Update

Hello there, sorry for the net silence but I’ve had a busy old time lately (and told myself that I am not going to get myself anxious over my anxiety blog so have decided to post when I feel like I have something to say rather than force myself to).

What’s new in my life then? Well I have a new job being a waitress at a hotel nearby, I have recently bought a new car as my faithful old one seems to have fallen victim to rust and failed its MOT (that didn’t stress me out at all), and, due to an old enemy rearing its ugly head, new bald patches.

I mentioned before that I have struggled with Trichotillomania since I was 11 years old (when I pulled all my hair around the crown of my head), but haven’t pulled from my head since then. Well, as of last night I have two bald spots along my parting towards the crown of my head. The first I could easily brush my hair over, but the latest one is in such a place that the only thing I could do to hide it was part my hair on the other side or pull it back into a tight pony tail.

I’m trying not to feel too disappointed with myself, I can’t help doing it, and the thing that really sucks is that I didn’t become aware I was doing it until it was too late. The patches are only about the size of a one pence piece, so fortunately I haven’t done too much damage, but it’s hard to leave the areas alone now that I’ve started doing it again. I just spent half an hour looking for square scarves on Amazon as I previously had fun trying 1940s style head wraps, so thought I might try wearing those as a way to physically stop myself from being able to access my hair (and use it as an excuse to treat myself to something nice).

The puzzling thing is that, aside from the car drama, I haven’t been feeling overly anxious lately. I had noticed that I had slipped back into the ‘I’m not good enough’ thoughts, but not like I was constantly putting myself down last year. I’ve booked an appointment at the doctors anyway, as I’m taking this a sign that I need to start looking after myself again before I have a possible relapse (hello me, I’m listening!)

Other than that the only other real thing I can do is putting the techniques I learnt from CBT into practise and see if that helps. Oh, and listen to my favourite episode of the Goons; The Phantom Head Shaver of Brighton because I do know a man with a hairy bald head.

I do.

I do!

(If you have not had the pleasure of listening to The Phantom Head Shaver, the episode can be found here)

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Support

One of the first questions my Cognitive Behavioural Therapist asked me when I had my assessment session was: ‘Do you have support?’

Support is very important when you have a mental illness as often you can feel very isolated. You may feel like no one will want to talk to you about it, or you worry about alienating people and that they won’t understand. Due to the stigma that surrounds mental health, it means that it can be difficult to open up and talk about it, especially to those who have little knowledge of how mental health affects people. It can be tough, but, believe me, there are plenty of people out there who are, and will be, supportive.

As I was quite young when I first experienced mental health problems, it took me a long time to be able to talk to others about it. When you’re young it can be hard as a lot of people your own age don’t understand, and there are those who won’t think you’ll have gone through enough to constitute being unwell.

At the grand old age of 23, it’s much easier for me to talk about it; I’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with what’s wrong with me. However. people newly diagnosed at my age often feel the same sense of isolation I felt when  I was younger. The only thing I can say to those people is: ‘You are NOT alone.’ There are people going through what you’re going through, and people who have been through what you’re going through. It can be difficult to find them, but I assure you, they are there.

Group therapy sessions can be useful to put you in touch with people who are going through similar things, and a counsellor or therapist is also great to have as someone to talk to outside of your day-to-day life and they can give you an objective opinion on your problems. It is also important to have someone you can turn to and be there to listen when you’re feeling down. .

For me,  I have my boyfriend, dad, sister, mum and a few friends that I can just blurt out my problems/feelings/blah to and know they’ll listen, tell me I’m okay and then talk to me about it. You’re allowed to talk about your mental health any time, not just in a therapy session. There are people who will be happy for you to talk to them (and even want you to).

Having a network of support is immensely reassuring. I have to admit I’ve had a social cleanse over the last few years, and now I have a circle of good friends and family members that I know I can turn to when I need to. I found that, personally, I had to cut out or at least distance myself from those people who wouldn’t understand, or would at expect me to always be there for them and then not return the same courtesy. I felt I had to do it as they were bringing me down (and to be honest, I’ve told myself that if people don’t want to know me when I’m at my worst, they don’t deserve me at my best. Respect yourself Jenny!) Again, that’s what I had to do for myself.

Of course, there are people who get uncomfortable talking about your personal issues, and at times it’s important to respect that. People don’t always know how to react. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just might take them a little while to come to terms with what you have told them. I remember how some people reacted when I told them I pull out my hair, it’s not something that is often encountered.

