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Simon Orchard column: My long road back to my normal self

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A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder. Roughly characterised, that means I have excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry. It can be about

trivial things like what to have for dinner; or it can be much more serious, like worrying about which form of cancer will ultimately strike me down.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but such is the headspace of someone with anxiety. I documented my thoughts in a 2015 blog entitled My Anxious Life, which you can read at http://orch3.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/my-anxious-life.html.

This is a follow-up to that piece. I hope you enjoy my journey to a sounder mental state.

A lot has happened since I broke down in front of the Australian Kookaburras in September last year, as I announced I was leaving the programme to focus on improving my health. I won’t go into all the details, but it’d be remiss of me not to share the important bits and pieces with those that the story resonated with most.

I want to start by saying thank you to everyone who has made contact with me since My Anxious Life hit the web. The overriding sense of support was liberating, but also quite afflicting.

Why? Because I quickly realised that many are doing it tough, and most of them are doing so in silence.

I guess what this whole experience has reinforced to me is that mental illness really doesn’t discriminate.  I’ve heard the trials and tribulations of people from all walks of life over the past year.

I have no doubt that the first few months after I went public with my troubles were the most poignant of my life.

Evening after evening spent holed up in a room scrolling through heartfelt and heartbreaking  messages would make even the sternest man shed a tear or two.

Many messages detailed problems that others were dealing with, and many expressed feelings quite similar to my own. Some were really struggling. Some seemed desperately in trouble. I remember some stories in particular stopped me in my tracks.

Without trying to sound too dramatic, I feel like some of those conversations were preludes to a life or death tale. At times, I felt helpless and overawed.

Personal battle: Simon has been diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder

Personal battle: Simon has been diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder

But at other times, I felt an enormous sense of pride and appreciation. These magnanimous moments were what comforted me as I wrestled with worry, both of my own, and of others.

During conversations with other sufferers, I would refrain from offering any clinical advice. I am no psychiatrist after all. Instead, I chose to share my story, thoughts and feelings, as I felt this was the best way to connect. Most of the time, I think they just wanted someone to talk to. So I just listened, and occasionally hugged.

I become distracted in my own pursuit of improved mental health for a while by engulfing myself in the issues of others. I thought that was rather clever at the time, until I was advised that this wouldn’t help me recover. I was also told that if I was serious about getting better, I needed to start undertaking some kind of ‘therapy’.

So I quickly began several different methods of treatment. Each of which seemed to create subtle, yet extremely valuable changes to my mental state. First, on the advice of my psychiatrist, and in consultation with our Australian team doctor, I began taking a prescribed medication called Zoloft.

It’s an anti-depressant, which essentially affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety.

I was initially quite apprehensive about this method. I guess because I straightaway thought it would dull my personality. Or, in typical worst case thinking fashion, I thought I would develop some kind of killer drug dependency.   Thankfully, and predictively, neither of these outcomes occurred. It instantly seemed to calm me, even my emotions out, and helped me sleep much more soundly, which were all of enormous benefit.

And now, over a year on, I’ve recently taken an agreed break from the medication.

I found the iPhone app ‘Smiling Minds’, and I try and meditate at least once every two to three days. The series of programmes on offer have been developed by psychologists to help bring balance to people’s lives.

This practice is so calming, and once finished, a ‘smiling mind’ allows me to focus my attention on more important things. I highly recommend it.

For Christmas last year, my parents (who clearly had a finger or two on the pulse) bought me a mindfulness colouring book, which has literally had me fixated for hours at a time. I initially thought it was a bit childish, but once I’d been colouring for ten minutes, I seemed to forget about the issue that drove me to the soothing back and forth of the Derwent in the first place.

And finally, one of the best treatment methods I stumbled across was you guys, the readers. You see when I penned My Anxious Life all I really hoped was that it would reverberate around the minds of anyone who has ever been troubled by such a thing, and remind them that they are not alone.

I still have people approaching me today, thanking me for sharing, and acknowledging how much of a difference it has made in their life, or in the life of someone they love. I feel like it’s given them hope, which in turn, gives me hope.

Which is great, as all I really want to do is offer hope. Because hope can be a powerful and inspiring thing, not just for the readers of such works, but for the author as well.

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