I've had this post planned since the beginning of August, but only now have I managed to sit down at type it. It seems every time I tried to sit down and blog, I'd find something else "more urgent" to do, and put this post to the end of the list. See, I hate talking about how anxiety has affected my life and is something, if I'm honest, I'm still a bit embarrassed about. Some of you may now start thinking why I'm writing a post, actually a series of posts, on anxiety then. Put simply, if you never talk about it, it will always be something to be embarrassed about; and it's not. So many of my friends suffer from various degrees of anxiety, and it seems every week there's a new blogger who is brave enough to admit they too have been affected by it. Whilst there have been lots of posts about how anxiety affects people, I don't think I've found somewhere that really covers everything; their story, how they manage it, how to help people with it etc. This month marks two whole months since I've had a full-scale panic attack, so I think it's the right time that I now share the highs and lows of having anxiety and maybe even help someone else.
This is a really long post. The longest I've ever written; and possibly one of the most painful. If you reach the end, congratulations. It's not meant to be a "Ohh look at poor little me post". It's an attempt to de-glamorize anxiety, show what it's really like, and also show that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Before I go any further I just want to get it out there in black and white, having anxiety does not mean someone is attention seeking. Only this year I've heard people, who have good law degrees, training to be solicitors and supposedly smart people, say people who visibly show the signs of anxiety are just looking for attention. If you suffer from anxiety and have an anxiety attack, especially in a public place, most people will agree you want to get out of there and become invisible, not become more noticeable. It's embarrassing and scary and ruins your life. No one would truly want to have anxiety. Of course they didn't know I in fact suffered from anxiety and there misconceptions were some of the reasons why I got help too late.
I've only realised recently that I've been suffering from anxiety since I was about 8, which sounds shocking. When I was 8 my mum was very ill and because I was so young I didn't understand why or what was happening despite having bits explained to me. As an only child in a small family, when your confused about whats happening you don't really have very many people to turn to, so I kept all my confusion inside. This confusion then turned into anxiety, and spread like wild fire to other areas of my life throughout my teenage years.
It was only when I was 17 that I finally sought help. I was absolutely terrified but when to the GP, only to be made to feel stupid for even coming and told that he had teenage daughters and it was normal. It might have been, but I still needed help. I felt more anxious than ever at that point so my parents decided to pay for a private referral. I was put on some medication, but all that did was attempt to solve the symptoms and not help me deal with my anxiety. Whilst I wasn't having full on panic attacks, I felt worse. It's hard to explain but I felt like I needed just to have a good cry, to release all that emotion, but my body just couldn't because of the medication. Needless to say my anxiety didn't stop.
Through University I still had anxiety, but not to the same extent. Looking back I can see that my anxiety has been in peaks and troughs, with some years being particuarly worse than others. Throughout my 1st and 2nd year's I was constantly busy and felt I was slowly getting on top of my anxiety. However, in my 3rd year I began to isolate myself. I couldn't play hockey due to injury and being ill myself stopped me going out with friends and doing other things I loved. It was after graduation in the summer of 2013 when my anxiety really stepped up a gear to the worst it has ever been.
To say that my life from the summer of 2013 to May 2014 was ruled by anxiety is a complete an utter understatement. It was ruined. A common misconception of anxiety is that if your happy for a day, you clearly don't have anxiety. That's wrong. Of course you have good days. Of course you have bad days. I have some lovely memories from that period, but I also remember feeling very sick, very scared and very embarrassed about something that was out of my control. I used to dread leaving the house and I'd even set a countdown on my phone for how long I'd be out, to reassure me time was passing and I could be home soon. I don't know why, but being in public made me feel uneasy. I spent days on the brink of tears and would use the smallest thing to justify my worries. I said no to countless opportunities and avoided anything out of my comfort zone. If the tram was busy on the way home, that was it, I'd have a complete panic attack in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester, possibly the most public place possible. My worst nightmare. The worst thing was that I started to feel overwhelmed even in my own home. My mum asking what I'd like for my tea would turn me into a wreck, getting ready to go out would just send me into a panic. I couldn't even watch television downstairs and would find myself drifting back upstairs unconsciously. Like many people with anxiety, I can tell when an attack is coming. For me, it feels like everything is coming at me, almost like bullets. Normal conversations not even to me will seem like people are shouting in my face, people walking will feel like they are walking into me, everything becomes overwhelming and claustrophobic. I felt there was nothing I could do to stop this and could see no way out. I couldn't, and still can't explain why I felt like I did, and I think that's the worst thing; the feeling like your going crazy. I hit rock bottom, and felt like I was watching myself in a car crash, in slow motion.