In my opinion, that is exactly why we should talk about it more openly. It’ll not only help people see that mental health issues are just as prevalent and important to treat as physical health problems, but also help break down barriers surrounding mental health and broaden understanding of it.

The most important thing to remember is: You are not alone!

Moving Home

Weekly blog posts she said, I’ll stick to that she said…. Well, I do have a good excuse. The last two weeks or so have been occupied with finishing up at Sheffield Live where I’ve been volunteering (already miss those lovely people) and moving out of our Sheffield house and going back home to Devon, dogs and something else with beginning with ‘d’ to make that alliteration. Though nothing rude please, I’m watching you. Yeah, YOU. The one with the guilty face. Coming back home has been a mixture of emotions. As soon as packing up started I wanted it finished and us moved out as soon as possible. Good thing I was all packed on Tuesday and we were going home on Saturday… Moving back was causing me some concerns, particularly as it was this time last year when I came back from uni that my anxiety started flaring up again. In comparison, I’m already in a better place then I was. While still job hunting and lacking in security in that aspect, I have a clearer idea of what I’m going to do in the future and how to get there. I’ve also managed to put weight back on and in general look healthier. Definitely an improvement from last year! I also have plenty of things to look forward to, two of my friends I met in Japan are coming to visit me in August, I’ll go up to Edinburgh again to see my lovely Tom and then I’ll spend a week in Suffolk with his lovely family. How lovely! Fingers crossed for me!

‘Understanding’ Anxiety

Understanding anxiety is no easy task, even for those who suffer from it. As with anything, it affects everyone differently. Some people have panic attacks, others don’t, but those who don’t have panic attacks aren’t necessarily suffering less than those who do. I myself very rarely have panic attacks, when I do they are usually induced by me being trapped in a room with a spider, while the spider is just going about it’s spidery business trying to find flies wondering why there’s a human girl sat in the corner hyperventilating. I know how horrible they can be (panic attacks, not spiders) and feel great sympathy for those who suffer with them on a regular basis.

At the moment I keep seeing various cartoons, articles and videos trying to explain what anxiety is for those who don’t know. I think this has both a positive and negative effect. It is fantastic that people are talking about it and opening themselves up to the world, but often these pieces are presented as ‘this is what anxiety is like’ (often not by the author themselves I hasten to add, but by the sites that share them) whereas someone else may suffer from it differently.

One you may have seen is this one comparing anxiety to being in the rain. This is a pretty good way to describe it, though it doesn’t completely match up with how I feel about anxiety. If it were me, I’d be so worried about being rained on that I would have gone out with a coat, umbrella, waterproof trousers, walking boots, and a boat and then be paranoid that people would think that I was weird for being so hyped up about the rain. On the other hand, you may look at it and think ‘that is exactly how I feel about it’ or ‘I know someone who feels like that’ and it helps you. I think the danger with these is that people begin to think that anxiety falls under an easy definition. The website that shares the illustration about being stuck in the rain lists it under the heading ‘here’s an easy way of understanding anxiety’ when it would be better to say ‘here’s a way of understanding how anxiety can affect some people’.

I have my own way of describing how anxiety affects me, and I’m still working out how best to put that into words (who knows, maybe I’ll do my own cartoon), but the basic gist of it is that I feel like there’s always something following me, sometimes it’s right up close my heels and trips me up, others it’s way back in the distance, but I know it’s there somewhere (hm… I don’t think I’ll make Poet Laureate any time soon.) If anyone fancies sharing their own comparisons then let me know, I’d be very interested in hearing them!

When it comes to talking about anxiety, I would say to those who don’t suffer from it, don’t try and fit someone who is confiding in you into a definition you picked up from someone or somewhere else. There are several anxiety disorders, and each is characterised by different symptoms. Be sensitive. To those who do suffer with it, don’t feel that you don’t deserve to feel bad because someone else appears to have it worse than you. Everyone deserves help!

The NHS has a fairly good break down of the effects anxiety can have which can be found here and provides good information on what the different anxiety disorders are. Again, not everyone will have all the symptoms, and other people will have symptoms that aren’t listed (I kept on getting this weird bubbling sensation in my leg which a doctor assured me was a common anxiety symptom which I found no mention of on the website. I was freaking out convinced I had a blood clot or something.)

