ARC Blog

Guest Post: Natural Born Worrier

OCD is an anxiety disorder and an anxious temperament can make you more vulnerable to developing the condition. I’ve always been a worrier, and worrying – and the uncertainty that provokes it – contribute to my need for control. The more I can control, the calmer I feel.

I realize that always being anxious is an incomprehensible state of being for those of you who aren’t born worriers, and who only have sleepless nights when you really have something to worry about.

For those of us for whom worrying is like breathing, not worrying is equally incomprehensible.

My anxiety takes many different forms: from mulling over unpleasant incidents and worrying about a challenge to be faced, to imagining full-scale disaster and tragedy, often on the basis of very little.

I once found a lump in my left forearm while bathing; a definite lump, no figment of a hypochondriac’s imagination. By the time I’d finished my bath, I’d projected forward to a diagnosis of cancer and the amputation of my arm, I’d learnt to write again with my right hand and entered the Paralymics as a one-armed archer. All in the space of 10 minutes. A visit to the doctor revealed that it was a harmless cyst.

Likewise, my boyfriend and I, who live in separate flats, speak every night at 10pm. If he doesn’t pick up, or return my message within seconds, I don’t assume that he’s on his mobile, or lost track of time in the bath, I conclude that he’s dead from an ruptured aneurysm. In the two minutes between leaving my message and him calling me back, I’ve buried him, grieved for him and found a new partner.

And all the time I’m worrying, I’m experiencing the physical effects of anxiety, as well as the mental and emotional ones. Depending on the level of worry, this can include a churning stomach, racing heart or dizziness. It’s a draining way to live.

When I’m particularly anxious, I’m driven into a frenzy of ordering.

My boyfriend called late one evening to say that the electricity had gone off in his flat. My concern as to the implications for him – his freezer defrosting, the hassle of getting in an electrician, the cost of repairs etc – sent me spinning off around my own flat to check that everything was in its place. Ordering created an illusion of control in a situation where I was, in fact, more or less helpless. It was only when he texted a little later to say the power had come back on of its own accord, that I could let go of my OCD comfort blanket.

Someone once said to me ‘Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.’ My OCD compulsions are much the same.

Are you a worrier? If so, how do you manage your anxiety?

Helen Barbour is a writer based in North London. Her debut novelThe A to Z of Normal, is now available as an ebook and paperback. “Natural Born Worrier” is from Helen’s blog, The Reluctant Perfectionist: life as a writer with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Copyright © 2013. It has been reposted by permission of the author.
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