Anxiety. A thing that so many people experience in their own way, but a thing that so few actually understand. In rough terms, anxiety is the word used to describe feelings of unease, worry or fear. Mind has a great outline of what it is, what the different symptoms are, and what can be done to try to combat it…
…Except, it isn’t always that easy, is it? When the room is spinning, you feel like the walls are closing in and you feel like the world is simply passing you by, how easy is it to tell yourself that you’re ‘just anxious’ and this feeling will go? Unless you know what it is like to go through the torture of a panic attack, it’s very difficult to understand just how horrid anxiety is.
Em lives with anxiety. Or rather, anxiety pushed it’s way into Em’s life. Everyone’s experiences of mental health issues are completely different but Em gives an insight into what it’s like living with anxiety. Kudos to her for fighting this battle…
I’d like to start with bragging that on January 16th 2016 we welcomed a little baby kitten to the family; Jasper and he is positively adorable and perfect. Bragging over, a small positive anecdote as an excuse; he has been the biggest help for my anxiety and I honestly don’t know where my mind would be if it weren’t for him.
Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety. It’s a word that’s been around for years. Many people interpret it in many different ways. Me? I like to sum it up in one word: hell. This is a personal topic which I’ve never really addressed like this before. Writing in a journal is very cathartic but I can’t always write about it quick enough so here goes nothing. If there are people out there with anxiety who feel they are alone, trust me, you are not alone…if you need further proof, I’d recommend watching Youtuber Zoella’s video about it.
It took me a while to recognise I needed help but looking back, it was the best thing I ever did. I’ll admit even now, I have bad days, where anxiety is constantly looming over me and some days, I don’t have the strength to push it away so I embrace it; I spend a day in bed doing nothing because now I know, these days will pass and it will get better.
I reached a particularly bad time at the end of 2015. I was constantly worrying about the health of family throughout the year but once I knew they were fine, it was like all my walls came crumbling down; the anxiety and number of panic attacks increased. I’ve always been a worrier, even from a young age. I didn’t complete the 11+ test because of how much of a wreck I was during my Year 2 SATs (don’t even get me started on this topic…that’s a story for another time).
The panic attacks are new; my first one was during V Festival in August 2014. I was by the barriers and had been all day and Ed Sheeran had just gone on stage which I was waiting for all day. It started when I looked up at the screens. I became increasingly aware just how many people there were and could not find an immediate exit path. I came over feeling very unwell, my legs started to wobble and I just felt floppy, my ears felt tinny and I couldn’t stand. I was lifted over the barrier and as soon as I touched the ground, I was fine. I thought it was a one off. It wasn’t.
The next panic attack I remember; I was shopping with two of my friends and were queueing in Costa Coffee in town. I felt hot and cramped and was relieved when we left. I was focusing on a shop’s sign and the world began to go fuzzy; it sounded like I was in a tin can and the next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to see my friends and a couple who were helping me up. I felt absolutely fine. When I got home, my blood pressure and blood sugar levels were fine; I had no further symptoms.
I started noticing my panic attacks are brought on when I was in a sensory overloaded crowded place. I become aware of things more and I’m suddenly in the eye of a hurricane of words and there’s no escape. I go on autopilot and just flow with the crowd. Then comes the hyperventilating. Oh, not to mention the sudden chronic shooting pain in both ears which is new. That’s usually the start of them now. When I’m out of the situation and can hear reassurance, I feel fine. I’ve lost count of how many panic attacks I’ve had now; I’ve had one at Frankie and Benny’s, in Debenhams and walking out of Wembley stadium. All crowded places. Then, it became increasingly difficult to know what the triggers were. I would just suddenly feel anxious, then my stomach would get tighter and tighter and I would start hyperventilating, the ground shaking and the room spinning.
So I went to the GP; he advised I attend the Stress and Mood Management course through Therapy For You on the NHS. This was unbelievably helpful. My 1:1 Cognitive Behavioural Therapy soon began. I hated it. I began feeling more anxious on the days I was due to attend than I did on any other day of the week; the counsellor wasn’t listening to what I was saying and then I had to go into work late. During this time, I had gone from thinking I had to get up soon to rushing back home because there were no desks available at work. I wish “What If” questions were tangible, then I could bury them far away. I stopped my 1:1 sessions after three weeks because I could not take anymore. The SMM course is still the main resource I am using to cope with my anxiety, as well as medication of course.
Anxiety can strike at any moment but can seem bearable with the right support around you. Getting that support can sometimes prove difficult. In every workplace, there is a trained first aider but they are trained to provide first aid with physical issues; a cut finger, a bumped head or a fall down the stairs. This is all well and good but what about when someone has a panic attack? When I have experience panic attacks at work, I have to help myself. I have had someone sit opposite me not knowing what to do and I have also been told “there’s no need to cry”….I know there is no need to but I cannot help it…but you wouldn’t know that. My counsellor asked why I take myself out of the office when I have a panic attack and they couldn’t understand it but when you’re in a full office with very few having an understanding of anxiety, you don’t want to be the person sitting there causing a scene. Why? Oh because you have social anxiety of course.
First aid training is brilliant and I cannot fault it but I can’t help but wonder why there is no training on how to deal with someone suffering from mental health issues. Staff with depression are told to “cheer up”; staff with anxiety are told “don’t worry” and staff suffering from panic attacks are told to “calm down”. This is not right but how would they know; education surrounding mental health is limited. Schools encourage achievements in the academic subjects; English, maths and science. That’s all great but when exactly do we need to use Pythagoras’s Theorem to find the missing length of a side of a triangle? What about developing an understanding of why that “lazy” student is falling asleep in class? Or why that “crazy” lady is shouting in town? The stigma of mental health issues has decreased with the help of education but there should not be a stigma in the first place. Like there’s no stigma on a child with a broken arm. Just because someone with mental health issues isn’t being sick or doesn’t have a rash, it doesn’t mean they don’t go home every night just wanting to crawl into bed and not move until their alarm goes off the next morning.
Before you tell someone to “cheer up”, think. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.