Anxiety. The problem beneath the surface that can be invisible to others. Yes it’s real and yes it gets in the way of the simplest of tasks.
Firstly, I apologise for posting another rather heavy going post but when I launched this blog, I promised myself in my ‘mission statement’ that I would share my personal experiences of both bereavement (which you can read about here) and anxiety. Neither subject are very easy to digest but I’m of firm belief that subjects surrounding mental health ought to be shared far and wide with it still being a taboo subject. However that being said, in the last couple of years SO much awareness has be raised to help people that are victims of mental illness and as a society we have already taken a massive step in the right direction.
Anyway.. Where it all began. In the Summer of 2013 I was juggling my dissertation, a tricky relationship , 8-10 weeks of unemployment and battling with grief after losing mum four years earlier. I had a lot of time on my hands which meant my brain working overtime, so I think the build of up some particularly testing moments resulted in what I can only describe as my head exploding.
I first noticed it when I’d gone to my boyfriends house for Sunday lunch with his family (nothing out of the ordinary, and I’m certainly not one to turn down food). We sat down before lunch was served and I suddenly came over feeling really sick and panicky. I needed to to escape this feeling asap so I quickly left. When I got home my Dad asked me if I was okay and I just burst in to tears. This was the moment I knew that something wasn’t right. How could something so normal freak me out like this.
In the Easter of 2013 a few of us got an Indian take away which resulted in me getting terrible food poisoning. This must be where my irrational fear of being ill in public must have stemmed from? Before I knew it I was getting anxious over nothing and everything. Even a family meal at our local pub that is 200yds down the road riddled me anxiety. Your physical response to something like this is ‘fight or flight’. Your body releases a shed load of adrenaline but with no where to go. It was at this point I decided to visit my GP who prescribed with my an anti depressant (Citalopram). A part of me thought it was a bit of a cop out but I was desperate to feel ‘normal’ again. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of and 5 years later I’m still taking 10mg. I don’t want to be reliant on this forever so when it’s the right time for ME I’ll slowly reduce the dose.
Later that summer my best friend turned 21 and to celebrate she invited me and my boyfriend to a meal with her family. This was HUGE to me. I couldn’t miss my best friends 21st so I forced myself to go. My friend and her family knew the situation I was in and were totally sympathetic! So knew that if I felt particularly shit I would leave. Anyway, I ended up having an amazing time and felt so happy with myself for fighting my fear. However this wasn’t the end!
When me and my girlfriends went to Ibiza in 2016 my anxiety really got a hold of me. At this point I had realised that having a lack of control in situations really fuelled it. I have since learnt that this is a huge contributor to anxiety. When on day 3 or 4 of the holiday 3 out of the 6 girls caught the most horrendous sickness bug, I spent the rest of the holiday convincing myself and waiting to get ill. Not wise! This really did spoil the rest of the holiday for me and I still battle with this irrational fear now. After this holiday my friend recommeded a book she’d used called ‘At last a life‘ which I actually found really helpful and relatable but for me it wasn’t enough. I would certainly recommend these to others though as a first point of call.
Up to this point I had contemplated counselling but never pursued it. Immediately after we lost Mum I chose not to speak to a professional. Why would I want to speak to someone who new nothing about Me or my Mum? However in the last few years my view has since changed. I know my dad and a couple of friends had tried it and absolutely sang their therapists praises.
At the beginning of this year I was in charge of planning one of my best friends hen do’s. I was SO excited for it. I’d found a gorgeous maisonette and we’d planned some hilarious activities but on day two of the hen I woke up with the worst heart palpitations and felt incredibly panicky and sick. My stomach was doing flips and was almost convincing myself that I was going to fall ill in public again. Fortunately I manged to fight against these feelings and go on with our day but when it came to going out that night I felt absolutely horrendous and ending up going back to our accommodation early. At this point I knew I needed to try counselling. I was so angry that it had spoilt part of a trip I had been so looking forward to. As soon as I got home I got straight onto the Counselling directory and researched a number of counsellors that I thought would suit me and my uncertainty’s.
On the 10th April this year I had my first session with a lovely lady from Worcester who is highly qualified and specialises in both anxiety and bereavement. Perfect! I was understandably a little sceptical at first but honestly this was the best thing I could of done. I want to brief you on what I learnt throughout this process as I might include tools that you could utilise.
Firstly she taught me how to calm my breathing. To do this I take a deep breathe in through my nose for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out through my mouth for 5 seconds and again hold your breathe for 5 seconds. Repeat this around 4/5 times and you will notice your heart rate, muscle tension and blood pressure decrease as this exercise will stop the acute adrenaline shock. This is a quick fix when I come over panicky. She also recommended meditation which I find really relaxing before bed. Try the free headspace app to give it a try.
Am I feeling anxious?
I was then told to differentiate what I’m feeling. Don’t just dump everything in the anxiety bucket. For example it’s the morning of your flight. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. Nervous because you’re pushed for time? Fearful cause you don’t enjoy flying? Try and embrace what you are feeling, otherwise it can spiral and can result in you feeling so much worse. Easier said than done I know, trust me, it’s taking practice.
Now as I mention previously, control (or a lack of) plays a huge part in my anxiety. We therefore spent two sessions covering this. With my counsellors help I established that I have control over nothing but my thoughts and at this point she told me ‘Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behaviour’. You can ‘influence, play the odds, get lucky, guess or use prior experience’ but you cannot control (something I need to constantly remind myself). I’m guilty of worrying about what could happen instead of letting it be and will create all sorts of unrealistic scenarios in my head. Since discussing this with my counsellor I’ve become a lot more aware of when these thoughts come about and before they can spiral I can nip it in the bud.
So an example; instead of worrying about if everyone was to get ill on holiday, and allowing my anxiety to spiral I must remind myself that it is what it is. I either get over this hurdle or still get over the hurdle but make it really difficult for myself in the meantime by letting my exaggerated thoughts take over.
So there it is. I found this post particularly hard to write. Not because I’m afraid to share my experience but because I am by no means ‘cured’ in fact I’ve had a really rough week since I found out my sister can’t come on holiday with me so I almost feel a bit guilty for sharing this. I have made progress since 2013 but what I have learnt throughout my counselling sessions will take practice. Time will tell and these new tools will take lots of practice until one day they become second nature. Perhaps I’ll do a follow up on my progress?! Before 2013 meals out, holidays etc wouldn’t have phased me in the slightest and I am determined to get back to that point. Fight your demons and whatever your anxiety, know you’re not alone! We’ve got this!!!