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.