“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness”
I’ve only ever experienced madness twice.
Once when I was 21 and at University, and once last week.
On both occasions this ‘madness’ lasted for less than 24 hours and each time it was caused by a fever.
The fever was so severe that my brain functioning was affected to the point where my thoughts became distorted beyond reason.
At the time they felt true and very real, but looking back afterwards it was clear they were not at all logical.
They were not the thoughts of a sound mind.
I’ve only ever thought I was going mad once.
However, this lasted for many months and was not caused by any fever or illness.
This was caused by my anxiety and it made me feel like I was slowly losing my mind and going insane.
I started to worry everyday that something was wrong and that eventually I’d end up in a mental institution.
Thankfully I didn’t, and now I no longer have those thoughts or worry that I ever will.
Yet this experience felt much worse than the temporary feelings of madness when I was ill and it’s something many anxiety sufferers go through, especially in the beginning.
So today we are going to be looking at why this happens, what it means and why you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
My recent brush with madness
Last Wednesday I went to bed feeling pretty rough.
I’d had a cold for a couple of days but now I’d started to feel really under the weather.
I awoke in the middle of the night and felt terrible.
I was hot and sweating one moment and then cold and shaking the next.
Just getting out of bed to get some water took and almighty effort and then as I tried to get back to sleep again the strange thoughts began.
I don’t remember much of them, but I do remember they were not just weird, but they made no logical sense at all.
The only part I do vaguely remember was thinking that if I was part of the mast of an old pirate ship which was going to be attacked by Russian soldiers the best thing I could do to help was to bite off as much of the rigging and sails as possible.
I have no idea why I thought this or what it would do to help, but I did.
I know it sounds like some crazy dream, but it definitely wasn’t, I was awake.
These thoughts went on for many hours as I drifted in and out of consciousness, but it took the rest of the next day until my mind started to feel like it was slowly returning back to normal again.
The fact was that the whole time I was in this state I didn’t worry or care about my sanity, my brain was in not fit state to do so.
A few days later this got me thinking.
Why had I, 9 years ago, when my anxiety was at its height, feared for my sanity when my thoughts had never been as crazy as they had a few nights before?
Why anxiety can make you feel like your losing your mind
Anxiety is a master of trickery and adept at deception.
It is not only able to make you believe things which are not true, but the thoughts and sensations it causes only magnifies your belief in these lies, which only fuels your anxiety further.
It’s a self perpetuating system and it thrives off your new found ability to catastrophize.
When you first become anxious you have very little idea what is happening to you.
Why would you?
It’s not something you’ve ever gone through before.
As the anxiety continues it doesn’t take long for you to come to a very scary conclusion, ‘something is wrong with my brain’.
Once you believe something is wrong you begin to fear the worst, then deep inside you utter that terrible thought:
I’m going mad, I’m losing my mind and will end up insane.
The first time you think those thoughts are a gut wrenching, mind numbing experience.
Anxiety has just pulled off one of it’s biggest tricks, now all it need is a little more deception to make sure you swallow it. Hook, line and sinker.
So what does it do?
It uses the number one tactic for controlling human beings, it uses fear against you.
This fear only raises your anxiety further which in turn only helps provide you with even more evidence to support your new theory of madness, and the more you look for it, the more you believe it.
It’s a truly frightening experience, no one wants to end up going insane.
You’d rather lose your legs than your mind, because without it there is no hope of having a life.
It’s as if in one swift motion your whole world has been turned upside down.
So if you’re currently feeling this way, I’m here with one very clear message:
You’re going to be ok.
Let me explain why.
Why anxiety cannot cause madness
People who go mad do so because they lose contact with reality and the world around them.
Their thoughts become completely irrational and of no logical sense because they are no longer within the realms of their conscience.
Anxiety works in a completely different way.
Those who are anxious are too in contact with reality and the world around them.
They are constantly checking themselves, the world around them, how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
When you are in this state you will not go crazy because by having thoughts about madness it means you are hyper connected to reality, not stepping away from it.
