"My anxiety is under control" - at least for the moment, which if I’m honest, I'm afraid to say too loudly just in case it comes back! I have been an anxious person for the best part of half a century - to be specific, about 40 years- since childhood! To my surprise it seems to have left me -and I'm wondering where on earth it's got to. "Anxiety" and his friends "worry" and "Low self esteem" have been at my side for so long now that it's departure has left a void of uncertainty in it's place.
1. THE REALISATION
My journey started ten years ago, when I started taking an interest in counselling. I became aware that my awful symptoms weren't down to just "shyness," but that there was actually a name for what I was fighting against.
I stumbled across this realisation while in college on an introductory counselling course (about 10 years ago). I was reading a self-help book that literally whacked me across the face it hit so many "home truths." It was a book on overcoming anxiety which documented peoples experiences of panic attacks, and how it impacted on them. It shocked me that so many accounts of other peoples' experiences were so close to my own. It showed me that I wasn't abnormal, or "crazy" and that I wasn't alone anymore.
That's the thing with anxiety - it isolates you and makes you think that you're the only person in the world feeling this way. Which is why I remember that moment so vividly - it was an acknowledgement of what I was going through and what I could do to change it.
This was THE book that started it all:
2.THE LEARNING CURVE
This was to be the start of a very painful, personal, necessary and growth filled venture! Would I have travelled it if I hadn't studied counselling? or if I knew how difficult it was going to be? would I have survived without it? Where would I be now without it? - living a "normal" life? In an even worse mental state?
It's hard to say - but I am able to relate what brought me to this point :-
I realised that my panic attacks were a "thing" and not just me being weird. I couldn't just" pull myself together."
Even though it was easier said than done there are coping mechanisms to help control anxiety's distressing symptoms.
Having a panic attack is very exhausting -the physical impact of your blood surging around your body at break-neck speed, the adrenaline preparing you for "fight or flight",the shaking, the sweats, the paralysis and the confusion. It normally took me a couple of days to recover from one only to be replaced with a fear of when the next one would strike.
However, as distressing as all this was to cope with at least I knew what I was dealing with now, and that there was (for the first light at the end of the tunnel.
Click here to find out what panic attacks are and how to learn to cope with them
3. MILESTONES ALONG THE WAY
GIVING MYSELF PERMISSION TO FEEL THIS WAY:
Now that I realised what anxiety was and how it was affecting my life, I gave myself PERMISSION to feel this way. I realised that it was ok to have a weakness and to declare it. I discovered that people, on the whole, are understanding and helpful when you ask for it.
I realised that fearing the next attack would most definitely bring on another one. In work I feared having to take people into the office and suffering a panic attack in front of them, which I generally did because I had brought one on with my anxiety. So if it happened I just told them and got someone to take over!
Trying to hide my symptoms from the people around me was also causing an increase in attacks. I felt ashamed and weak and vulnerable to ridicule if anyone discovered what was going on in my head. However, it was a relief to finally tell people!
RECOGNISING HOW MY MENTAL HEALTH AFFECTED MY PHYSICAL HEALTH
I have also broken my leg in the past - should I have tried to hide that too? How was that possible? Perhaps I should have worn long skirts or flared trousers and travelled around on a hover board. Trying to hide a mental problem is just as ridiculous as this scenario - conditions such as depression, anxiety and social phobia are just as debilitating as a physical injury or impairment and just as important to seek help for.
At my worst I wasn't going out AT ALL, couldn't even get out of bed a lot of the time, couldn't answer my phone or answer my own front door. My limbs felt like lead weights. It was a daily battle as you can't escape your own head! However, I realised that I possessed an inner strength as I have held down a job all my adult life and been as sociable as possible despite this.
DISCOVERING THAT OTHER PEOPLE FEEL THIS WAY TOO
What shocked me most of all was talking to friends and discovering that the loud, full of personality, "notice when they walk into a room" types could also suffer with the same things I was battling with on a daily basis. They didn't look anxious or depressed, nothing to illustrate their inner turmoil, but were actually having the same fears as I was.
This went a long way towards my realisation that I was not alone. The fact that "anyone" could be fighting mental health issues was a total revelation to me - made me seem more "normal" in my eyes.
4. TO THE READER OF THIS BLOG
THERE IS HOPE
Whatever you're struggling with at the moment, I would like you to know that it won't always be this way. It will get better! You've survived up until today with this, and you're now researching the issue to find out more about how to help yourself.
Seek all the help you can - maybe visit your GP and talk to him/her about how you're feeling. They can make referrals to appropriate help - there is so much out there that you may not be even aware of.
Create a support network - Family, friends, school teachers/ pastoral care, college or University lecturers, work colleagues, your boss - whatever is suitable for your individual circumstances.
My experience through my difficult times is that the more help you have the better - don't put your energies into hiding it. I discovered that this was my biggest problem, and counter-productive.
People can't help you if they're unaware of what's going on beneath the surface- probably due to the fact that you hide it from them, or feel they will ridicule you, or you're not going to bother them as "you're not worth helping".
You may never have asked for help before as you have only just discovered what it is that you're suffering with yourself.
I wish you all the best for your own journey!
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