This is definitely going to be one of my most serious blog posts, and also the most difficult to write; but I think that it is something that is long overdue, and should be done in order to help overcome the problem I have faced.
Some may or may not know that I am unfortunately a huge sufferer of anxiety. I have dealt with it for the majority of my life, and still suffer to this day – although not as much. I do not want this post to be considered as a ‘cry for attention’, or asking people to feel sorry for me. I want to use it as a positive platform to help both myself genuinely think about what I, and many others have to deal with, and also to help individuals maybe get through the emotions they are feeling, as well as informing others who are unsure of the disorder.
Most people do not realise that it is a mental illness. When people think of the term ‘mental’, they think of an unpredictable psychopath who could snap at any moment, which is completely untrue. The connotations that come with a mental illness in general, are mostly negative. People need to realise that even stress is considered a mental illness, but just because someone is stressed, does not make them ‘crazy’. Luckily, through charity awareness weeks and social media, the barrier is slowly being broken down, and it is becoming more acceptable to talk about mental health with a positive outlook. However, I believe that more does have to be done if we want to completely diminish the overall negative views on mental health. Nevertheless, that is another story. I want to talk about the various stages of my life and the anxiety I dealt with.
As mentioned above, I have suffered with anxiety and panic attacks from an extremely young age. My Mum reminds me now on how I’d say I had ‘gone all funny’. I did not realise what was actually going on, but now looking back, I can see that in fact I was having a panic attack. The first proper panic attack I can remember is when I was about 10 years old. It was a Friday evening and I had just been dropped at my old best friends house for a sleepover. We were sat round her dining room table with a drink (no it wasn’t alcoholic!), when all of a sudden I felt sick, dizzy and hot. I wasn’t there half an hour until my Dad had to come and pick me up. Without knowing what was going on, my Dad drove us to our nearest shops as we normally did on a Friday evening to get snacks for the weekend, and went back home. When we got back, my panic attack had increased. By this time I had been panicking for 20 minutes, and I was certain that I would need an ambulance. I asked my Dad if we should call 999, but obviously I was fine and we didn’t. (Someone that has anxiety will know this horrible feeling). It may sound silly but as a 10 year old who has no knowledge of anxiety and panic, it was the scariest time in the world.
Unfortunately my teenage years were not any easier, for numerous reasons.
The transition of moving from primary school to secondary school is a nerve-wracking time. To face a new school with new challenges will definitely pressurise children, but at the time I moved I was also suffering with Glandular Fever, which didn’t help my anxiety. In lessons I would have to leave because I’d feel too ill, and sometimes I wouldn’t bother going in which made the girls in my class think that I was faking it. This carried on for a few years, but I had months of not having any panic attacks at all, to having around two or three a day.
At the age of 15 my dad was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, a terminal illness in which the muscles waste away, leaving the sufferer paralysed. This was an extremely difficult time, but oddly enough my anxiety wasn’t too bad, my family were still just maintaining hope that we could maybe find a cure. Eleven months after he was diagnosed, Dad passed away a couple of months before my 17th birthday. At any age losing a parent is horrendous, and the grief hits you like an atomic bomb, especially when they are taken from you so suddenly. At this time in my education I was studying my AS Levels, which didn’t make things easy. My school tried to make me leave on numerous occasions, and sometimes I was keen on the idea of just walking out, but knew in years to come I’d regret that decision.
The most annoying thing is that panic can arise in the calmest of situations. I could be watching the X Factor when all of a sudden I was certain I was dying or I could be lying down in bed and I would panic, for no reason. Like clockwork, it would happen every Sunday evening. One particular attack that I can remember so distinctly was one Sunday evening; me, my Mum and my boyfriend were watching The Apprentice Final (when Ricky Martin won), when all of a sudden I felt extremely panicky. I felt like my brain was shutting down, my heart hurt, my whole body was shaking, I was hot, I was certain that I needed to go to hospital, and was certain that that evening I was going to die. My Mum and boyfriend were just telling me to calm down, but during a panic attack, there is no telling someone to calm down. I was saying that I needed to go to hospital and was angry that they were just sat there, thinking I was going crazy. But your body feels so wrong, you don’t feel like yourself, and nothing feels real.
