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I was asked to write a blog-post for my friend, detailing my struggle with anxiety. I thought to share my story on here too in case it could help even one person. So here goes:
My Story: It’s okay not to be okay.
This isn’t something I’m too open with, but in the spirit of #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, I’m not sure when would be a better time… so IT’S TIME TO TALK. Please bear with me, It’s going to be quite long and I’ve never done anything like this before so it may be a bit of a mess, so I’m sorry!
A few of you know that after Christmas last year, I had to take some time out and postpone my studies at Uni for a year as anxiety decided to take over me. It took me a long time to realise (and accept) that something was up. I ended up crawling myself into a hole and distancing myself from pretty much everyone around me. I understand to others, I probably came across lazy, due to fact I couldn’t bring myself to get out of my house, and occasionally my bed. I struggled a lot and didn’t think I was worth wasting people’s time by telling them how I was feeling, until it got too much around January exams and I felt broken. I then reached a point where I had to speak up and get help—leading to me to take time away from Uni for myself.
#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek is in line with the start of the exam period which is pretty relevant if ya ask me? And although the past year I have improved greatly, times during this week have been overwhelming but everything I have learnt over the past year has helped me deal with it (sometimes better than others) and although I’m not perfect (but very close to it 😉), I know it’s not something that will just disappear and I am so proud of how I have improved throughout the year after accepting it.
Jess + stress —> anxiety + panic.
Anxiety is such a hard thing explain to others, which is frustrating for you and equally frustrating to the people who are trying to help you. Most of the time you don’t understand why you’re worrying, but your mind will keep amplifying everything until you’re struggling to cope.
There are so many symptoms of anxiety and everyone has their own individual experiences, but here is just my example:
- Memory loss & trouble concentrating
It’s hard to explain, but I can’t remember a lot of time throughout my lowest points last year, where my anxiety was at its strongest. I was so enclosed within my mind that I couldn’t break free. I would also sit revising for a day, but where I was panicking inside, I wouldn’t be able to retain any of the information, which would trigger other symptoms.
- Overthinking & constant worrying
I don’t know what else to say about this section other than that’s me! Something would happen, the people around me would forget about it within an hour, and I would still be stressing and thinking about it over and over again for a week.
- Avoidance & procrastination
I’ve already said that I would push everyone away. I would organise things with people when I was feeling good, and just before the time came around, nine times out of ten I would cancel. I started to know that I was going to do that and didn’t want to keep letting people down, so I would stop reaching out to people and keep to myself. Procrastination was also a big part of me. I have always praised myself on motivation with swimming, music, school, etc. etc., but last year everything did change and was left to the last minute because I found if I forgot about everything, the stress wouldn’t be here as soon.
- Panic attacks, trouble breathing, rapid heartbeat, & sickness
These are the signs of anxiety that the outside world sees—if you’re willing to share them with it. Panic attacks are one of the scariest things I have experienced. You’re not thinking straight, you’re not breathing properly, your head goes light, you feel like you’re going to pass out, your chest is closing in so tight that you start to panic whatever else could be happening. For the outside world, these times are scary, but please understand that you just being around us and supporting us is all we need. We don’t want to be told to “calm down” and “just breathe” because even though you’re trying to help, that’s what we’re trying to do. Sit with us, make your presence is known, and just be there to support us. I know that just listening to your relaxed breathing will help me get mine in time with yours. I also experienced quite a few times where I would think of something and be sick from nerves within a couple mins.
- Needing assurance
I think if there was a tally of my most common words, “sorry” would be my number one. I’m aware that as I use it so much people may feel it’s not sincere, but trust me (!!), I still 100 percent mean it. I just need assurance that whatever I am saying sorry for is okay in the other person’s mind before I can move on and stop overthinking the situation. I would also need assurance from the people I cared about the most. I didn’t see myself as worthy and capable of much, and so I couldn’t understand why they would, which would lead to me seeking that assurance that they still want me around. Plus, I know how annoying I am, so I was just checking it wasn’t too much…
- Trouble sleeping
Something I have always praised myself about is my ability to fall asleep within five minutes of my head touching a pillow and the fact that I would then sleep through until my alarm would wake me up again. Last year was completely different. I wouldn’t be able to sleep and I, on average, probably achieved a maximum of four hours sleep most nights, which is not sufficient for me. Part of the problem was that I could not shut my mind off—some things were innocent, but others would trigger panic. This obviously would reflect in me being ‘lazy’ throughout the day.
It took me a long time to accept that I wasn’t okay and that I needed help, but when I finally did, I realised that there is so much support out there for people suffering from this. I find that listening to podcasts on anxiety, relaxation, meditation, and self-love have improved my outlook on myself tenfold. I also read a book called Mindfulness every day, which embodies all of the things I watch in a podcast. Reading also helps me fall asleep easy, which means I have better night sleeps and am more energised to tackle the road bumps that the next day may bring. A diary is one of the best pieces of advice that I could give to someone. When I wasn’t ready to talk to people, I would write down all my thoughts in a diary and although those problems were not completely solved, it often helped me that I had released them to a certain extent. I will never read back the diary posts that I have written because I know that some of the issues will trigger me again and leave me heartbroken to think I was ever that low. I’ve made such a jump forward that I’m not going back!
Take some time for yourself.
Your mental health is much more important than anything else. You are your own priority and you need to start treating yourself like it. Whether you’re feeling okay or not, you need to take some time to relax your mind and feel comfortable in yourself. For me, this is music and swimming because these are two things I have grown up surrounded by and I just feel myself doing them. But it can be anything that you can truly be yourself doing, that will clear your mind and take yourself away from everything that is burdening you at that time. Everyone needs a break sometimes.
And finally, talking:
The most daunting part of my processes was opening up and talking to people. I didn’t want to embarrass the people around me that I was struggling with my own mind and didn’t have any self-confidence. I also didn’t think anyone would be interested or want to waste their time with me, when truly I had “nothing to worry about” (as a few people would tell me). But people care. People want to help you and people love you. It will be when you realise this that you can appreciate the support network that you do have and the only problem they will have is that they couldn’t support you sooner. My support network is outstanding, and those people are one of my main motivations to keep going now when times get difficult. If you are not ready to talk to the people closest to you then a professional is also there for you. I took some sessions with a hypnotherapist and that helped me so much…
So please know that you are more than the anxiety you are experiencing. You may feel like you have completely lost the person you once were, but trust me, you are still inside there. Battling with your own mental demons is one of the most difficult things, and when you come through that, you will understand just how strong you are.
Please know that if you need someone to talk to or want to discuss anything from the post with me, I would be delighted to have a chat. x