I am an "emetophobe," and beginning my eleventh year of living with a GAD diagnosis.
My first panic attack happened at the very start of Secondary School, in the first assembly of the year. Of course, I didn’t know what it was. I just thought that I wasn’t feeling well, but had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to get out NOW. I remember trying to sit through the feeling but it was impossible, so I left and didn’t go back. Every assembly after that was hard. I always had the same awful feeling in my stomach, and it often ended with me taking a trip to the medical room.
Due to my regular trips, the school nurse got pretty used to me, and I remember her saying that the feeling I was having was likely anxiety. She suggested that to get rid of it I should pinch myself or snap elastic bands against my wrists. This was the start of a terrible habit of mine. Every time I felt anxious or panicky I would scratch myself. It started out just on my palms but soon progressed to my chest, legs, face and my neck. My anxious "irrational logic" told me that if I scratched myself hard enough I would be focussing on the pain instead of worrying. The was no rationale for this theory of mine and it didn’t work at all, just leaving me with scratches and scars. I did this enough that eventually I had associated panic with scratching myself, thus beginning the awful habit.
My anxiety also took a massive toll on my social life outside of school as well. I was often invited for sleepovers, which I would go to, and we would have a brilliant time, up until it was time to go to sleep, which was right about when I would panic. We would then all be awake for hours, pacing and counting until I had reached my limit, and I would get a lift home in the very early hours of the morning. This became a regular occurrence as I taught myself to associate worrying with my friends’ houses.
I then spent the rest of my secondary school career battling worry and only doing things that my anxiety "allowed" me to do, which certainly didn’t include going to the cinema or eating at a restaurant.
However, in my last year of school I was invited to go on holiday with some friends and of course, I accepted! But as soon as I did so, the "what if – ing" started. What if I’m sick? What if I panic? What if I ruin the holiday for everyone else?
And right up until we left, I was convinced that I was going to pull out. But to my immense surprise, I followed through with it, had an amazing long weekend, and came back feeling confident that I could win the war against my anxiety.
For the next two years, my panic stayed at bay and I managed to stay on top of it, even doing things that I never thought I would do. But as soon as it went, it was back again. I went on a trip with some friends to see a conference a few hours train ride away. From the minute I stepped on the train, I had consecutive panic attacks until we arrived. It was terrifying and I thought it would never stop. I managed to stick it out for the rest of the day but felt very down heartened once I had got home.
A tricky summer of decisions then began. Which university to go to? Of course, my anxiety was largely in charge of this decision.
Do I go to my first choice in a busy city?
Or do I pick the one that my anxiety wants me to pick? The quieter one, closer to home, the easy choice.
I ended up going with my gut and not my head as it were, and moved into my halls that September. A nice room in the middle of a big city with some lovely people in the rooms around me, so so exciting! My panic didn’t agree. I then proceeded to have 6 consecutive panic attacks and jumped on the train straight back home. I proceeded to move out a week later and deferred my place on the course for a year. This was the first real decision that my anxiety had made for me and it was heart-breaking.
Over the course of the next year (my "gap year") I got a job as a customer assistant at a local store. This job worked wonders for my confidence as it forced me out of the house, which at times I have found quite difficult. It hasn’t miraculously cured my anxiety but because no one at work knew about my panic attacks, I somehow found it easier to keep it secret. Maybe it’s because people weren’t asking if I was ok or treating me like I’m going to break. But also, the more I went, the easier it was to go, and I had a little work community that I grew to love.
By September 2016, it was time to give uni another go. I moved up on the 23/09 and loved it! If I could do one day I could do the next and soon enough it was reading week in November.
Back home for a week and then up to uni again until Christmas.
Just following the Christmas break, I moved back up to university. It all went well for the first few days and then the "what ifs" began to take over again. Over the next 5 days I struggled to eat at all, and barely slept. I stayed on top of it for a while but my anxiety eventually got the better of me again, and I went home.
Weeks then went by of telling myself that I would go that coming weekend but with no follow through, these soon turned into months and before long I had missed the entire second half of my first year.
The longer I put off going, the larger the hurdle became. And so when it came to exam week at the end of April, returning for five days seemed a near impossible task. I stuck it out, however, but only as long as I needed to, and I only did the things that I had to, it was a difficult few days.
Following the end of my first year I had an excellent summer, started back up at my old job and saw someone for counseling regularly. I finally felt as though I was learning to cope with my anxiety as opposed to trying to battle against it the whole time, which is incredibly exhausting. We went on holiday, and I found myself really looking forward to my second year at uni. I told myself that I would do it properly this time.
Soon enough September rolled around and I moved all of my things up to my new room, excited to meet everyone and see my friends from the previous year.
But, five days in I had a rough night, most likely because I hadn’t been out that day. I was off my food and could feel myself starting to spiral like the previous year, so I booked a telephone appointment with my counsellor for the following morning. This is when she decided to inform me that she wouldn’t be able to counsel me any longer as we were no longer in the same city. As soon as I got off the phone, my mind was made up. I packed a few things and was on the next train home. I haven’t been back since.
This was the second huge decision that my anxiety has made for me.
This academic year I have been putting things in place for my return to uni this coming September. I have been in touch with some local counsellors and will be starting very soon.
Over the years, I have also learnt things that help me to cope, such as going out for a walk every day, making sure that I interact with people, as anxiety can be a lonely state of mind, and setting myself ACHIEVABLE goals. And although I still struggle with doing these all the time, it does get easier the more I do it.