Anxiety is something I was diagnosed with when I was 23. My mum had just had a stroke a few months before, and although she was home and everything was fine, I was completely panicked and overwhelmed by the whole thing. I would panic that something awful was going to happen again, and my fear of it all took over my life. My doctor eventually diagnosed me with anxiety, and things seemed to escalate quickly, soon the simplest of tasks seemed impossible to do.
For a long time I didn’t want anyone to know I had anxiety, because I didn’t know how people would react. Not knowing how I am day to day, or how I would react to a simple task, or how I sometimes can’t make decisions. Because really, I thought there was something very wrong with me, and I couldn’t explain to people how sometimes I was fine, and other times I just didn’t want to leave my house.
For me anxiety is mostly panic and feeling overwhelmed, and just something ‘not quite feeling right’. I will over analyse the smallest of situations, and overthink it all trying to understand every possible situation. And for a very long time after my mum being ill, it was the panic that it would happen again, or happen to someone else. Even to this day if someone tells me they have a migraine, I panic. I also lose a lot of sleep, sometimes waking up in the early hours in a panic, because of some reason or another, overthinking absolutely everything.
Work has often been a difficult place for me anxiety wise. Sending emails could become horrendous. Have I written it the right way? Will the other person understand what I’m asking for? What if I don’t know what I’m talking about? I would literally question absolutely everything I was asked to do as if it was a life or death situation, to a point where it would become impossible to function. Phone calls were just as bad, and I completely stopped talking on the phone, and if anyone at work asked me to make a call or answer the phone I would panic. I once had a chat with an old managing director to try and explain that I just didn’t want to talk to people, and I realised it was ridiculous, but I was terrified of answering the phone. Thankfully I’ve overcome this now at work, but I do sometimes find to do lists a little overwhelming when I have a lot to do, but I’ve worked out how to priortise everything so I don’t feel the need to panic so much.
Anxiety can also be a deceptive illness, as often you can convey that absolutely nothing is wrong. I’ve often found when I’ve told people about the extent of my anxiety, some people are surprised as they’ve seen me in groups of my friends, and I’ll be one of the loudest, most confident people in the room. But then other times, particularly when I’m around people I don’t know, I’ll sit and be quiet and not speak up because the thought of talking to someone new terrifies me.
In May 2017 my anxiety completely took over my life. I was going through a breakup, I stopped working, I stopped seeing friends, and really I stopped functioning. Everything was overwhelming, even the smallest of tasks like going to Tesco’s because I was afraid of how many people would be there, so I eventually saw a doctor again, with a new dose of citalopram, and decided to seek out a private therapist. My therapist is fantastic, for an hour a week for 6 months she would listen to me about all of the things in my head, she knew all the right things to ask, and the right words to support me, but more importantly she listened and didn’t make me feel like I was going crazy.
But more importantly, I talked.
Years and years of not talking and bottling things up because I was afraid of what people would think of me obviously wasn’t working. And talking to someone, anyone, when you’re feeling overwhelmed is the single best thing you can ever do. Asking for help can be difficult, but if you’re brave enough to speak up it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done, I guarantee that. It might be a friend, a family member, or a therapist, whoever it is just talk. I’ve been going to therapy for the last year, and I can honestly say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
One year later from my bad anxiety breakdown, and I feel like it’s managed a lot more. I still have my anxiety attacks, panic and feel overwhelmed, but I’ve managed to control it a lot more. For me my biggest difference I’ve noticed is how I am at work. I now speak up, join in with conversations, and more importantly answer the phone. I started a new job in January, and only mentioned my anxiety a few months ago, and no one had even noticed. I now meet new people, and join in with social events even if I don’t know everyone there. I’ve also just bought my own flat, and I never thought I’d be able to manage living on my own, but I feel very calm about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my moments where I will speak to my friends in a panic that I can’t do something, or feel that I’m not good enough, but luckily I have a great group of friends who remind me that I can, and I know how to manage it.
If you’re someone else who suffers with a mental illness, don’t be afraid to speak out about it. I’ve found a lot of people to be very understanding, and getting help for it has helped me turn something that was taking over my life, into something much more manageable. It’s made me realise that I am a strong person, and not the failure that my anxiety made me feel, and if I can overcome this, I can do anything.