A year and a half on from my father’s death, and a week before my A Level final exams another huge event in my life happened. On Jubilee Monday, my house was destroyed in a fire. I had been home from work only 20 minutes when all of a sudden we had a loud knock at the door, and to our shock, someone was screaming at us to get out because our roof was on fire. Leading up to this I was sat in the lounge watching the start of the Jubilee celebrations, when me and my Mum had said that our next door neighbours must have been tidying their garage. On the other side of the wall our sofa is placed against, it sounded like they were moving things about. What in fact was happening were paint pots, gas canisters and electrical items exploding. I grabbed my dogs, phone and iPad (priorities?) and left the house immediately. When we got outside and looked at our roof it was completely on fire, and we had been sat under it for at least five minutes without any knowledge. As we watched five fire-trucks and over 40 fire fighters try and extinguish the 50ft flames, you can imagine, my anxiety was at an all time high.
Due to everything that happened leading up to my A Levels I was more than certain there was no chance I was going to pass any of my exams. I had already deferred my UCAS application and was prepared to have a year out working. Nevertheless, in August 2012, I received BBC in Business, Textiles and English – something that I could never have predicted. Within an hour I had called Bournemouth University to see if I could still go that year, and luckily got in through clearing. Again at the time of moving on from school to university, it is another scary time in your life. Luckily I had the comfort of still being at home, because I did not feel ready to leave home so soon after everything that had happened. In my first year I did deal with panic attacks – as you can imagine being in a fire, I was concerned about being able to get out of somewhere quickly, so I would worry in lectures, which made it difficult to learn, and most of the time, I would avoid them where possible. This may sound completely stupid to some people, but I guess everyone is different.
I have dealt with anxiety and panic disorder numerous ways. I have been prescribed beta-blockers a few times, which stops the random rush of adrenaline, which initially starts the panic attack. But you have to learn not to rely on them, so I only used them when I felt like a panic attack was about to start. I’d listen to some music and have a sing along. Scientifically, you are more aware of your breathing when you are singing and breathe deeper, so you get more oxygen in your lungs. A panic attack makes you breathe very lightly and shallowly, and this will not help in terms of dizziness or the faint feeling you may get. This brings me to my next point – meditating. I’d often lie down in bed listening to a YouTube self-help video where someone will take you through a relaxation period, make you think about your breathing, and teach you how to clear your thoughts. I know it sounds annoying, but I think the only way to properly overcome the disorder is to ride it through like a wave. Everyone is different; some may like to meditate, some like to medicate. But the one piece of advice I can give is to just keep telling yourself: you are not going to die. A panic attack can not kill you. Although at the time you feel like everything is coming to an end – it’s not. Keep telling yourself that and you’ll soon get over it.
I know it is a pretty deep topic to discuss, and although I’ve talked about periods of my life which I don’t like to draw upon – they have all made me who I am today. I don’t think I would ever be as strong as I am now. And as mentioned before, I really have not done this for pity in anyway, shape or form, but I already feel like a large weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, because I’ve never discussed it in such great detail before. But everything I have dealt with has made me even more motivated and determined to work harder for what I want in life. I realised that even during some of the worst situations, I can still manage to get some qualifications! I realised that life is far too short to spend 90% of the time worrying about what could happen. I realised that all that effort going into me over-thinking could be put to good use thinking about something positive. I’ve got a lot of extremely exciting events to look forward to which I will talk about at a later date – some that I do feel anxious for, and worry that I will have a panic attack. But I have to take my own advice – and remember that everything is OK!
What needs to be mentioned is that anxiety and panic attacks can occur for no reason at all. I am in no way saying that my anxiety is any worse than anyone else’s due to the situations I’ve dealt with. Everyone with it feels the effects differently, but they suffer all the same.
Some time on, and halfway through my degree, I can finally say I’m in a steady point in my life anxiety-wise. Yes I get anxious every now and then, and sometimes have the odd panic attack – but it’s nowhere near as bad as what I used to get, which I am so thankful for. Now, I get good anxious – the excited anxious you feel when you are stepping into the unknown, not the bad anxious, what you feel when in midst of a panic attack. I have to thank all my amazing family, boyfriend and friends for being so supportive during the tough times, and I really honestly could not thank them enough for everything they have done for me. Sorry if it has ever annoyed you! At these times you definitely learn who are the ones you can truly rely on, cliché as it sounds.
I really do hope this may have helped other people, and I know it has definitely helped me get certain things off my chest. If you have any questions, or need to chat about it then please do send me a message on twitter, or by email.