hours of radio recordings on cassettes I was playing right next to me. I suddenly remembered that every single night without it, for this or that reason, was sleepless.

What I thought was wrong, I never went to bed and just fell asleep. I went to bed, put some noise on and fell asleep much later. I had always needed an early bedtime because it took a least a hour for me to fall asleep after I decided to go to bed. Sometimes, I had to turn the cassette around as 60 minutes were not enough. I used to fall asleep with people talking.

However, no cassettes in London in 2012 but YouTube on my phone on which I searched “soft-spoken”. I ended up on one of Maria’s (GentleWhispering) first videos where she teaches Russian in the most relaxing way I had ever experienced. That was my first ASMR experience. The problem was that I was in a very bad place, working in a very stressful school for which I had to leave the house at 5.20am if I wanted to have a chance to make it before 8.30am. Cheers London private transport and crap roads! I didn’t sleep for 3 days in a row, didn’t eat for 5 and ended up calling an ambulance with insanely high blood pressure at 4am.

I had a burn-out and ASMR which wasn’t called like that at the time became irrelevant. Instead, I realised that one of my favourite Youtuber’s voice, Stacyplays, was very soothing so I chose the longest videos and put my phone next to my head to fall asleep. It worked, no sleepless nights for weeks. Maybe even a couple of months. But, as usual with my anxiety, it gets used to everything so within weeks, it wasn’t working anymore and I have been taking anti-anxiety medicine since mid-2012.

I am fine with taking medication. I am not that type to distrust medicine, on the contrary, but I already have to live with anti-histamine medication every night because of my allergic background so already two pills/night when you are not even 30 years old is not exactly sending a good message for the future. When it is not three because of head-splitting migraines.

Then in late 2015, AMSR comes back in my life through a video by the Guardian. Maria and other pioneers have made it big. It’s not just a niche anymore but actually a sixth sense scientists are working on to understand it. In the video, a woman is speaking: Emma – WhispersRed. It’s the trigger. I didn’t experience much tingling with Maria or anyone else, just a feeling of soothing but Emma, her accent, the tone of her voice, it’s instant.

I spend the rest of the day, headphones in my ears, listening to every videos she makes. It’s the middle of the day and it’s when the tingles are here. It’s impossible to describe. I like the noise but I can’t get enough of her speaking. I then try putting her speaking softly on my phone the shelf above my bed as I try to fall sleep. I expect the usual struggle but nothing. I cannot even remember when I fell asleep. Sometimes, I even fall asleep with the phone still in my hand and my glasses on. No time to put it on the shelf and get ready. Two minutes in and I am out.

It works and has been working for the past nine months. I had one sleepless night in nine months. It’s a first in my life after 32 years of increasingly dreading going to bed, hating my bed, resenting the moment when I have to force my brain to disconnect. Emma does for me.

I have mentioned it my mum who just was snide about it: “Just boring stuff then”. Another time to someone in my family who told me “Aw, so you’re all about that ASMR thing…” but there judgmental amusement in it. I didn’t feel bad or offended, rather just decided it’s something I must do and keep for me. Not because I have to or feel judged but because it’s actually very intimate. It’s for me and who needs to know about it after all? They don’t get it, why should they? And why would I try to convince them? It’s inexplicable.

Some people think AMSR is sexual. Of course, they do. We live in a world that also thinks Victoria Beckham is a lesbian for kissing her daughter. Everything today that provides you with any kind of soothing or positive feeling is associated to sex. Also, as a gay man, I have learnt that what people don’t understand, they tend to diminish it and what best way to do it than saying it’s a fetish and some weird sexual fantasy.

As a gay man, I don’t listen to Emma talking because I am sexually attracted to her. On the opposite, I always make sure I never make the mistake of putting one of her video on as I am browsing for porn (Grow up!) like I do something with Youtube videos in the background. For me, it has to be completely separate and come to think of it, it’s incompatible. I am looking to fall asleep, not get aroused. I have Dean Monroe for that, thank you very much. Frankly, I don’t see how this could ever be sexual. At least for me, a gay man listening to women.

