Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Having Anxiety and Panic Attacks

I am sharing this post not for attention or sympathy as I would not wish this on my worst enemy but in the hope that it well help others and to let those who suffer with the same thing know that they are not alone and yes...you are very much normal. It is a more serious post than I usually do and it has taken a lot of strength to post it, next time I will do a nice positive happy one I promise.

I have suffered from anxiety ever since I can remember, I remember having it in high school especially in social situations but I think I was generally an anxious child. For a long time I was unaware I had anxiety, it has only been the last few years I really knew what it was and was able try and tackle it head on after it being identified. I have always been shy and suffered from low self esteem which I think has contributed to my anxiety but otherwise at this point I still don't know what has been the cause of it, I always felt different at school like I didn't fit in and school in general was not something I ever enjoyed. In the end school destroyed every bit of the little confidence I did have and in my last year it led to depression. I didn't go to the doctor as I didn't know what it was, I knew i felt really low and as it was around the time of my GCSE's so I just thought I was super stressed out. I barely spoke to anyone, I barely ate and became very thin and I was addicted to exercise. I was not trying to lose weight I think it was just my coping mechanism. I would eat half a piece of toast in the morning, an apple at dinnertime, a mars bar when I got home from school and I would make up an excuse at teatime as to why I couldn't eat it. I would be at the school gym at dinnertime and after school, if I was there it would mean I wouldn't have to face any social situations and I wouldn't have to explain to anyone why I wasn't eating. I think my family did notice what was going on and that I was really unhappy but I think they put it down to hormones and exam stress also. Here is a picture of me at my prom, you can see how thin I was as this was around the time this was all happening.
Things improved when I went to college, I made new friends and I was doing art which I absolutely loved. We went on cool trips to places and I enjoyed what I studied and the environment I was in. I had an incredible time and was feeling happy during my time at college. I still suffered from anxiety but at this point I didn't know what it was, I just thought I was a bit socially awkward and shy.
It has basically been an ongoing cycle in my life of my moods being very up and down, I will  be happy for a while then will fall into a gradual downward spiral of unhappiness anxiety and sometimes depression. I had zero control of it and it affected University life as I probably didn't take as many opportunities as I could have and I got very homesick. After getting fed up of this cycle that had gone on for years and in an effort to change it I finally thought that this has to be more than part of growing up and hormones. I am not entirely sure of how I identified the real cause but I know that for a while I was in denial that I had anxiety. I hate the label 'mental health' as there is such a stigma around it and I didn't want to believe I had a mental health issue. I thought it may go away on it's own but it hadn't so far and just like a broken leg won't be fixed unless you go to a hospital, a couple of years ago I accepted that I have anxiety. Ever since that moment things improved slightly and as I learnt more about it those strange behaviours I knew I had and the things I felt were now explainable and were all down to anxiety. I used to get quite frustrated with myself for acting a certain way as I wasn't sure why it was happening, I felt like I wasn't normal and it affected my confidence.
When I accepted my anxiety I got some self help books, I had trouble sleeping so I would try different meditations in order to get to sleep. I have tried almost every single app on the subject imaginable, one called Headspace is a really good one as is one called Calm. I tried eating better, trying to have a bedtime routine, I tried to find ways to relax which is something I find difficult.
The panic attacks weren't that regular to begin with, I would just get them once in a while but if my anxiety got worse then so would the panic attacks. I started to get them every other week but they would happen when I would least want them to. I have had them in supermarkets, at work, at a friends wedding, in airports and even in my own home. They are not fun and the worst run of them was at the end of last year when I was feeling particularly low, I had 6 in that month along with bad anxiety and low moods.

After nothing I tried really being that effective and when my boss at work noticed something was wrong as I wasn't myself, I finally gave in and went the doctors three weeks ago. I felt as though I had done everything I could to help myself but sometimes we just need that extra bit of help. It took a lot of strength to go and see a doctor, I don't think I could have done it without my boyfriend Marcus. He had seen how unhappy it was making me, how low my moods were and how much it held me back from doing what I wanted to do, even the simplest task like going into a super market could make me super anxious.
I chose a doctor that I knew would be able to help me to avoid having to see different doctors and having to explain how I felt multiple times. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, even just before I went into the doctors room I hesitated and considered running away. I was too nervous to explain myself to the doctor but I think I got across how I felt (while I was shaking). The doctor was completely understanding and went through my options, I have always been against going down the medication route as I was afraid of it changing who I was and of being on it forever in fear of things going back to how they were but I think in desperation I told my doctor I was happy to try anything that would help. He also suggested CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) a form of counselling, I left the room with a prescription for 28 days worth of SSRI tablets, information on the medication and a leaflet to make an appointment for the therapy. I finally stopped shaking when I left, I didn't feel relieved afterwards. I hated the idea I wasn't able to help myself but looking back now seeing that doctor was the best thing I did. After the first few days of taking the tablets I had a slight headache and felt quite tired but these went after about 4 or 5 days. I feel a lot happier and my anxiety isn't getting in the way of everyday life like it was and I am no longer overthinking or worrying about everything. I was getting anxiety every single day which made my work life very difficult. It isn't a miracle cure or anything, I do still get anxious but I feel that little bit more in control now. I have my appointment for an assessment before I can start the CBT. This in itself was traumatic, making phone calls and answering them is one of the things my anxiety has had an impact on, I find it very difficult but after putting it off for 5 days I did it and could not have been more proud of myself.
That is where I am at currently, the next time I see the doctor will be in a couple of weeks to review my tablets then a week later it will be my assessment so wish me luck.

For anyone struggling with this my advice would be this, please talk to someone and tell them how you feel. I feel like the only person that can really help to make you feel better is a doctor. Don't do what I did and avoid it for years, go and see a doctor you know will be able to help and tell them how you feel. If I can do it looking at the floor, shaking in my chair and being so nervous that I couldn't even think of words then so can you. Take someone with you and if you really struggle to talk about your feelings write down what you want to say and hand it to the doctor which in hindsight is probably what I should have done.
Don't suffer alone, this is something that can be dealt with. Everyone has their 'thing', they're something they are dealing with, that obstacle that gets in the way of enjoying things. Anxiety is mine and I will do everything I can to make it better. It may be a long journey but I know it will be worth it, I am going to make myself do everything that the doctor has suggested in order to help myself no matter how much I don't want to do it because it is easier to run away from the situation and hide away at home.

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