Feeling like things couldn't get any worse, I went back to my GP. Luckily there was a lovely GP who was training, I think maybe on her 2nd year post qualification. To put into words how grateful I am to her is impossible, because she started my road to recovery. Breaking down in the doctors, I explained how my life had become like living in a prison. At first she suggested counselling, but then quickly realised that no amount of talking would help me find the answer to why. See, not all treatments are suited to all people and just because something has worked for one person, doesn't mean it will work for the next. She then said if I wan't to change my behavior, why didn't I try CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Initially I was reluctant but my GP reassured me that it would teach me coping techniques, and wouldn't be some kind of psychoanalysis.
Hesitantly, I agreed to be referred to the NHS team. I waited. And Waited. 9 weeks later I finally got sent an appointment. I understand that the NHS is so stretched and underfunded and we are lucky to get access to such healthcare, but at a time when I couldn't go a day without having at least three panic attacks, being forced to wait a further 9 weeks for something I wasn't sure would even help was unbearable. Only this week anxiety has been used in the Liberal Democrat campaign with Nick Clegg vowing to increase funding for research into mental health and bring it in to line with more physical and visible illnesses. I hope this isn't just a political ploy, because something more needs to be done for illnesses that most of us will suffer at one point in our lives.
I actually cancelled that NHS appointment when it came as my incredibly supportive parents decided I couldn't wait and paid yet again for private sessions. I felt guilty for them paying for yet more treatment for me, but now, it seems it was the best money they have ever spent. By the time that NHS appointment came, I'd been panic attack free for 2 weeks.
I was cynical about CBT, and thought it was a load of hippie talking malarky. For those of you who don't know, CBT is a way to change how you behave in certain situations. It's almost like conditioning yourself to deal with triggering circumstances in a more manageable way. When I was told my first session would be on "breathing" I rolled my eyes. I then gave myself a good talking to. I had reached lower than I had ever been, trying a bit of hippy breathing will not make it any worse. I did the session and then applied it to my next panic attack. I stopped before I'd got to a full-meltdown. I'd never been able to do that before. The more I practiced the techniques the quicker the panic attacks stopped, until they stopped altogether that is.
I have never wanted to hug someone so much as my therapist. She has given me a life back. I then moved on to how to relax in stressful situation that may give rise to panic attacks, and then how to deal with anxious thoughts. I've now finished the course of CBT and have realized some important things. I am always going to be anxious. It's as much apart of me as my freckles and blue eyes. What I can do though is take control of it and not let my life be dictated to by it. This acceptance of anixety being a part of me made me feel more in control. You cannot control your thoughts. No matter how control and disciplined you are, thoughts are subconscious. You can however control how you react and deal with those thoughts and CBT has helped me learn the right ways to do that.
As in said right at the start of this post. I've now not had a panic attack for 2 months. That's the longest I've ever gone since I was 16. I'm not going to say that I'll never have one again, because if I could predict that I should have my own late night show. But, if I do have a panic attack, at least I know that I can get control back of my anxiety and carry on living the life I want to live.
If you somehow got to the end of this, please let me know. On Friday I'll be talking about Anxiety and Blogging.