I’ve repeatedly come back to the idea of doing a blog like this, and the main thing that stopped me was that so many people have written about their struggles with anxiety, and sometimes people react to these depictions negatively and say “well I’ve had this happen to me when I’ve had panic attacks so you’re account can’t be right” or “loads of people get stressed or worried sometimes, that’s part of life” – so when I decided that the time was finally right for me to talk about this, I thought about how to go about it, typing, deleting and re-typing, then I decided just write it so I could process it a little bit more myself with written words, rather than sitting in my counsellor’s conservatory and word vomiting everything in one go. Hopefully by just talking about my own personal experiences perhaps someone may read even a tiny bit, and be able to relate and feel less like they’re wading through a huge vast ocean of anxiety and panic on their own.
After spending some time [and by some time I mean a considerably large amount of time] with a counsellor and working out where my anxiety stems from, it has become clearer to me that although I was raised in a loving home, with parents who would have moved the Earth for me, I was still exposed to quite high levels of anxiety. Our family had it’s problems. And I actually just looked up the definition of that word and according to our lord and savour Google it means the following; “A matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.”
This sounds both a bit brutal, and too simple. So if we have a problem we must just think “okay this is unwelcome and harmful, I shall overcome this and be fine” but the reality is, as I’m sure many people know, nothing is as easy as that, especially when it comes to family dynamics and relationships. So growing up I couldn’t really look at certain things that arose in our household and say “okay guys, this is harmful, let’s address this and come together again” because not only would I have been looked at strangely for my sudden burst of emotional awareness, I feel that some of the problems were far too deep rooted for a young, over sensitive baby of the family to do anything about.
I was always described as “sensitive” in my primary school reports, and growing up I never really knew what that meant, I just remember at primary school feeling like an open wound every single day and on the verge of tears nearly all the time. Whether it was in the lunch hall, opening up my lunchbox and realising blackcurrant drink had leaked all over my sandwich but still being made to eat it by the school dinner lady [true story] or if it was that old cliche of being picked last in PE. [I think schools should ban PE all together anyway, if we want to be Olympians we’ll do it in our own time and running around with a bean bag on our head will not make us the next Jessica Ennis].
I remember one particular incident at school when two girls kept running away from me, and point blank ignoring me when I was crying and asking them why they weren’t friends with me anymore, and even now that stirs up a real deep rooted pain, so it just goes to show how your very early experiences stay with you years later.
All these circumstances I was plopped into combined with the constant sensation of walking on egg shells at home due to the high level of anxiety made me really sensitive, and regularly worrying that one wrong move and the world would fall apart around me. As I got a bit older and hit those “awkward teenage years” that feeling was just heightened even further.
When I was 13 my mum got really ill, and I didn’t really see much of her for weeks and she would just stay in her bedroom and the only vivid memory I have of her during this time was when she came downstairs to the kitchen wearing my dad’s dressing gown and she was unrecognisable. She had lost so much weight, and I just remember thinking how my dad’s dressing gown looked like it was swallowing her whole. I feel like my teenage years are entirely shaped around that memory because after that I was really sad and couldn’t understand why no one else at my school seemed to be feeling the same way as I was. Unfortunately, like many teenage girls, the friendship group I was in was riddled with back stabbing and bitchy comments between one another which just makes you paranoid about one bad move causing a ripple effect and you being shunned for the remainder of your days. So once again, I was on edge wherever I was – when I was at school I was panicking about girls saying one thing to my face and another behind my back, and when I was at home I was worrying about my mum withering away into nothing. Another layer of anxiety that would fester and come out when I was older.
When I left school I had some good friends around me at college, but on the flip side of that, I’d got myself into a relationship that was far too toxic and dysfunctional for an 18 year old to be in. I was emotionally abused and bullied in this relationship on a regular basis, and again, walking on those familiar egg shells, not daring to say anything in case it was the wrong thing. On the off chance one day I felt a bit braver and able to stand up for myself, I was quickly reminded that wasn’t my place and was put back down to where I had grown so comfortable. This led me to lose friends and not see my mum or dad very much anymore, because I was completely sucked into a relationship that was never going to end well. Finally I managed to get myself out of this situation by making the best decision of my life and moving away and going to University to study music.
Although this was the best decision I have ever made, it was also the hardest. I moved away from my parents, and into an absolute dive of a house [if you’ve done the student life thing, you know what I’m talking about]. There were slugs crawling around in my bedroom, plates stacked high up in the kitchen covered in two month old pasta and dominos pizza boxes littered across the front room floor. But the main thing was that I was ready to become someone independent and ready for whatever was going to be thrown at me. Unfortunately, all my past upsets had finally festered deep inside my subconscious and I had become someone who would easily become obsessed with one friendship, doing everything I could to make sure that person was okay just so they may do the same for me.
I was willing to put my emotional well being and my physical health at risk, just on the off chance this one person would notice me and give me something I felt that no one ever had. Suffice to say, that never happened, because the sad truth is if someone is willing to bleed you dry like that and do nothing for you in return, they have a whole host of issues themselves. In the end, after my first year of university, and after trying everything I could to make one person in particular give me that unconditional friendship and love, I was emotionally exhausted and drained.
