Anxiety. A word that I and a lot of other people are extremely familiar with. A word that has held me back from so many opportunities and dominated my social life for far too long.
I understand there are thousands of blog posts like this, girls and boys, young and old, talking about their experiences with anxiety and their own coping mechanisms but since more than 1 in 10 people are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage in their life, I thought I’d throw my own thoughts and feelings into the mix.
I’ll start with where my anxiety came from.
When I was around 17 I started being sick before I went to the pub. It was so odd because I’m naturally a very confident, talkative, outgoing person and going to the pub and socialising has always been one of my favourite things to do (despite the hangovers). At first my friends thought it was because I couldn’t handle pre-drinking vodka, resulting in me being sick en route to our local four out of five times but then other symptoms and signs seemed to arise.
As well as being physically sick before and during the trip to the pub or a party, I would also become extremely irritable, sweaty, lightheaded and bizarrely, my bladder would become very weak. I would also stop drinking alcohol and smoking as it would make me feel even more nauseous. With all of this going on, as you can imagine, I wasn’t great fun to be at the pub with as I had a tendency to just sit there and keep myself to myself with a glass of lemonade. Most people who know me will know that if there’s not a pint in one hand and a fag in the other at the pub then something’s not quite right!
After experiencing this for months, I spoke to my Dad about it who suggested it could be anxiety. I had no clue what it was and even though I can be one for self-diagnosing, I took a trip to the doctors. Notoriously, GPs aren’t the best when it comes to mental health so I was referred to a cognitive behavioural therapist. It was here that I discovered I had generalised anxiety disorder and social anxiety. At first, this meant nothing to me and a thousand questions were flying through my head. What is anxiety? Am I ill? What does that mean? Is it normal?
I underwent therapy for maybe around four months which at first I thought was pointless but as time went on, the need to have a chat with my therapist every week or so became essential to my mood and mental health. I learnt new ways of how to cope with and control my anxiety and all about the fight or flight response. It was such an important time for me to deal with my anxiety too as I had A-Levels just around the corner which I needed to be in the right mindset for. It’s also worth noting here that I never went on medication due to the fact I wanted to do this on my own and was discouraged by a lot of people to take anything for it. That’s not to say I don’t think anxiety sufferers who take medication aren’t doing it on their own, it just wasn’t my preference.
For a good couple of years after my last therapy session, my anxiety didn’t quite straighten out but I could cope with it more easily. Although I went from getting anxious before social situations in unfamiliar places to suddenly being sick from it in my own home with my family and closest friends around me. This I found hard but it was just something I just had to come to terms with and at least I could handle the sickness and other symptoms better than I could before. I had learnt from my therapist that anxiety is like a big wave and at the peak of that wave is the sickness. Whilst I’m going up that wave instead of distracting myself and coming back down which in essence keeps the anxiety going, I need to just buckle up and hit the peak of sickness so I can then return to my normal self coming down the other side of the wave. Does that make any sense? It didn’t to me at the time and now I use that analogy for so many different things.
After starting to become comfortable again with pub trips and parties, I had to deal with moving to Oxford for nine months to attend college there. I only knew one person on my course and luckily was living next door to her and I genuinely don’t know how I would’ve gotten through those long, tiring nine months without her! I didn’t have high hopes for my anxiety in Oxford, a lively and student heavy city, but I found it so much easier than I thought it would be! Surprisingly, it wasn’t moving away from my parents, friends and Toby which worsened my anxiety, it was more to do with the girls I met on my course (it was an all girls course of 80) and their deep love for going ‘out out’ and house parties. It did grow frustrating to keep telling my friends that no, I didn’t want to go out clubbing for the umpteenth time! Looking back, I still don’t know whether they just didn’t get my anxiety or they were just being polite. The other problem I had with the people is that, to put it simply, most of them just weren’t my cuppa tea! We had different upbringings, backgrounds, manners and morals and it really did make social situations hard for me and I only ever wanted to hang out with my small friendship group who I adored. I have to admit, when I had graduated and it was time to move home, I’ve never been so happy!
After returning home, my anxiety has gone up and down in waves. I am still sick whenever I go out to a social event such as a party or corporate event with work but I’m A-OK with the pub as long as I know who’s going and what the plan is. I think work has proved difficult for my anxiety or the other way around, whichever way you look at it. As a part of my job, I have parties, awards, exhibitions and other events which I have to attend which are mostly with people I don’t know so as you can imagine, it can be challenging for my anxiety! I try my absolute hardest but sometimes panic attacks do creep up on me which I find extremely difficult to deal with, especially as Toby who is my absolute rock, is never there in person to help me get through them. They are getting progressively worse and I often find they happen the most in London or busy places, I even had to leave my work Christmas do after just one hour because of a huge panic attack! I’m not gonna lie, I find them embarrassing and they make me feel weak and I really hope I’m not the only person who feels like that. I don’t like the attention either, it’s moments like panic attacks where I just want to sink into a big hole and cry myself to sleep. Unfortunately though, I’ve been experiencing a lot more anxiety over the last few months and more panic attacks than ever before which I am finding hard to control and cope with. Due to this, I made the decision recently that I’m going to go back to therapy and fingers crossed that will help!
Now that just about brings us up to January 2018.
As you can tell, my anxiety comes and goes in waves and has down for about four and a half years now but it’s not just the anxiety that’s hard to deal with. It’s people.
I have to say, one of the things I hate most about my anxiety is trying to explain it to people who simply don’t get it. At the beginning, my family and friends used to say to me ‘you’re just nervous’ and ‘stop being silly’, that’s until a couple of them experienced anxiety first hand and soon apologised for disregarding it. I even find that now, that my nearest and dearest just don’t understand it and some even act like anxiety is a choice and it’s all just a fuss about nothing. All I can say to those people is that you’re lucky that you have no idea what an anxiety attack feels like! I could actually talk about this topic all day because it frustrates me so much so maybe I’ll save it for its own blog post but yeah, it’s a difficult aspect of my anxiety!
I’m sure there are plenty of things I have forgotten or missed out so apologies for that but this won’t be the first, last and only anxiety post on here! I am hoping to write more about my coping mechanisms, lifestyle changes and anything else related to anxiety as I know these are the kind of posts that I enjoy reading and benefit from so watch out for them.
I’d also love to know if you suffer from anxiety then what’s your story?