This is just me telling my story about my personal journey with anxiety. I am not the most creative writer so I won’t be able to explain my thoughts and feelings in amazing depth or picturisation, but here we go…
The severity of mental health is not widely understood – at least not as in depth as it should be! Most people would just think you needed locking up if you said to them ‘I’ve got mental Heath issues’ because I believe it is not taught at a young age just how seriously mental illness can affect people. Why is this the case? Why are we taught about physical illnesses and not mental ones when 1 in 4 people will now suffer with a mental health issue at some point in their lives? I think this is one of the hardest things about anxiety. The fact that is it not being accepted as an illness by most people, the thought of discussing your feelings openly or even worse, having a panic attack in public is petrifying. What would people think?
I don’t blame people for not knowing about anxiety, as if I didn’t have it, I don’t think I’d understand it either. I believe that if you haven’t ever suffered with anxiety yourself, you won’t ever truly understand how it takes control of your life.
Anxiety is a fear, usually a ridiculous fear about what is going to happen in different situations. This can lead to anxiety disorder and in some cases severe panic attacks!
So what happens when you feel anxious or during a panic attack? Cortisol is the stress hormone in our bodies. It is responsible for initiating the ‘fight or flight’ response when we are in a situation we need to get out of. With anxiety, your body believes that you are in a dangerous situation (even if you are not) a lot more than someone who does not suffer with it. Anxiety sufferers have more cortisol stored in their bodies and this leads to stress and anxiety being suffered at a much higher level. When the feeling of anxiety builds up, cortisol is flooded around the body and this in turn, makes your body panic, as it is trying to get more oxygen to the brain and this then leads to your breathing quickening. Adrenaline also causes the heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense. At least this is what my therapist said?
She also said that my brain is wired to remember how it felt in different situations, which is why anxiety happens in the same situation. A wire is ‘welded’ in my brain when a panic attack happens or if I felt anxious somewhere previously which means that more often than not, I will have an anxiety attack again and my brain needs to be ‘re-wired’ to stop this happening. Pretty scary right!
Anxiety can be caused by genetics. Apparently mine is, as quite a few people in my family also suffer with it and unfortunately I have just been passed on this lovely gene!
As well as this, anxiety can be caused by childhood trauma. When I was growing up, my dad suffered with poor physical heath and I watched him having to go through this my entire life. I used to love going to the hospital with him and watching him be jabbed with different needles when I was younger, I found it so interesting! Who knew I would be so affected by it now. Seeing him dialysing and being rushed into hospital was a regular occurrence and I was very good at dealing with it when I was younger.
However, when I was 17, I was told that I too had inherited the polycystic kidney disease. A disease that slowly causes your kidneys to fail until you need a transplant in later life. I then came to realise that I wasn’t quite as good at dealing with health issues as I thought I was and that my anxiety may be severely linked to this. I would repeatedly get upset about it and quite honestly I would think it’s so unfair. Why me? Why my dad? I guess you just have to deal with things!!
I think the thing that makes me the most anxious about polycystic kidney disease is the fact that I can’t deal with it now. It sounds so silly but the feeling of knowing you’re going to get seriously ill but you don’t know when, is hard to deal with. I just keep telling myself that when it comes to me there will hopefully be medical advances and it won’t be as bad as what I had to watch my dad go through. I have to think how lucky I am that I don’t have anything worse.
My anxiety got worse for a while after I found out I had the disease. I would be awake at night crying and having panic attacks, which led to me not wanting to go to school. I tried to go through this alone for a while as I didn’t want to upset my dad and I was scared I’d make him feel bad for passing on the illness. This was the worst thing to do! I felt so alone and I think I was suffering with depression at this point as I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I didn’t want to see my friends or go out like a normal 18 year old!
One day at school I broke down in front of my boyfriend and he told me ‘If you don’t tell Dave (my dad) how you’re feeling, I will!’. This was the best thing he could’ve done because it made me realise I needed to do something about this. Eventually I went into my mums room crying and told her how I was feeling when I just couldn’t take it anymore. My dad is the wisest and most inspiring person I know and he sat with me for hours it must have been, talking me through everything and I instantly felt better that I’d even told someone. They told me that they have suffered with it in the past and had even had therapy before. I wasn’t the only one! I seriously recommend telling someone if you think you are suffering with anxiety or depression. I tried to keep it to myself for ages but it makes you feel so alone and helpless.
