I have debated with myself for a long time about whether to publish this blog post. I rarely ever debate with myself this long over any blog post. Usually within a few hours (or days, for a longer post), it's written , photos added and the publish button is hit before sharing on my social media sites without too much of a second thought. It is a personal blog post, more personal than even the skinny shaming one I have written. But I felt like this needed to be posted.
I'm a 23-year-old woman, normal in a lot of ways. I'm a university student studying the course of my dreams, I have a weekend job, I'm obsessed with makeup and all things girly and love my family and friends to bits. I love to read all kinds of books, from literary greats to romantic novels, listening to the latest music playlists added to Spotify (as well as the cheesy songs playlists) and I love to write in my blog. But anyone that has ever got close to me knows that I also have another side and that side is my battle with anxiety.
The reason I decided to write this blogpost was not only to talk openly about my own experiences with anxiety in the hope it may let somebody in the same situation know they are not alone in their struggle, but really, it's to give you some insight on what it's really like to live with anxiety, everyday.
One of the biggest misconceptions about anxiety is that it is worrying. Yes, it is, but it's a lot more than that. Most people worry about things like exams, and that is perfectly rational. There's the fear that you may not progress to your next year of study and lose funding, all that. With anxiety, I worry, but at a much more heightened degree. It can be anything that can trigger me off. I think of the time I left the hair straightener on when I was at home three years ago and start panicking at university thinking I did the same thing this morning before I dashed off to my lecture. I can be asleep in bed and suddenly wake up, convinced the house is going to go on fire, despite there being numerous fire alarms all over the house. I find a mark on my arm and wonder how that got there, suddenly panicking that it's skin cancer. I think of the time I was 15 that some girl called me "ugly" and suddenly don't want to go on that night out I have been excited for, gradually convincing myself over the course of the evening that people will laugh and make fun of me for being so ugly. As you may have guessed, common sense is not on my side when I go through these "episodes" and along with my naturally stubborn nature, there is not one thing that can convince me otherwise.
People often assume that panic attacks and anxiety go hand in hand, that is not true either. I've never had a panic attack in my life and if I tremble, it's only for a short time. It is however, very physically draining. I usually have the worst episodes at night time with all these thoughts rushing around in my head, and it can be 6 or 7am before I realized I haven't managed to sleep at all. This insomnia only leads to me feeling anxious the following day, before having another episode that night, and this may go on for weeks. It often makes me feel physically sick in my stomach, not wanting to eat. It makes me so tired and lethargic that I sometimes struggle to get out of bed, let alone take any pride in my appearance.
My university work has thankfully never suffered as a result of my anxiety, because I genuinely can say hand on heart, that I absolutely love the course that I'm doing at the moment and it sounds cheesy but I believe I was made to do it. Things that may worry the average student, like assignment deadlines, usually never bother me because I'm one of those strange, strange people that actually enjoy writing assignments. But, I could barely sleep the weekend before I went on my first placement in early March, terrified I wouldn't gather the 'right' information from the patient, or do something cringe like say something idiotic in front of all the professionals present. The first week there was not only physically demanding, from running up and down stairs to wards with wheelchairs and what not, but mentally demanding as I was convincing myself I was going to fail it and would have to re-do it in the summer, meaning I wouldn't get to go home to Ireland.
As you might guess, friendships are difficult to start and maintain. I'm a natural introvert, which usually can be presumed the reason behind why I tend to be quite shy around people, when really though I'm worrying about what to say, what I look like, how I'm coming across. It's all heightened when anxiety starts spending a bit too much time with me, leaving me sleep deprived and generally worn out. It convinces me that I'm simply not worthy enough to be somebody's friend, that they deserve better than me, and that they are probably bitching about me anyway. I think about the time I said something silly a year ago. They're probably still talking about it, about what an idiot I am and I know they probably don't like me that much anyway and are just hanging around me because they're bored and have nobody else. This leads to un-returned phone calls and text messages, as well as the awkward silences when we pass each other on the street. Which only serves to add more fuel to the burning out of control fire that is anxiety in my brain: they really don't like me at all.
Relationships are even more difficult. Again, they start the same way, and anxiety causes me to be scared of what I look like and how I'm coming across to someone. Anxiety notices I'm becoming happy and comfortable with a guy but it reckons it needs to make its presence even more obviously known, determined to ruin things. Often I've dated guys who have exams and work and are genuinely otherwise occupied. However, anxiety convinces me that they don't like me, that they are just dating me because they are bored. But when you're in a relationship for six months or a year and you're still having to ask someone whether they like you or not, it becomes less cute and more of a strain. They don't consider the fact if I care for and eventually fall in love with someone, I will support them through virtually everything and anything. They usually only view the clingy girlfriend I become.
Some people try and help me. The most common thing I've heard is to "calm down", but it's safe to say it won't work, so don't even waste your breath telling me this. When I'm going through an episode, sleep deprived and on the brink of collapsing due to a virtually non existent appetite, I get angry. I start crying in front of people (which I don't ever like to do). I say things in the spur of the moment I later regret that genuinely hurt the people who care for me the most; the people that would do anything to make me happy, even if it means sacrificing their own happiness. Apologies come later, but often people don't understand why I've reacted the way I have, and so they rarely ever work. Anxiety is like that selfish person that just wants you to spend all of your time with them, alone with your thoughts. I've been labelled a drama queen, an attention seeker, a self-absorbed bitch among other terms that only heightens my condition even more so, without people realizing that all I need in these times is just cup of tea and maybe a hug or a cuddle.