Emma and her ASMR work is shushing and soothing my brain. I don’t listen intensively, it’s just there like a mother putting a child to sleep with a story. I don’t care for the story itself, I just want a reassuring voice to help him with my restless, overthink brain. I tried other AMSRtists but they don’t work as well. There is a connection with Emma that is inexplicable.

I wrote to her to thank her as I discovered I started to softly stroke or tab on things during the day, in meetings, at dinner with relatives, or during long conversations. It keeps me calm and focused. I spent decades fiddling with things, twiddling my fingers, writing anything to keep me from overthink something else. Thanks to Emma, I have developed soft, delicate and silent ways that allow me to be able to look at someone in the eye when they speak to me.

She replied to my email very nicely and said we were all going through the same steps when it comes to ASMR. Some days, I even am thinking of making videos. Not for the views or the money – I have a job and hates attention – but because she has been talking about how therapeutic it has been for her, how good it feels to channel your energy towards something that will soothe you and others.

Reading a couple of comments on her and others’ videos, reading about ASMR, there is a common ground to all of us, something that Emma and other ASMRtists mentionned: hyper sensitivity to our surrounding. Stemming from my anxiety, I have understood that my impossibility to let go of the past, the mistakes I made, of the guilt, my inability to just let something go, to ignore what’s happening, my constant anger towards the world and the unfairness that is the pillar of human society, my need to take a step back in crowd situation because I feel overwhelmed…

All of it is hyper sensitivity. Day in day out, I suck up everything from everyone and everything: feelings, energy, reactions, consequences, interactions without having learnt how or have the time to process them properly and that’s what can keep me awake all night. Once all are gone, my brain finally finds the time to analyse them, to make sense of them and to encourage me to find a way to deal with them but by that time, I am exhausted and the last thing I want is to have to dissect the world and reflect upon my place in it.

This is where Emma and ASMR comes in. So I can sleep then think about the world the next day and write posts for my blog – that I can never bloody finish and post!

Life hack: How to not drink and not be a “killjoy”

The hack: Ask for a glass of alcohol and don’t drink it.

Sounds too good to be true, I know. Hear me out.

This is one the biggest problem when one does not drink alcohol like I do:

“Man, another killjoy who doesn’t want to take part! What’s all the fuss about again?! Why can’t you just drink what we all drink?
-I was asked and I just say ‘water’…
-Well, here is a beer and shut up, you buzz-kill!”

I do drink but only on very special occasions like a glass of champagne for Christmas but having an obsessive personality, I know that if I start drinking for pleasure, I will never be able to stop. I have enough problems as it is with binge eating.

So when asked what I want, I do say water and the hosts, probably, feeling they are failing at…hosting go ballistic.

“Really? Not some wine? Come one, just a glass? No? What about a beer? Even less?! Why? What do you mean? You don’t like beer?…Really?…I don’t think it’s vulgar to drink beer, you know. Look, my friend’s a very nice person. She is in money too and she likes a beer. That doesn’t make her vulgar, does it? What, you sure?! Just water? I only have tab water, you know. It’s fine…really? You really sure? Okay, then…It’s your life after all!”

Sounds familiar to non-drinkers?

And that was just the answer to “Do you want anything to drink?” two minutes after you arrived…There is then a whole evening or whatever when people are constantly asking you if you are sure you don’t want a sip. “Just a sip, come on”.

Countless are the questions as to why you don’t drink, to which you don’t really answer because you know they are not genuine questions but really doors the others are waiting to blow up, cracks they are trying to find in the wall to “prove you wrong” on whatever reasons you have to not drink.

I want to point out clearly that to this moment, you have not done anything wrong. You have not lost your cool and told anyone to “Back off, it’s just some fucking water! Deal with it!”

You haven’t brought up the only-water-drinking topic yourself and you avoid talking about it altogether, frankly. You have just asked for a glass of water which is the least costly thing provided that evening. Mostly you have never pointed out to all the others downing bottles after bottles that not only are you not making any comments on the copious amount of poison they are drinking and how annoying they are getting because of it, but you also have not tried to convince them to live the way you do. You are not here to preach the healthy-living and you never will. You just drink water.

