Mental health is something incredibly close to my heart with a large majority of the people I hold close suffering in one way or another. I wanted to write down my thoughts on the topic, my own experiences and how I feel.
I myself have suffered from anxiety from a very young age. I had noticed the anxious feelings but due to my parents I was told it was normal and forced into situations that made me anxious in order to “grow my confidence”. Being as young as I was I thought well my mum knows best so it must be the right thing to do. So I suppressed these emotions that I felt because they were “normal” and I shouldn’t focus on them. Ultimately this just led to me being a functional member of society but one who inside wanted to cry and shake every time I had to speak to someone new or go somewhere I had never been before. I know these simple things don’t feel like massive tasks and it seems almost silly to be anxious over them but even to this day these tasks can daunt me.
My anxiety wasn’t actually diagnosed until nearly eight years later when I had my first panic attack. Even then I was still told by my mother it was just stress and I needed to get over it and just relax. This advice was no help whatsoever. Eventually the panic attacks were out of control and I was having upwards of 10 a week. I booked myself into the doctors twice for help and it wasn’t until the second time I went, when I had a panic attack in the office that they finally recognised that it wasn’t just stress. I was put on medication almost immediately for the panic attacks. Now this took me back to essentially the same place I was a couple years earlier. I had the same anxious thoughts just without the panic attacks. I feel like this just brought me down more. I was on medication and people suddenly thought that I was magically cured and everything would be fine. Honestly it was like a sink hole. Everything slowly consumed me until I felt like I was stuck and going under. This time in my life was definitely the darkest. I slept days at a time and would fake sickness simply to get out of school. I fell behind in school and my grades suffered. I distinctly remember one day before work throwing up simply because the assistant manager stressed me out that much that I really did not want to go. I had hit a new low in my life at only 16. I was tired of being told it was my hormones and I’d simply grow out of it. It was like being told I was simply grow out of my own thoughts, away from my own brain. That hurt. I felt misunderstood and ignored.
Two years later I was introduced to a number of therapists and took part on a CBT course. Now I personally didn’t enjoy the therapist or the CBT I simply felt like it didn’t work for me. I know many people that it did work amazingly for. I knew changing my mind-set towards things would ease my problems but I simply could not sit and focus on doing that. So once again I was in the dark with what I was doing and where I needed to take my thoughts. I realised that if I wanted to be able to control this I needed to find my own way of doing it.
For me exercise played a huge part in controlling it. Exercise and my diet was something that I could control….for a while anyway. My anxiety turned from daily activities to the food I was putting in my body. I became obsessed with calorie counting and making sure I consumed no sugar and no carbs. High protein food was my life and I was become a new level of unhealthy. I had reached a new low weight, I was tired constantly, my periods had stopped and I simply was no happier than I was before all this. At this time I was competing in jujitsu and my coach turned around and straight up banned me from competing until I put weight back on. It was this that snapped me out of it. My anxious behaviour around food was stopping me doing the one thing I was passionate about. I started to educate myself on my nutrition and began changing how I ate. Don’t me wrong I still to this day have foods that I am too scared to eat (crème eggs being one) but in general I have a much better relationship with food.
I started training more for strength and eating to support that. I did slowly notice my anxious thoughts reducing. I focused more on controlling my mind and my thoughts to allow myself to build a better relationship with myself. I found meditation to help and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts I use the insight timer app to help me with this.
Don’t get me wrong I still have days that can span into weeks where I sit in bed alternating sleep with tears. Those weeks are still incredibly hard for me but the one difference between now and when I was younger is the fact I have the most supportive person cheering me on. Even when I don’t want to listen to him and I feel like everything he says just goes through the motions, he is there for me. He has got my back and truly believes that I will get through the other side and be back to being in a place where I am happy.
My anxiety has definitely stopped me doing a lot of things in my life. I look back on it and so many opportunities passed me by simply because I was scared of having a panic attack in a situation and around people I wasn’t familiar with. I turned down jobs, university positions, holidays, and volunteering activities simply because I let my anxiety control me. I know that I have been in and out of bad situations but it doesn’t matter about the fall. The truly important thing is that I rise up out the other side. Not necessarily stronger but I rise. I feel like with mental health we need to reward the small rises, not beat ourselves up over the falls. Falls happen. Everyone falls, its about learning to find the support system that helps you clamber back up to stand again.