Before you start reading I want to warn you that I will be discussing my symptoms and experiences in a fair bit of detail- if this could be an issue for you then I’d advise you to give this post a miss. I totally understand. I’m sure you didn’t think a post titled ‘My Anxiety Story’ was going to be all sunshine and rainbows but I feel it fair to drop a warning I here for good measure. My experiences are by no means the worst out there, but I did feel uneasy at points writing this. Sigh. Also, everything here is based on my own unique experiences, and while I would like to help others by sharing my experiences I really only speak from my perspective. If you need more thorough help and advice you should speak to a professional.
Anyway, I’m going to dive into the post now!
One of the things I’m keen to do on this blog is to be open and honest about my mental health- I really want to do my bit to work to increase the stigma surrounding mental health issues! I’ve discussed my experiences on medication on my previous blog but I actually wanted to be a bit more open about my experience in the hopes it will help at least one person who may be struggling.
I can’t really say when it started, or why. I know I’ve always been an anxious person- I remember when I was very young and the Teletubbies was the ‘it’ show for kids aged 1-3 there was a segment where a bear and lion play hide-and-seek and I was terrified of the bear (ironic as it was the lion that was supposed to be scary! Btw, if you remember watching this please drop it in the comments… I feel like I’m the only one who’s seen it!). I’d run screaming from the room if there was even the slightest possibility they might emerge on my TV. That’s probably one of my earliest memory of irrational fear, but sadly it’s one of many. My childhood was not always great, which I won’t go into in this post, but I think that this just reinforced my anxiety, making it into even more of an issue.
What does anxiety feel like for me?
Firstly, I think the most important thing to remember is that everyone experiences anxiety differently. Personally, because I’d never experienced a panic attack and I was able to attend college regularly I dismissed my anxiety. I didn’t think I was ill, that I could benefit from help, even though there was lots that was wrong. These are some of the other things that held me back and made me feel like crap:
Mundane, everyday tasks that most people wouldn’t even think twice about doing filled me with total dread. If I could avoid doing them entirely I would. If not, then I’d try and put them off for as long as I possibly could.
I was too often haunted by an ominous feeling, like something was wrong but I didn’t know what, though I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something very bad was going to happen. I don’t think I’d ever done something wrong, and that bad thing that I was certain was going to happen never did.
I could never properly relax. Sometimes it was because of this ominous feeling , or sometimes it was because my head was just so… full. Full of thoughts and worries about things I knew I needed to do and things that weren’t getting done at that moment.
I’d avoid putting myself out there as much as possible as I was so afraid of rejection. I’d distance myself from people because I was scared about how they’d treat me. When it came to applying to university I held back (stupidly) because I was afraid of being rejected from a better university.
If there was something that was actively worrying me I’d be unable to stop thinking about it. in fact, it was often pretty much impossible to switch my brain off, there were always thoughts flying around my head.
Obsessively checking over plans to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything (and still kind of worrying that I might ave done anyway).
I’d constantly agonise over the worst case scenario in any situation becoming true. And anything worth worrying about I worried about beyond what could be considered rational.
I’d be convinced that near impossible situations would come true (and, of course, I would worry relentlessly about them!).
The most distressing were the crying spells, which could be uncontrollable and overwhelming. That’s all I’ll say about them, they were unpleasant and I don’t want. to write too much more about them.
Because I didn’t believe I was actually suffering with anxiety I endured these symptoms for a while. Eventually, after briefly mentioning it to my GP I tried the NHS’ Talking Therapies service, which basically consisted of 4-6 weekly or fortnightly phone calls where you work through whatever you need to. It’s based around CBT, using these techniques to help the individual to manage their condition. I found it somewhat helpful, and I think its great that it’s available, but at the same time, it wasn’t quite thorough enough- I feel like I needed more appointments, plus the fact that it was conducted over the phone made me feel distanced from the therapist (I also hate talking on the phone, which definitely didn’t help!)
I started at my current university and found that these symptoms were not only worsening but were also starting effect my ability to function well. I started out by seeing some counsellors at my university but, to be blunt, they were rubbish (one of them even told me that going to university was my choice so I essentially brought my problems on myself. Great way to help someone who’s struggling!). However, I did managed to talk to someone on the wellbeing team who was absolutely fantastic and genuinely cared about my mental health and urged me to seek help. I started by seeing a doctor at the university health centre. He diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (or at least I think he did… he was super vague and unhelpful) but left me to it.
A couple of months later I visited my GP at hoe who decided that it would be best for me to try taking medication to control my symptoms, and I was prescribed Sertraline (50mg). This was December 2016, and I’m actually still taking it. Other than a few crappy side effects when I first started taking it my experiences have been largely positive and it has really helped me to control my symptoms. I’ve already written about it so I’m not going to go into any further detail in this post but if you want to know more you can read about my experiences here and here.
I know want to work hard on self help and self care. That’s part of the motivation for this blog- I want to try things that could help me and write posts about what worked and what didn’t. While the medication had helped lessen these symptoms some of them still exist and are still a problem for me, and I feel like the only way I can properly manage them is with effective self care.
Most importantly, I want people to be able to be open with their mental illnesses and, most importantly, to be met with compassion and understanding when they are. When your illness prevents you from doing something it’s not because you’re weak (as it seems a lot of people will believe). You’re just taking a different route to arrive at your destination. There shouldn’t be any shame surrounding mental illness and by keeping quiet about mine I feel like I’d be contributing to the stigma- I really want everyone to be able to talk about any illness they may be suffering from without having to fear and even face judgement and poor treatment.
If you believe you could possibly be suffering from anxiety (or any other mental illness for that matter) I would encourage you to go out and seek help. Talk to someone you trust, see a counsellor if one is available, and definitely talk to your doctor. And keep going, no matter how difficult it may feel (I know that these methods I’ve listed don’t always work, I’ve experienced it myself!)- you’re worth fighting for!
Well… this was not an easy post to write! I hope you found it useful in some respect! How’s your mental health journey been? I there anything in particular that has helped you managed it? Also, if you feel you need someone to talk to feel free to message me over at Twitter (@amandamd25), I’m alway happy to listen and support (though I should stress that I am in no way a professional, but I’m here if you need to vent or even if you just want a chat!).