Yet, the worst part is to come: the toast. You raise your glass and everyone is looking at the content of it like it’s more important than the person who is toasted or their speech. No, what matters is that you faked it. A real toast is with alcohol. Toasting with water is like showing up to a party with a Weight Watchers casserole – That, I do disapprove of! Get a proper cake! I don’t drink but I do eat.

Then you are branded various names from “the non-drinker” to “the killjoy” because God knows only alcohol makes anything interesting.

In the face of it, you have three types of people:

-The ones who understand and don’t mind, they always have a bottle of water ready for you. They are respectful and nice, and don’t make a fuss about it. They don’t draw attention to it, just serve you and say with a smile “So what, you don’t drink…More for us.” Yes, thank you! But that’s the very minority and they don’t have a special name for you, just your actual name.

-The ones who like to label you the ‘non-drinker’ and think it’s funny to ask every-freaking-time what you are drinking. They are hoping they will, one day, get you to crack and will be the first to hear you ask for some alcohol. They are the peer-pressure ones. The more they will ask, the more chances you will eventually give up and give in. This is the reasoning behind it and the nickname that clearly dissociates you from the rest of the group but “in a nice way.”

-Finally, the Type-III people to fear like diabetes, are the beer-pressures ones. The bullies, the idiots, the ones who…nevermind. In a nutshell, they think you don’t belong because you don’t drink and there is nothing “funny” in their way. “Nope, can’t sit there unless you have a drink. A real one…” I always leave then but I am a horse’s arse. Unfortunately, not everyone has my stubbornness and my absolute disregard for what such people think of me.

So my mother, who never drinks and tends to dislike, as I do, fruit juices from the shops because they are indeed very sugary, has comes up with a hack for non-drinkers to be left alone: ask for a drink but just don’t drink it, she explains. People don’t really pay attention unless a glass is empty or not filled with what they expect at a certain time, in that case: alcohol. Just fill up a glass with alcohol, keep it close and people will leave you alone.

God, the length we have to reach to be left in peace with just some water! Not just that but I was very dubious of the reasoning. It sounded good on paper but the reality is always quite different. Until a couple of days ago when I went to a friend’s birthday. She is the second type of people aforementioned and despite having actually lived with her for a couple of months, she still asks me every time if I want a drink of alcohol. She always laughs when asking. I fake laugh. Maybe I am not that much of a horse’s arse…

So the last time, I said yes and helped myself of a double whiskey. She jumped on her camera and filmed me “to show everyone that she succeeded.” Deary me, little did she know that the hack was to not drink it and I didn’t. It stayed in front of me, untouched for the whole evening and my mother was right, once I had that glass poured and set when I sat, all was well. I toasted “properly” and everytime people were looking, I had a glass of whiskey ready to be drunk. Nothing to report.

It truly works, it’s amazing! People are genuinely leaving you in peace and all you have to do is use that glass full of alcohol everytime needed without drinking a drop of it.

Now, nothing is full-proof of course, and you can still encounter some situations where the Type-III persons, the beer-pressures, are going to be a pain in the arse:

1. “But you have not drunk any of it”. Assure them that you did. Which is why it is essential to not ask for a glass of wine or a beer in the first place but rather a very strong alcohol like a double whiskey, double vodka or any liqueur would do as long as you can easily justify the “slower-drinking” of it. If they force you to prove you are drinking it, then thou shall finally snap and tell them off as you see fit.

2. The thirst. You are not drinking the glass so you will indeed get thirsty and eventually ask for some water anyway. There will be reactions to your wanting water when you have not yet finished your drink. Fear no more and just point out that you don’t really fare well with alcohol so the water is to prevent the hang-over the next day. It is proven that eating and drinking water while consuming alcohol are helping the decrease the risk of hang-over as the body can draw fluids and function thanks to various sources. Not just poison from fermented sugar.

As I said, it seems far-fetched to just be left in peace when wanting to only water but it does make your life much easier and more pleasant during social events.

Everyday anxiety and agoraphobia.

For the first 29 years of my life, I heard people say that I was a very anxious person but I never knew what it meant for I had never known anything else than chronic anxiety. It’s also never really talked about as it has been considered as one of these “women issues”, the psychological problems they pretend to have whereas “real men have real (physical) suffering”.