When a panic attack happens, for me they can be of different severity. The easiest ones to deal with are short, maybe lasting 5-10 minutes. It starts with my brain, my brain telling me that I know I’m going to have a panic attack right NOW! Then it begins, the panic, the thought of ‘how am I going to get out of here?’ My breathing speeding up and my heart racing. I then feel pins and needles in my hands and feet and awful pains in my chest. Eventually when I’m away from the situation – by situation I can just mean sitting eating my lunch or getting on a plane, normal things to most, i’ve become quite good at calming my breathing down and stopping a panic attack taking hold.
In a worse situation, for example, once I was lying on my bed watching tv with my boyfriend, I suddenly felt ill and had pains in my head. I had been suffering with a really bad kidney infection for two weeks prior and because anxiety is linked to my health I think that may be why I had the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. I couldn’t stand up because my limbs were shaking that badly. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably and I was screaming whilst trying to catch my breath. It lasted for probably 20 minutes before my dad eventually calmed me down. I then had two more before my body forced me to be sick from all stress I guess? I honestly thought I was going to die that night during the panic attacks. However no one has ever died from a panic attack and they can only last 20 minutes, that’s what you have to keep telling yourself!
The worst part about anxiety is the feeling of missing out on things that normal 18 year olds get to do. I find getting on a plane very hard due to having a panic attack in an airport a couple of times previously. However, I have been getting better and the last couple of times I haven’t suffered with it. I find going out on a night out awful because I have had multiple panic attacks in clubs and unless I feel 100% comfortable around the people I’m out with I can’t go. I work myself up so much before I go that there is no point. I just know I’ll have to come home 10 minutes later! Frankly a waste of taxi money! I even had a panic attack at my own school ball for no reason, just because I was sat in a room with a lot of people and I convinced myself that I was going to have a massive, embarrassing panic attack in front of everyone! So silly! Different situations affect people with anxiety differently, it all depends on you as a person and your particular story.
Depression is something that usually comes with anxiety and I definitely believe I suffered with this multiple times. During the winter months I used to get very low and didn’t want to come out of my room, even before I even knew I had anxiety. I haven’t spoken to a therapist about depression so I’m not sure why that is! The feeling of not having a normal life and being as sociable and able to do all the things that other people do is awful. Luckily my boyfriend has been amazing at supporting me through all this and without him, I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing today! I certainly would not be at uni!
Which brings me on to how I have made my anxiety a lot better recently and how I am feeling so much happier in myself. First of all, going to uni has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am able to live my own life away from family stresses that make my anxiety very bad. I cook what I want which I really enjoy and have a lot more time in the day to do things that make me happy.
Going to the gym nearly every day has really helped my anxiety massively to the point where if I don’t go one day, I feel very bad and I definitely notice stress building back up. Exercise helps anxiety as it removes the cortisol from the brain and replaces it with endorphins. The happy hormone! Exercise daily is one the best things that has helped me become happier and basically stopped my panic attacks recently.
I also take vitamin D tablets everyday. Now, I’m not sure if this is a placebo or they genuinely do work, but they have really helped me feel happier and more positive during these colder months. I would give them a go if you think you get into a low mood around this time of year!
Unfortunately there were somethings that didn’t help me. I went to the doctors on my own and asked for help with the fact I was suffering with depression and they simply told me to go read about it online. This made me feel so much worse as I felt like I was going to be feeling like this forever and honestly I felt like never leaving my bedroom ever again. However, I feel like this may have made me think that I needed to sort myself out, which led me to exercising and doing things that I enjoy more regularly. Therapy did not help me, but that’s because I don’t like to talk openly about things very often, it used to make me cry and feel so bad about myself for days after I went. However it did help me understand why it was happening a bit more and discussing everything I’d been through made me understand that maybe it’s not my fault that I feel like this. Therapy may work for other people so I would give it a try if you think you are suffering with a mental illness.
I hope reading my story has maybe helped some people to realise what anxiety is like. If you are suffering with anything like this, you are not alone. Please speak to someone if you are young and you are feeling anxious/depressed or suffering from any other mental health issue. I promise I’ll be the best thing you have ever done and may be the only way to get you on the road to recovery.