My Life with Anxiety

by , Monday October 10, 2016
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 My Life with Anxiety

For World Mental Health Day (10th October)

I've been meaning to write this blog for a while and finally decided to publish today!

I suppose not many of you know that I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Behind a screen, it's easier to keep some parts of your life private and act more confident. Anyway, for World Mental Health Day, I wanted to write this blog to share my experience with anxiety. The main thing I hope readers gain from this is a raise in awareness of panic attacks and anxiety, and to let anyone else going through this that you aren't alone. If you have any questions or want to someone to talk to, I'm always willing to listen so just drop a comment :))

 

(The banner photo was taken by me. I always find walks and lakes so calming)

 

I've been suffering from anxiety since I was about fourteen, having my first massive panic attack starting off a chain reaction eventually leading to my diagnosis of anxiety. I went to the cinema with a group of friends when I suddenly felt the tingling hands; buzzing headache; dry mouth; the usual panic attack symptoms. At the time I had no idea what it was, getting up and trying to run out but fainting and falling over in the process. I'd only be down a couple of seconds and managed to make my way out of the cinema safely. As soon as I was outside, I suddenly felt absolutely fine. I wasn't dead, I was tired, but not dead. I really thought that was it for me and I'd be struck down by a heart attack or some horrible illness.

I went home and cried to my mum who explained it was just the build up of adrenaline in my body causing a panic attack. She said it wouldn't happen again, that the darkness and claustrophobia just overwhelmed me.

True to my mum's words, I didn't have another panic attack for a while. Then, I went on a trip to London with school and was having the same thing over and over all weekend. Sweaty palms, confusion, exhaustion, heavy breathing. I've had panic attacks a hell of a lot over the past five years. Mainly they come in "waves" during times of extreme stress, like my exams or my parent's divorce.

Words cannot describe how terrifying it is when you first start having this extreme, irrational anxiety. Everything seems to be exaggerated suddenly, the nerves just taken over no matter how many times you tell yourself you're fine. You suddenly find yourself becoming scared of things that should be easy, things that were normal in your every day life. I missed so much school during this first "wave" of attacks. I was too scared to face being stuck in a classroom with everyone staring at me whilst I freak out over what others would see as nothing. Most of my panic attacks stemmed from being trapped whilst having a panic attack.

However, with support, eventually I got back into the swing of things and tried my best to not let anxiety get in the way of life. I got out of the dark hole that that first "wave" had dropped me in. I went to school as normal, I started up my clubs as normal. I even managed to play my flute solo on stage in front of the whole school, only feeling the usual amount of nerves I used to feel. It was a while before I had another "wave", and it truly is devastating when it comes round again. But you can't just give up. I got through it before. I had to get through it again.

Obviously that's easier said then done and I've missed a lot of events and opportunities because of this invisible illness. However, over the course of my time living with anxiety, I've noticed that I am most definitely not suffering alone. My parents suffered panic attacks when they were younger, hence why my mum was so quick to observe it in me the first time. Many of the teachers who supported me through school and my exams had had panic attacks. A few of my friends were also suffering from them at the same time as me. The more open I was to talking about this, the more people there were to support me, to confirm that I wasn't going crazy and that it'll all be ok.

Currently, I'm in my second year at university, living on my own in a shared flat, enjoying a completely new city. Back when these panic attacks first started, I never thought I'd have the confidence to be able to do half the things I've overcome. I have wonderful friends, a great family just a phone call or short train ride away and an extremely caring boyfriend. They have all shown me they are there whenever I need.Through texts to confirm I've got home safe after a panic episode made me need to go home; a hug after I'd been a little quiet that day; someone just sitting and listening to how I am after I seem even the slightest bit "out of it". I cannot thank them and their care and patience for me enough.

Anxiety is a very lonely illness. As well as it being an "invisible" mental illness, there's no magic pill to make it all just vanish. No matter how many times I wished and screamed at someone to take it all away, ultimately it's you and your attitude and motivation to beat this that will get you through. Thankfully I had a brilliant support foundation around me that were there to help whenever I needed, but to calm myself down, I had many techniques of my own.

Breathing slowly, going for a walk, squeezing my stress ball, reading, playing stupid games on my phone, trying to just get lost in my school work, calling someone close to me, I had tried so many ways to relax but these were the ones that worked well for me. Sleep is the best remedy for me I find. It's hard, and sometimes I just collapse crying, but crying onto someone's willing shoulder every now and again is very helpful during some very lonely nights.

I've also been on some tablets known as beta blockers for about a year now. We actually did a small amount of study on these last year at university (I study biochemistry), and they block adrenaline being released in your body, helping stop the symptoms of a panic attack. I started on three of these a day. Now I'm on half a tablet a day just before I go to bed. Without these tablets, I was finding it very difficult to function every day, but they helped me get my life back after a pretty dark episode of my life.  Back then, it's what I needed but now I can't believe how little I rely on them.

One of the best bits of advice I can give is talk to a doctor about anxiety. You'll learn so much about the illness and they'll give you so many options to help you handle it. For me, counselling was suggested but I just couldn't bring myself to talk about this to a stranger. Instead, I started these tablets and managed to get out of one of those horrible "waves" once more.

Obviously I still have bad days, bad months. I went out last week with some friends and had to cut the night short for me to go home and calm down. I rang my mum and spoke to my boyfriend and I was fine after distracting myself with watching a few episodes of Modern Family. Now I have found personalised ways to handle these that calm me down, I know I can get through it swiftly.

But, it is terrifying each and every time I have to get through it. Even now five years on, I find it difficult to go to the cinema because it's where I first experienced it. Some days, I do feel brave enough to try and fight through it though and go every now and again (Deadpool was worth risking a panic attack. Batman vs Superman, not so much!)

The main thing I want everyone suffering to know is that they are not alone, that you are "normal", that you will get through this. It might be a life sentence, but it's your life that you can get your hands back on and not let it be ruled by mental illness. I don't want anyone to go through mental illness alone and I know we can all get through this.

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