Throughout the first 29 years of my life, I developed mechanisms to control it but never realised what they were as such. I have been doing many things on a daily basis, things that never feel forced or difficult because I chose to do them, I looked at the situation of discomfort or down right panic and found ways to go around and about them.

It’s by watching a video on Youtube (link below) from someone who is as anxious as I am that I finally became aware of it and it was just last January, three months before my 30th birthday. It took me more than 29 years to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, to understand that all the “weird” things I do, and people never understand or are annoyed by, are all linked to one thing: my anxiety and more precisely what we also call agoraphobia.

People say it’s strange for someone like me to be a teacher, to be the person everyone looks at. Also, when I am with my friend, I quite like to be the centre of attention…as long as I dictate the proceedings. As a teacher, everyone looks at me but I direct everything and I readied myself for it. I don’t mind running the show, I know how to talk, how to act, how to entertain. I can work a crowd because I spent so long looking at myself and others that I know what people expect. I constantly analyse myself to find out how to cope and how to always remain or feel in control, as well as analysing others so I can fit my needs in.

What I can’t deal with, and where I shut down, is when the attention is directed on me when I don’t want it.

I always thought as myself and other agoraphobics as “cat people” whose aloofness is mistaken for lack of interest, lack of feelings and downright arrogance when it is just a way to deal with the anxiety of social interactions. We are not easy-going and have a lesser social need. However, it doesn’t make us anti-social just more “independent”, like they like to call cats.

We tend to dislike pretence and gushiness more than anything so sometimes we will abide by these odd rules of social interactions and try to please people, but mostly we do things our way or we don’t, and people have to please us. “I am the controlling bitch in the house now shush and submit.”

You’d think it would be easy for people to deal with us then but no. We do have some social needs which makes us very high-maintenance. Like cats who generally like to be left alone, we also have many moments when we are done with standing on the side observing and need attention. We then feel in control and need the control so we go in the middle of the room and from now on, it will have to be about us. We will run the show, pushing the overly sociable “dog people” on the side, sitting in the middle, stopping conversations and genuinely hissing if things are not going our way.

My mother, who is a “dog person”, is deeply gregarious, has a very intense, smothering social need to be with surrounded, to be loved, embraced, talked to, listened to, cared for at all time. She is easy-going, she can fake it easily, is ready to bend over backwards for anyone and she doesn’t understand any of the following mechanisms. She is convinced I am making my life a living nightmare with all these difficult things I am doing when it’s not as it’s nothing that somebody else is forcing me to do. When I tell her I can easily spend a few days without talking to anyone in person, she just dismisses it. “It’s impossible!”

Here are the “weird” mechanisms I have developed over the years:

*I love big open spaces as long as I am alone. I love sitting down and looking at the horizons in the fields, I love being on the top of the Alps and looking ahead. I love astronomy and astrophysics and looking at the infinity of the universe. Weirdly, the bigger the space is, the smaller I feel. And the smaller I feel, the more enclosed I feel, the better I feel. But it’s a feeling I need to have alone, I hate looking at the infinite universe when with people. I will enjoy the scenery but not feel anything.

*When panicking, I need a small, close, dark space or a wide open space. I would just sit in silence or talk out loud about something else, think about the world and its issues…

*I never go to the toilets but always ask where they are when invited somewhere in case I need to pretend to go if I feel discomfort during dinner or a conversation with many people. I usually stay for a couple of minutes and just focus on the silence and the dark.

*In the absence of room, I also have been writing since I was 10-12 and greated a whole alternative universe that helped me escape the extreme bullying I was victim of. It grew with the years because this is where I lock myself into when facing with insecurities outside my house. I never share this world with anyone.

*When crossing the road, if I see a car coming, I stop before the crossing and pretend to be busy so the car does not have to stop and I don’t have to cross in front of it. If there are a lot of cars coming, I will carry on walking until the next crossing then walk back on the pavement across the street.

*I cannot walk in the streets or in the shops or any crowed place, be in the library or the museum alone without listening to music. I need to wear a headset to make obvious to people who always seem to want to talk to me and it needs to be loud enough for me to block the noise from the outside.