These thoughts can only be made by a sane person, no mad person fears for their sanity.
Just because you can have these thoughts doesn’t make it true, in fact it makes it’s the opposite.
This doesn’t just work with thoughts of insanity, but with any of the disturbing and irrational thoughts you may have.
The rule is simple, even if your thoughts are not rational, as long as they are logical then you are completely sane.
It may be completely irrational to spend hours each day worrying about your sanity, but it is logically possible to go mad, some people do.
But that doesn’t mean you will, again, it actually means you are still very much sane, it’s just you no longer want to have these thoughts.
Here’s a disturbing thought I used to have.
When driving along in my car along I’d start to think about what would happen if I let go of the steering wheel, or if I purposely drove the car off the road and into a wall or tree.
Now I didn’t like these thoughts, I didn’t want to have them and to keep having them was irrational. However, as much as I would never do it, they were logical, I could crash my car if I wanted to.
Of course I never did and that’s because I knew what would happen. I wasn’t crazy, despite worrying that I was.
Now lets compare that with the possible thoughts of a crazy person.
A crazy person may believe that they must tell everyone they meet that not all sparrows are the same size, that they believe it is very important that everyone knows this.
A crazy person may believe that if they don’t break at least 3 plates a day they will be visited by a goblin called Jim who will steal all their underwear.
These thoughts are not only irrational, but they are completely illogical too.
They either make no sense, or they cannot happen.
This clear distinction is one you must understand to realise that just because anxiety has warped your thinking and made you worry about things you know you shouldn’t worry about, you will not end up going mad.
You are only concerned for your sanity because you have noticed that anxiety has changed they way you think.
You feel different and you want an answer.
You then catastrophize this to it being the onset of madness, when you couldn’t be further from the truth.
What can you do to help?
For me, more than anything, it was time which helped.
After many months of thinking this way I began to see that I was not getting worse, I was not going mad.
No one ever commented about my sanity or my behaviour, nothing I said or did was that of a mad person.
Eventually I just gave up caring, because I knew that if it hadn’t happened by now it never would.
I was fine and my logical mind was able to see and believe that I was only feeling this way because of my fear of it.
9 years later and I am just as sane as I’ve ever been and now those thoughts do not even cross my mind.
I still know there is a very very small chance I could go mad at some point, but it doesn’t bother me.
Why rid today of it’s joy to worry about something which is so unlikely to ever happen?
Even if it did, so what, there’s very little chance you could do anything about it and if you did go mad you certainly wouldn’t be worrying about it.
You’d be too busy telling everyone about the sparrows.
So first understand that everyone at some point has worried for their sanity, but most people just brush it off as irrational thinking and carry on about their day.
Only those with anxiety keep worrying about it and by doing so increase their anxiety and the need to worry about it more.
Instead focus on the following:
- Sleeping well, eating well and get a good amount of exercise.
- Keeping busy and have a passion, a mission in life which you want to pursue – this helps focus your mind on something altogether more important.
- Stopping caring about your sanity, just let it go. Once you remove the stress of anxiety and your worries, your mind will take care of itself, give it that rest it needs to heal.
- Put a stop clock on it as I did. After almost 6 months of feeling this way I knew it was not getting any worse, so I just decided to forget it and move on. You can do the same.
You only fear for your sanity because you fear for your sanity.
It’s sounds ridiculous when you say that out loud, yet all across the world people feel this way.
It can take a little time to grasp, to truly believe it.
But you must, and take it from me, it’s the truth.
Stop giving it the power it needs to exist and use your energy to get on with your life.
The next time you’re feeling anxious and start to feel like your losing your mind come back and re-read this post.
Let it remind you that it is caused by nothing but your anxiety and that you have a choice.
Continue trusting your anxiety, or believe what I am saying.
The first option won’t lead to madness, but don’t expect much else to change.
The second option however, will mean you don’t have to continue feeling this way.
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