When I entered the second year of my university life, I was at an all time low. I was beginning to realise the effect the relationship I had been in when I was 18 had had on me, and I was starting to realise how I didn’t see friendships in a “normal” way. I felt like a complete freak and completely out of touch with everyone else my own age, and I was living by myself.
To be fair, I didn’t mind living alone, after living with 5 other people in a disgusting student house for a year, it was the peace and quiet I needed, but it also meant I was face to face with my sub conscious every single day and night. I lived by the sea, and regularly I thought I could just walk into the sea and no one would notice or miss me.
I wasn’t anxious anymore, I was depressed. Life had no colour, and I didn’t think I was ever going to get over it. I met my now boyfriend around this time, and it was tough for him. Due to some of the things that happened to me when I was 18, I couldn’t have him touch me, I couldn’t be intimate with him without balling my eyes out and that was when I decided that I needed help. I got a counsellor through my University, I talked about a lot of things and dealt with a lot. I got a bit better, I was still anxious about certain friendships, but I wasn’t depressed anymore so I picked myself up, and took a few cautious steps forward.
I got on with things for a few more years, my boyfriend and I stuck together pushed through any problems that arose and carried on. I managed to graduate with a 2:1, I had formed a band I was deeply passionate about and was working with some amazing musicians, and had a couple of very close friends. Life was pretty good, but then I made the colossal mistake of agreeing to manage the pub I worked at whilst my boss took a trip to America for a month. Not only that, we decided to move in one of the rooms above the pub too. So I was living and working within the same four walls every single day.
My relationship began to get a bit wobbly, I was getting phone calls from the company that owned the pub every day asking me about banking, stock and staff issues. I was 22 and somehow I was trying to run a pub, keep my relationship together and make sure my friends were okay, [because I was still in the habit of putting my own emotions on hold for other people] all at the same time. This was when I experienced my first anxiety attack.
I was sitting on my bed in our bedroom and my boyfriend was talking to me about our relationship, and I was really crying, and then I was suddenly very aware of how fast my heart was beating. My breath became short and quick, and my hand began to tingle, become numb and curl into a claw shape that I couldn’t move no matter how hard I tried. I asked my boyfriend to open the window because I couldn’t breathe and needed air. That’s all I can remember.
I had panic attacks pretty regularly after that. One morning I went downstairs to the pub and I needed to ring the company about something. I started to dial the phone, but the second I heard it ringing my heart started racing, I couldn’t breathe again and had tears streaming down my face. I hung up the phone and just dropped to the floor, hoping that whatever I was feeling would stop as quickly as it had started. The worst attack I had during this time was after speaking to my best friend [who was also my housemate] in his room. I walked out of his bedroom door and the hallway started spinning, I couldn’t feel my legs, was sobbing uncontrollably, and couldn’t breathe and before I knew it I had just collapsed onto the floor and was being helped up by my friend. He was speaking to me but I couldn’t respond, it just sounded like a muffled voice on a phone. I stayed sat there for about half an hour, not moving.
Before I knew it anxiety and panic attacks had become a regular part of my life. I couldn’t go to certain social gatherings for fear of having a panic attack, most nights before I went to sleep I would have that familiar shortness of breath. Thankfully I had my boyfriend speaking calmly next to me, telling me to breathe deeply and he’d just sit with me until I was ready to try and get to sleep. We eventually moved out of the pub, and I left that job behind.
We found an amazing flat, and I got myself an absolute dream job. Life was the best it could be. But I was still suffering with my anxiety and crippling panic attacks. I decided, now I had an amazing job I loved, and a flat without slugs crawling around, it was time I dealt with this head on, and peeled away everything that had ever happened. No matter how hard or painful.
I went back to the same counsellor I had seen whilst studying, I bought up my family life, my school experiences, the abusive relationship I had been in when I was 18 and all the people I had ever put on a pedestal and bent over backwards for. It was tough, and painful and I spent quite a few sessions just crying about things I hadn’t thought about for years. I was also taking medication for my panic attacks, just to take the edge off.
I had my last counselling session last week.
The progress I’ve made in recent months is more than I ever thought possible. I’m finally beginning to develop a real strong sense of what kind of person I want to be, and my confidence is growing more every day. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m okay with that.
Some social situations will continue to be a bit daunting for me, it just takes practice. I’ll still have some days where I will feel anxious the second I open my eyes in the morning, but I can now take certain steps to ease that and make the day a bit easier. It’s just about being kind to yourself on those tough days. It’s easy to punish yourself and think “why am I not like everyone else? Why does no one else seem like they struggle with normal stuff like me?” but everyone has their difficulties they’re overcoming every day.
The best thing I can do now is if I feel an anxiety attack coming on is just think, it’ll pass. I’ve had this happen before, and it’ll pass. I shut my eyes and zone into one or two sounds I can hear around me, whether it’s the washing machine or a car outside or my boyfriend typing on his laptop in the study. Just zoning into those things and grounding yourself as much as you can until those sensations decide to loosen their grip.
If you have managed to read through this huge post, thank you for spending time out of your day to see what I have to say. And if you have read through this post and have suffered with anxiety yourself, you’re not alone. Trust me.
“Is it useful to feel fear, because it prepares you for nasty events, or is it useless, because nasty events will occur whether you are frightened or not?” – Lemony Snicket