Anxiety: keeping me safe by holding me back

I’m still in the process of reducing my anxiety meds (Effexor) so that I can have another go at ADHD meds, hopefully without the surprise seratonin syndrome this time. My first reduction (a month on 187.5mg) went really well – after the first week, I felt basically normal.

I’ve been on my second reduction (to 150mg) for a little over two weeks and it’s definitely not going as smoothly. I’m struggling more to find energy, to find motivation. Some days I feel almost normal, and then the next day I’ll struggle to get anything done at all. And although I’m nothing like the nervous wreck I was at the point that I sought medical help, the old voice of anxiety is definitely getting more audible again.

So let’s talk a bit about anxiety: my old friend, my protector, my nemesis.

Tweet from user Amy Thunig: If you stay anxious. you never have to get anxious

I don’t think I’ve actually written much yet about the intersection of anxiety and ADHD, which is surprising given how much (I now realise) that intersection has consumed my life.

I’ve always known I was worry-prone, easily stressed out, a ball of tension who needed regular attention to keep my neck and shoulders from seizing up. I got my first stress rash at age 10. Only now do I understand how much of my ability to mask my ADHD and “pass” as neurotypical was the result of – and the cause of – so much of my anxiety.

I’ve written before about how my interest-based nervous system really only responds to excitement or fear. So in trying to keep me on track, my brain generated a whole lot of extra fears.

Keep absent-mindedly losing things? Develop compulsive tics around checking where all my important items are every minute of the day. Impulsivity and just being differently-brained to most people sometimes leads to putting my foot in my mouth? Develop a fear of saying stupid things that makes sure I double-check everything I’m thinking about saying before I ever open my mouth.

See? Fixed it!

In a delightful, self-perpetuating cycle, anxiety let me fake being neurotypical, and not letting the disguise slip became a source of constant anxiety. My mask was a house of cards built on compounding fears.

Small wonder the longer I went on, the harder it got to maintain.

Tweet from user @ADHDmommas: My inner critic is an abusive asshole.

I’m still working on getting my podcast idea up and running, but it’s slow going – and the return of my anxiety is playing a big part in that.

See, anxiety is just trying to protect me – from losing my keys, from looking stupid, and of course from any kind of failure that might unmask how much of a hot mess I am on the inside.

I want to work in conservation! I said, and anxiety whispered OK, but best to stick to manual labour jobs that don’t require too much mental effort – you know your memory is terrible, and if you have to make decisions people will realise how much you don’t know.

I want to write! I said, and anxiety whispered, OK, but you know you don’t take criticism well so you’d better tie yourself up in knots double and triple checking every word to make sure it’s perfect.

(in case I need to say it, poor memory and rejection sensitivity are both ADHD in action)

Since I’ve been on the right anxiety medication, my ADHD has become much more obvious – I’m more prone to losing things again, more likely to leave the house without my shopping list or double-book myself because I forgot to check the calendar. But I’ve also been happier and more relaxed than ever before – and more willing to take chances and try to do what will make me happy, not what feels safe.

So it’s painful for me to feel the anxiety creeping back in when I think about making a podcast.

Why take a risk on something new? it whispers. Why start, when you know you never finish anything? See all those other ADHD and mental health podcasts, you’ll never make anything as good or as popular. You know you’re not very good at seeing things through – better to just stick with what you already know you can handle, so you won’t have to feel terrible when you fail.

It’s just trying to protect me – and it’s right, in a way. If I don’t try anything new, I can never fail.

It’s just, if I don’t try anything new, I can never grow either.


So I’m persevering. I have a name (shhh, it’s a secret) and some recording software, and a couple of different takes on scripts for me to work off so I’m not just a complete rambling mess. Next step is to try actually recording myself and see how that feels. That will be the real make or break – if I don’t enjoy the process of speaking into the void and then editing it into something listenable, then probably I’m genuinely better off sticking with the written word.

I hate how much of a struggle it is to do this while on reduced medication – not least because that very struggle feeds the anxiety voice telling me, This is too hard. Just give up before you can hurt yourself.

But I have to keep reminding myself that this mental state is temporary. At worst, the ADHD medication experiment will fail and I’ll stay on an Effexor dose that keeps me functional. If I’m lucky, I’ll stabilise on my new Effexor dose and maybe, with the right ADHD medication in the mix, actually get better at sticking with projects.

Whatever happens, I want to try new things. I want to take risks, and make mistakes, and grow. And that means I can’t go back to letting anxiety control my life.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
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