From the title you probably already get the main gist of what this post is going to be / is about. I have never kept my anxiety a secret, nor have I ever hid it from anyone purposely. In fact, I am very open about that aspect of my life and I see my anxiety as a part of me growing up and trying to find myself in this big world. Sure, my anxiety makes situations ten times harder than they have to be, and I wish it didn’t exist, but it does. And I’d rather use my experience of my own mental illness to make others aware of how serious mental illnesses are and to try to reach out and relate to people who are in the same position and share the same anxious experiences as me. So here it is. Here is my experience of living with anxiety and in no shape or form am I dramatising my experience. As open as I am with my anxiety, I still get scared over the thought of writing about it on this blog over the fear of being judged, people not believing me etc; and if you don’t, that’s totally up to you. But, I will NOT let people stop me from speaking out about mental health issues because I will NOT let the stigma that surrounds it be legitimised.
Mental illness: A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day.
Often even saying the word, “mental illness” fills people with wrong misconceptions. A person who’s constantly sad. A person who is ‘depressing.’ A person who is “crazy or going mad.” But it’s funny how all those misconceptions make you blind and ignorant to a problem which exists in a large number of our own society. The fact is, most people who live with mental illnesses aren’t ‘depressive.’ Most of the people I know who suffer from it, are some of the strongest, bravest and most inspiring people I have ever met. It takes a lot of courage to battle your own mind and to be faced with ‘monsters’ daily, so how can that be someone going crazy or loosing it? The simple answer is, it’s not. Even though I personally battle with anxiety, I still like to regard myself as a pretty positive and happy person who just wants to shed some light on this dark world. Nothing, not even my anxiety, will ever change that.
To be completely honest, I was never aware fully of what was happening to me when my anxiety first became serious. I had sudden feelings of hopelessness, of not being good enough, and just being mentally drained. Seen as I was around 15 when I started experiencing these overwhelming feelings, at first I put it down to a normal and emotional reaction to growing up and hormonal changes, only to find out nearly three years later that that’s certainly not the case. At first, I would cry for no apparent reason and stay up until the early hours of the morning worrying about things that weren’t true, or that didn’t matter. Now, for a fifteen year old who’s trying to find herself and grow into her own changing body, this was all such a confusing and utterly scary situation to be in. I soon realised that it wasn’t normal. That crying over not being good enough at 3am in the morning isn’t NORMAL.
Fast forward over two years, going to college counselling and being told by friends that something needs to be sorted, I feel kind of grateful that I’m getting used to understanding my feelings and which feelings are due to my anxiety (such as not being good enough / thinking everyone hates me), and which are actually real. However, if you are a sufferer from anxiety yourself, you may understand that that is sometimes a challenging task as the line between what’s real, and what’s made up by your overactive mind, becomes extremely blurred. Take this for example: for a good three months of my life towards the end of last year, I truly believed that everyone hated me. I truly believed that my friends were only my friends because they had to be. That everyone secretly wanted to get rid of me, and that no one deserves to have me in their life because I viewed myself as a burden to them. As dark and depressing as that sounds, that is the scary reality of the tricks my own mind plays on me which I am not able to control because I believe the thoughts are real. My mind seems to blow simple situations out of proportion into something bigger that ruins me mentally.
So how do I overcome this you may ask? The simple answer is that I haven’t got there yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. To someone who hasn’t experienced mental illness struggles, you may think it is as easy as “just forgetting the thoughts” or “distracting your mind” or “why can’t you just tell yourself the thoughts aren’t real?” I’ll make the answer simple for you by using my own analogy of what a severe anxiety attack feels like. Imagine a black dark hole, and imagine you are being sucked into that hole uncontrollably. You struggle and you try to free yourself from that hole, but it just keeps sucking and eating away at you to the point where it feels like you’re drowning. Sounds cliche doesn’t it? Now imagine how utterly exhausting it must be to try to escape from a powerful dark hole that you can’t free yourself from. The black hole represents the overwhelming thoughts which personally flood my mind in anxiety attack. That’s why it makes me feel so weak and have such a lack of energy when I experience such attacks, also known as panic attacks. When you’re in that black hole, you only see black thoughts. These anxiety attacks can often be brief and last ten minutes, or can drain me all day. They’re so unpredictable, and they don’t even have a trigger. I was once with someone who was very close to me, and I just had an anxiety attack out of nowhere. I had to turn away and wouldn’t let them look at me because I was so ashamed and confused as to why I was crying and couldn’t breathe. To me, I feel like it ironically takes less energy to just let myself have an anxiety attack rather than fight it. Fighting it is like talking to a brick wall- you try to fill yourself with positivity but there’s all them “what if’s” that lurk behind in your mind.
I feel like having an anxiety attack is a very personal experience. Some people have anxiety over being scared about dying, others such as me, have anxiety attacks over people in my life; over them leaving me, over them not wanting me anymore, over me simply not being good enough even though I try so hard to please everyone and put everyone else in my life whom I care about before myself. The whole concept of what anxiety is becomes so mentally draining.
