7 Mar 2017

Making anxiety more than a disorder

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:07 pm on 7 March 2017

Sarah Wilson, author of two wildly successful books about quitting sugar, has struggled most of her life with something much more difficult to tame: anxiety. 

Diagnosed as a teenager, she says there were times when it was so bad, she contemplated taking her own life. 

In her new book, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, she writes about what triggers her anxiety, and treatments that have helped her.

Author, Sarah Wilson

Author, Sarah Wilson Photo: supplied

She told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan the book is not a memoir, but it is her personal journey.

“I go and investigate all of this, share what has worked for me and invite people to go on their own journey.”

She says she wanted to reshape the conversation around anxiety to something more productive.

“So little is known about it and so little is understood.”

Wilson says anxiety has existed throughout the ages for a reason.

“Getting to the bottom of what that reason is, is actually really comforting, because you suddenly go ‘ah there’s a reason to it… there’s a purpose.”

She says in some ways, it’s actually a greater purpose, or at least a very good purpose.

“It has existed to basically protect us, but it’s also existed to take us beyond the every day.”

She says numerous world leaders and great creative minds have had anxiety.

“We’ve got to kind of ask ‘is there a pattern here? Is there a reason to it being more than a disorder?”

She says anxiety and depression are very similar, but depression tends to be about fear of the past, whereas anxiety is this fear of the future.

“Anxiety in and around what may happen.”

Wilson says stressful things, such as speaking to 3000 people or appearing on live television don’t make her stressed, but often smaller things do.

“My good friend… said to me ‘stressful things don’t make you stressed, being a human being makes you stressed.”

She says in some ways she seeks out ‘true’ stressful situations, such as mountain biking and hitchhiking.

“I do put myself out on a limb, to sort of almost test.

“It reminds me that I’m OK with certain stress, that I kind of feel a little bit normal.”

She says one of the few times in her life when she has lived without fear was when all her belongings were stolen while she was overseas.

“I was in Nice and I hitched a train to Paris and I lived on the streets of Paris for two weeks, with no money literally the clothes on my back, nothing else.

“It was one of the few times that I was not anxious, because there was nothing to plan, I just had to be in the moment.”

Wilson says everyday fear plants people ‘in the moment’ as anxiety and depression don’t exist in the present.

“An anxiety episode usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes, if you can remember that then you won’t get anxious about being anxious.”

She says there are positives to being anxious and she wouldn’t change it if she had the choice, as it’s propelled her to do some great things.

“I don’t seek happiness, happiness is wonderful, but I probably prefer richness.

“I want a life of character, I want a meaningful life, you know, that’s the kind of stuff that propels me.”

She says her anxiety has taken her to places where she’s able to explore that, including creating her ‘I Quit Sugar’ books.

“Anxiety is the necessary kind of journey of trajectory that we have to do, to get to the point where we go, ‘ah, I get it now, I know what this mortal coil is about.”

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