Just remember: everyone is different and everyone experiences things differently!

graham chapman monty python Life of Brian john cleese british comedy

graham chapman monty python Life of Brian john cleese british comedy

graham chapman monty python Life of Brian john cleese british comedy

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https://i2.wp.com/25.media.tumblr.com/ff1b8b989798fec1ad2bac858ebd088e/tumblr_mg90w4rqPf1ql6c6go5_500.gif

Images sourced from here!

Anxiety and Me

I don’t want to spend too long on this, but I will briefly talk about what my relationship with anxiety is just so you know where I’m coming from.

The first time I really remember being affected by anxiety was when I was eleven. I just remember constantly feeling that I was failing, I’d forget a piece of homework, or not complete something and I’d get into panics. These were panics where I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so afraid of getting into trouble, but the more I panicked the more unable I was to get things done. This was when I developed trichotillomania. For those not knowledgeable about what trichotillomania is, it’s an impulse disorder characterised by the urge to pull out your hair (thank you for the simple definition, Wikipedia.) While practically balding my scalp didn’t make me the coolest kid in the class – I spent the next few months with my hair in a ponytail to hide the bald patch – the moment mum spotted the patch was the moment that we realised something was wrong.

The thing with anxiety is that you don’t always look anxious on the outside. Combine that with someone like me who tends to healthily bottle up their problems and you have a recipe for complete meltdown. When I was that young, I couldn’t vocalise what I was feeling, I don’t even think I understood what I was feeling, so all that stress released itself through me pulling out my hair.

The next time I had a bad bout of anxiety was halfway through Year 11. I can’t really say what I was feeling, mainly because when I try to remember that period (January and February in particular) the only thing I can visualise is the colour black. That and the week the skin on my face completely dried out and went flakey because I used the wrong skin cleanser. Fun.

It took me until about the Easter holidays of Year 13 to actually sit down and think “there’s something wrong, and I need help.” By this time it was very hard for me to think positively about myself.

Being on my own was awful.

There were many times at school when during free periods I’d end up locked in a cubicle in the girls toilets crying because I was convinced that the reason I was on my own was because no one liked me. I was stupid. I wasn’t going to pass my exams. I was worthless.

I don’t know what it was that suddenly made me realise I was unwell, but luckily I did and I ended up with a brilliant counsellor. I passed my exams, went to uni and spent four years of my life feeling great. I went Japan, made great friends, met my lovely boyfriend and then graduated with a good degree. Things were going well for me.

Then I started looking for work properly, and along with that I was visited by an old friend. Hello anxiety! What I noticed this time around was how much it affected me physically. I lost weight, my stomach seemed to constantly hurt (cue convictions of bowel cancer), my chest hurt (cue convictions of heart problems), my head hurt (I’m definitely dying), I felt sick, was sick, lost my appetite – I didn’t feel great. Mentally… well, let’s just say job seeking and rejections take their toll and don’t lend themselves well to happy thoughts. By October I had a collection of diagnoses, IBS and some betablockers to help my chest chill out. I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it’s by far the best thing I could have done. After three sessions my scores were already down from severe anxiety and depression to moderate to low, and at the end of the six sessions I was checked out feeling good and having got a grip on things.

Obviously, anxiety is something that is always there for me. I still get pains, I still have betablockers, but I also have a good set of skills that help me keep my anxiety from exploding all over the place and making a big old mess.

The main thing I’ve learnt:

It’s okay to not be okay.

Let us begin…

First of all, I have a confession to make. I haven’t yet listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or read the book… But it is next on my reading list and I saw the film with Martin Freeman in it. Once. A long time ago. But anyway, I’m getting distracted. (I will listen to/read it, I promise.)

Second, the point of this blog. Most people who know me will be aware that anxiety is something that I’ve had to deal with for a significant amount of my life. This blog isn’t all about me going into my personal life and talking about all the times I’ve felt anxious, but more an account of things I’ve done and tried to combat it, or help me feel better. I want this to be a place where people can come to read about techniques that may help and have somewhere where they feel like someone understands what it’s like living with anxiety. It’s also for people who may know someone with anxiety, so that they can better understand what they’re going through.

I do want to stress that this blog is not to replace seeking medical help. If you haven’t previously spoken to a doctor about your anxiety, or if you’re reading some of the posts and think that sounds like something you’re currently experiencing, please go talk to someone medically trained. I can’t diagnose you. Some of the things I talk about may not work for you; anxiety affects everyone differently and different techniques work for different people.

So, let us begin…