A couple of days ago on Twitter, I wrote a tweet about what it’s like
#GrowingUpWithAnxiety in which I got such amazing feedback from people who told me that they have had similar experiences to mine. Considering I have been made to feel like I’m “loosing it” by people when I’ve been having an anxiety attack, or once been told that “not everyone sits around and thinks sad things” like I apparently do, it was uplifting and such a confidence boost to know that I am not alone. In my post, I explained that anxiety was:
“More than being uncomfortable in public. That’s one of the most minor parts to my anxiety. It’s having panic attacks CONSTANTLY about people leaving me. It’s about being worried about being alone, pushing people away AND THEN ending up alone because of the worry. It’s ruining relationships because you can’t possibly be good enough. It’s having a panic attack in college for no reason whatsoever. It’s feeling so mentally drained that you physically can’t leave your bed and have to occupy your mind. It’s pacing round your room at 3am in the morning so you stop over thinking things that aren’t true. It’s people thinking you’re in a bad mood, when you’re just having an off day. It’s not being able to control your mind and it’s scary as HELL.”
My anxiety is a constant linger, like a bad smell that won’t leave your shoe. It makes me question my worth in relationships, in friendships, and makes me question who I am. Imagine constantly believing that no one could possibly want you around, even though you know deep down that’s not true because I have some of the most amazing and supportive people around me. But that’s just the thing, I know what I am experiencing isn’t real deep down, but I’m filled with “what if it is.” I need to live in constant reassurance by the people around me that they’re not going to leave my life, that they’re not going to get bored of me, because it’s a thought that haunts me every day. To someone who does not understand or deal with any type of mental illness, you may label my thoughts and feelings as being “irrational,” which of course they are to some extent. But what people fail to realise when they encounter my anxiety attacks on a rare basis, is that those thoughts and feelings are completely rational to me. They eat me up inside, and they spit me out into an emotional, drained wreck.
Now, I know when a lot of people hear the word “anxiety” they automatically think of the connotations that it has to social anxiety, and being scared to go out in public, which I also have to deal with. Two of my biggest fears when it comes to my social anxiety is either ordering food, or talking on the phone. The thought of physically having to order food on my own or talk to someone on the phone, even a relative, makes me feel physically sick. There has been times when I have had to force myself to talk to someone on the phone, and before the phone call I just broke down crying with fear. I will never understand how something so little and simple works me up so much. I don’t want to be scared of these things, but once again my mind is filled with “what if I say the wrong thing?” “/ “what if I mess up and the person doesn’t understand what I’m saying?” / “what if they don’t have the food I want in stock?” / “what if I can’t hear what they’re saying on the phone and have to say ‘what’ a thousand times and look like an idiot?” I guess I’m scared of messing up, and I’m scared and ashamed of embarrassment. Overall however, I do aim to force and make myself be in situations which makes me uncomfortable… but hey, if I’m having a really off day and can’t physically order my own food, don’t think I’m being lazy by asking you to do it for me, help a girl out and save me from nearly having a panic attack in front of the cash desk.
The fact is, living with anxiety is hard, and more than anything… scary. I sometimes sit there and imagine a life with no worries. A life in which I don’t mess relationships up because I don’t think I’m good enough, and then seem ‘clingy’ because I need constant reassurance. A life in which I can go into a shop and hand in my cv without my hands shaking and wanting to throw up there and then. A life where I constantly feel happy and have no worries. But my anxiety will always be there. It’s just how I deal with it that’s the issue. The day I get to that stage where I can not constantly question people’s perception of me, and where I feel confident in public will be the most liberating day of my life. For now, I’m learning. I’m working hard. If I feel an anxiety attack coming, I take a stand and try my best to reject the feelings. However, I can’t sit there and say I haven’t had an anxiety attack this past week, because I have. Sometimes it’s too hard to give in. But it’s a process, just like everything else.
To anyone that has been on the receiving end of one of my anxiety attacks, whether it was me isolating myself from you temporarily, or me being ‘off’ on one of my bad days, I do apologise but I hope this post has made you realise the extents my mind reaches, and anyone else for that matter. If you’re reading this post, and you’re not necessarily an anxiety sufferer yourself, hug whoever may be feeling anxious. Tell them everything’s okay. Tell them you’re there for them, and you’re not going to leave. Whether it’s a friend, partner or family member- I promise you that they will appreciate that more than anything.
More than anything though, I hope this post helps other people who suffer from anxiety know that they’re not alone. You’re not mad. You’re not irrational. You cannot be held responsible for your mind playing tricks on you and you’re anxious feelings are NOT your fault. I truly believe it’s time that the world was more accepting towards mental health issues, rather than hiding behind the stigma which surrounds it. Do you realise that in 2013, there were 8.2 million recorded cases of anxiety in the UK, and it is estimated that 1 in 4 people in England alone will experience a mental health problem in any year of their life? This is a serious issue which needs to be educated upon, addressed and more widely accepted. Don’t be that person who ignores someone with a mental health problem which needs your help. Be there. Be strong. Keep fighting. You can do this. You have to have the rain to see the rainbow.
If ever you need anyone to talk to about any factors I have mentioned in my blog post above, feel free to comment below this post or you can message me here. I don’t want you to suffer alone, feel free to message me any time; no matter how irrational it may seem. Trust me, I’ve probably been there.
“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.” – Guy Finley
Love & happiness always,
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