*This is also why I loathe cinemas because I cannot isolate myself with music. In the restaurant, I tend to go for the table in the corner or outside.

*I avoid eye contact with strangers during meetings and trainings but always maintain it with the speaker until he/she looks away. They usually like that and think I am the most attentive person in the room.

*In a classroom, a meeting, a training, a festive occasion, when volunteers are encouraged to talk about anything, or give an opinion, I have always been the first one to speak up for the past 15 years. I understood that people who mock are actually trying to hide their deep self-consciousness and feeling of inferiority. I understood that when you’re the first one to go, you’ll be setting the tone. Everyone else will be judged against you when you can now just relax because you had your go already.

*As I said, I never actually go to the toilets because I taught my body to only need the toilets in the morning and the evening when at home because I can never go anywhere else. Even when desperate, it will not…work.

*I am 30 minutes early – at least – everywhere I have an appointment or am invited to in case there is a problem even if it means waiting a few yards away in the nearest bus shelter for the exact time. I don’t mind, I always have a book to read or things to do. That’s because I know I will not be able to deal with being the last one to arrive, having to go to everyone in risk of being rude, and say Hello to everyone who is already here. I need to be the first one so people come to me.

*The only moment where I never panic or feel anxious is when I suck my thumb.

*Up to 14, I never fell asleep without listening to music or recorded radio and rocking myself in my bed. Today, I never go to sleep without my laptop where I have a selection of random videos I leave to play hushly so I can fall asleep because once in bed, my brain seems to be wanting to review every single thing I said and did wrong on my life, every conversation where I could not say what I wanted, and develop endless theories and ideologies to make the world a better place. The voices on the videos are helping distract him – so I like t think.

*I cannot stand people who do not pay attention and make others wait because I always look at and notice and prepare everything in advance. When the underground comes to my station, I stand up at the announcement because I know that if I wait, I will be getting off against the tide of getting in. Also through the windows, I already look at the signs to know where to go so I don’t just stand there in the middle.

*Public transport, I am always 30 to 60 minutes early anywhere so I can set up properly because:

If I arrived on the platform at the same time of any kind of rail transport or any new station, I will not go in it, although I could. Rather I will stand back, observe where most people are going and position myself where the emptiest coach was.

In stations I know, I have learnt where the emptiest coaches are and the ones closer to the exit so I don’t have to be in the crowd so I always position myself at the same place everytime. I also have back-up in case there are too many people.

For the buses, I do the same and observe where the bus is stopping so I can wait exactly where the doors are opening and choose a seat where I have to interact with strangers the least.

I need to settle down so I am ready to get the bus where I can sit for once, even if the journey is 1 hour longer, than having to change trains three times.

If I feel I cannot deal with the public transport for whatever reasons, I am prepared to spent money in a taxi, not matter how expensive it may be. Again, I don’t mind, I read the seven Harry Potter books in two months in the bus.

All of the above are good news, it shows it gets better because, as I cannot afford the £80/hour psychiatrist at the moment, there are mechanisms I have developed that help me to cope. And since they are mechanism, I don’t think about them anymore. They have become as natural as tying my laces.

It used to be really bad. In highschool, I was so anxious about going to the canteen that I spent three years eating only when coming back home. That’s three years of having to work hard between 8.15am and 5:30 or even 6:30pm without having eaten or drunk anything. Also I was so anxious about public transport that I was walking more than 3 kilometres morning and night instead of taking the bus for 5-10 minutes.

The first year, people kept asking me why I would not go to the canteen , thought I was poor and started buying me food. I couldn’t take it anymore so I left the school at lunch, sat in the nearby cemetery for the whole lunchbreak and would come back after, saying I went home. I chose the cemetery because I knew it was the only place the students, the ones who actually went home for lunch, would never wander in.

It took me almost three decades to understand that all of it was linked to the same disorder. It gets better.

Now that I know, I am also starting to understand many things as to why I am like this. The extreme bullying I have had to go through between 10 and 16 is one the main reason, I know now. It gets better.

The video that helped me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty74fmcNUFE