I've been prescribed medication, with varying degrees of success. They usually make me feeling like I'm so relaxed and have no concerns, feeling numb and devoid of any feeling, or the opposite end of the scale: so utterly hopeless that I feel my anxiety is taking over my life and feeling so very depressed that I sometimes feel like everything is going wrong. I feel guilty, I think why am I feeling these thoughts: from the outside world and to even myself, I know I have a lot more in my life than most people could ever imagined; a family that love and support me (even throughout the crazy decisions), friends that are always available for a chat and a few laughs (even if that is via Skype) and the chance to study the course I've always wanted to do. I haven't used medication in quite some time though for those reasons, and so I try to deal with anxiety in the most natural ways possible; that is, distracting myself with something that relaxes me, like writing in my diary or blog, reading or simply meeting up with friends. It's super important for me to always remain busy, and not give anxiety time to spend with me.
I didn't write this blog post to be pitied or have people feel sorry for me, because I don't think that's what anyone with anxiety or any other mental illness or indeed physical illness wants to be treated.
I wrote this because I genuinely want others to know what it's really like. There are changing opinions on mental illness; people are openly talking about their struggles with depression on social media and I for one am really pleased about this. But like I said, there are way too many misconceptions regarding anxiety and many people simply struggle to realise just how debilitating it really is, brushing it off as "everyone worries". That's a concerning thought because 1 in 6 young people in the UK, from all different backgrounds and walks of life, currently suffer with anxiety. Anxiety is often viewed as the "less severe" of mental illnesses because like myself, people can live a relatively normal life with it. But it's definitely not "cute" to be stuck with it. I may smile and put on a bright pink lipstick but like the way your lipstick hides your natural lip colour, this smile only serves to hide what's really just bubbling beneath the surface.
I've just had a week of re-occurring episodes of anxiety. I don't even know what triggered it. Maybe it was general bad nutrition over the duration of the placement. Maybe it was just plain old exhaustion from the long shifts and the travelling each day. But I had just finished placement and was elated at the news that I had not only passed it, but got a really high grade in it too. I was happy and was delighted to have two weeks off uni to relax.
Why then, did anxiety turn up to ruin things? One day I was fine, then the next day I was barely sleeping or eating, constantly thinking very irrational thoughts, worrying about the most trivial things. yet I somehow managed to pull myself together by Friday and eat and sleep properly before dragging myself into work and complete long and tiring shifts over the course of the weekend. I smiled and joked with my colleagues. I did my weekly food shop earlier today and attempted to dye my hair. But inside, I was more damaged than my bleached hair, trying to repair what emotional damage had been done over the course of the week.
Anxiety is as much a part of me as is this blog, and will continue to be for the rest of my life.
Although I'd rather not have it, it has taught me a few things: despite what anxiety has you inclined to believe, there are people who genuinely care about you regardless, and those are truly the people that will make things so much easier to bear.
If nothing else, anxiety has given me a heightened sense of empathy. I worked with a patient on my placement who had anxiety. She wasn't taking her medications because she said she had experienced some of the not-so-pleasant side effects I mentioned above, so she was labelled as being "difficult" by some of the staff. I decided to get out of my comfort zone and try to speak to this lady, and put my anxiety aside for a minute to try and help her with hers. Despite her obvious anxieties, I didn't try and reassure her because I knew from my own personal experience that would be pointless and falling on deaf ears. Instead, I thought about what helps me the most when I'm anxious. I asked her how she liked her tea and came back with two mugs for us, while we sat and spoke about our lives. She told me about her mischievous grandson, her travelling adventures around Europe with her husband (she told me they had been to Ireland and loved it), and her two dogs. I went to see her every day for about an hour over the duration of the placement but on my last week, she was about to be discharged. As I left that day, she took my hand and said "Thank you for listening to me." I smiled; I hadn't really done anything except for sitting down with her for a chat with a cuppa. Yet I realised that that was what was most needed.
Despite it, I'm so very determined to not let anxiety control me. I'm may have not slept or ate very well due to it last week and other days, but I will still get up, do my makeup and hair, and go into uni or work and do whatever I have to do. I'm aware I have a very mild form, but even so sometimes that makes life difficult, but I still do whatever I have to do and I will do it with a smile. To quote Rocky Balboa, Life "ain't about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and still keep moving forward."
I know people will judge me differently because of this post, but the way I see it, that's irrelevant to me. We all have a mental health and it needs to be looked after just as well as physical health. To be honest, the only people whose opinions I care about are the people who care about me and the people who are close to me and are a part of my life at the moment and they are some pretty amazing people; other people's opinions simply don't matter. And this blog post like I said, isn't really about me. It's about all those who suffer in silence each day, with a more severe form of anxiety that I have, struggling for breath, worried, feeling hopeless, fighting this invisible illness. I honestly think people that suffer with invisible illnesses are the bravest people in the world. I wish I could meet all of you and share a mug of tea with you and give you a hug and tell you that somehow, everything is going to be OK.
Thanks for reading xxx