Me & Anxiety


I've been waiting for the right moment to talk about anxiety on my blog. It's nothing to be ashamed of, although I think anyone who says they have never been ashamed of a mental health condition are sadly lying to you. It's more because I am by most standards, quite a private person.

It's 'World Mental Health Day' today. I didn't even know it existed but seeing it hit the top trend on Twitter is a huge step forward for the community of millions of mental health sufferers, who until only very recently felt like they had to silently face their invisible problems everyday. While I continue to encourage people to openly talk about mental health, I thought I'd share my story.

I think my anxiety truly began on a regular day at my first job, back when I was 16 in 2011. I used to serve customers on the till and I was told to wait a bit longer for my break as some others were still on theirs. For some reason, my legs started shaking and I suddenly felt like my eyes weren't working properly. I was terrified and when I went up to the staff room, I just didn't feel 'right'. I couldn't sit still and just didn't know what was happening. I oddly remember Titanium by Sia playing on the TV at this point - a song which I came to avoid for many years after, distressed by the memory. One of the managers thought perhaps I had glandular fever, I left work slightly early and ended up walking all the way home in a complete daze.

The thing that irritates me the most is that I didn't know I was suffering from a panic attack because I didn't know what one was. I was familiar with the phrase "you nearly gave me a panic attack!" but this wasn't my mate jumping out saying 'Boo!' in the dark, this was so much worse and it was only just beginning. In my lack of education on mental health, and no idea how to cope, I just silently persevered on. I had repeated panic attacks in my exams and I still went to work praying that no one would notice when I had a wobble. I can't act - just remembering my school drama lessons makes my palms sweaty - but I felt like every time I left my house, I was performing the act of someone who wasn't ill. Perhaps that is why much of the year I was 17 is a blur.

I had to walk out of college classes because my head felt like it was exploding, and at a particularly difficult time with my anxiety at uni, I feared the same thing would become a regular occurrence. Why a classroom, lecture theatre or office can bring you so much fear when it is just a room, I will never really know but so often, I felt trapped and choked, longing to run out of the fire exit. Everyone's experience is slightly different but I think perhaps mine leads back to not being able to take my break that day. Sometimes, we all need an escape and when that's not physically possible, our bodies perceive that we're in danger. I wasn't, but once your body is convinced it needs to go into fight or flight mode all the time, it takes years to 'reprogram' it to believe otherwise. 

In hindsight, anxiety was perhaps always on the horizon for me. I had an incredible childhood but I was always worrying, and when I hit my head really hard inside a water slide when I was 13, I think that was actually the first time I had a panic attack. I became so convinced I had concussion, it was eventually our hotel's owner, an ex-brain surgeon, that saved my sanity, and made me realise I was okay.

I have so many stories relating to my anxiety I could tell, but I don't like to dwell on them. No one truly knows what goes on inside another person's head and that's sometimes so troubling. For a long time, I couldn't even begin to explain my thought process - everything was so damn messy. Some of my friends have no idea I've panicked while in their company, simply because beginning to get the words out was frankly too difficult. 

Whether you're a Laidback Luke (not the DJ) or an Anxious Annie too, all I ask is that you just listen to people when they start to explain their mental health. Sometimes, you'll meet people who aren't like you, perhaps you're Banter Bruce and think every second should be fun-filled, but please, don't see them confiding in you as a chance to tell them to lighten up. You might be the first person they've ever spoken to about the subject, and listening for just ten minutes could really help them, or encourage them to seek help professionally. 

After four and a half years, I am not magically relieved of anxiety, but I am so proud of how far I've come. Without exaggerating, it's been really hard and a massive test of my patience. Even as I finish this, I keep remembering something else and go "Well, that was dreadful but you're still here!" Despite being diagnosed with 'severe anxiety' back then, I got through college, I've gained work experience in various industries, successfully navigated my way through uni, and I graduate next month with a 2:1 in English. Here's to the next five years, and yours too!

#WorldMentalHealthDay

Useful Links:
For more info: Mind
My MH project: Art for Mental Health

Comments

  1. Sharing personal experiences can be very hard, but one sure way of undermining the 'shame' of anxiety and panic attacks is for sufferers to be open and honest - and for others to never be dismissive of another person's extreme fight or flight response to a perceived threat - however incomprehensible it may seem. Hannah, having known you from our first year in uni, I admire you for you honesty in sharing your own struggle with anxiety and I can categorically say you are a much stronger person than perhaps you even know yourself. Really.

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    1. Thank you so much Becky! Usually now, I'm pretty open about it - why not be? It was harder when I first had to come to terms with having it so severely but it's nothing to be ashamed of. Being hypersensitive to threats is incredibly difficult to deal with but these things take time and patience. I really appreciate your kind words, and can definitely say the same for you. See you at graduation I hope! x

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  2. Aw girl, this is so so good! I'm so glad you shared your story. Bet you feel like a little weight has been lifted off your should after putting these words together! You should be so proud of yourself for not giving up and for fighting and dealing with it yourself! You better treat yourself because look what you've achieved! Stay strong and if you need a friend, I'm always here.
    Much love,
    Louise x

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    Replies
    1. Aw Louise, that means a lot! I've been openly discussing mental health with people "in real life" for a while but thought I'd put my story out here too :) here for you too! Thank you so much! X

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