Living with Anxiety

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!

Charlotte’s 21st Birthday. I made it!!

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.

You wouldn’t know from this picture that I was moments away from bailing on the night

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.

Therapy

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.

Breathe

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.

Control

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!!!

H x

Not alone

On Wednesday 29th April 2009, our lives changed forever. Our perfect family was torn apart by the dreaded C word. Cancer.

My beautiful, incredibly caring, loving, hilarious best friend and Mum (Lynne) lost her battle to skin cancer. Malignant melanoma to be precise.

I distinctly remember saying when I was younger that I would kill myself if either my mum, dad or sister died. This may sound drastic I know, but I honestly didn’t think life would even be manageable without any of them.

When in 2008 me and my sister were told she had been diagnosed with cancer, whilst being absolutely devastated, I thought okay, she will get through this. She took me and my best friends to our year 11 prom (see picture below ha), we had our last holiday in the south of France, to which she learnt to dive (this was huge as she would refuse to ruin her hair under water, ha!) and we celebrated our last Christmas together, all unbeknownst that these would be ‘lasts’.

She had had a number of operations to remove lumps and underwent several rounds of radio and chemo therapy which completely wiped her out. There were days when she’d be in agony but like the trooper she was, with an admirable positive attitude and unstoppable sense of humour, she powered through everything.

It wasn’t until March 2009 when our incredibly strong dad sat me and Emily down and told us that her illness was terminal. My heart broke, I felt physically sick. From then everything seems to be a bit of blur. God knows what happened to my brain but I often have to be reminded of certain things that happened surrounding those last days with mum. I didn’t want to believe any of this was really happening. I gave her the biggest hug and told her that I loved her with all of my heart as we left her at the hospital. She was fortunate enough to receive private healthcare so the hospital was just incredible and the care she received was second to none. Something we will be forever grateful for. She laughed and joked with her consultant and nurses up until the end.

Our Hero!

Strangely, the night before we lost her dad had decided he would stay the night at the hospital. This was the first time he had decided to do this, then at approximately 9am the following morning she took her last precious breath. My late auntie always called that ‘sychronicity’, a weird but happy and comforting coincidence.

Before we knew it, it was time to plan the funeral and once that came and went and we were back to our usual routine, we had to move on? NO! You never move on from such a devastating event, so don’t put yourself under any sort of pressure to get back to ‘normal’, there is no such thing.

I was seventeen at the time so quite a difficult age. I tried to pretend that it hadn’t happened, which weirdly isn’t that difficult at first as none of it feels real. We spent a lot of time with family, we booked a holiday and I surrounded myself with my amazing friends. My dad gave counselling a go which he found very beneficial. I however decided that I didn’t want to discuss my loss with a stranger that didn’t even know my mum. Now that I’m older (and I like to think more mature) I’ve ended up regretting this decision for reasons I’ll go into further at another time, otherwise I’m in danger of this post being longer than my dissertation.

There are many coping mechanisms available to help you get through the loss of a loved one some of which I’ll list below:

  • Counselling – available privately or through the NHS. If you are willing to pay to go privately I truly think it is an investment. Whether it’s been 6 months or 10 years it’s never too late. Nine years on I finally decided to give it a go and will be having my fourth session on Tuesday. It’s an excellent way of getting your thoughts off your chest and out into the world, giving you a sense of release and relief.
  • Books – Only recently have I taken the time to read two books that came highly recommended which are ‘At last a life’ and ‘At last a life and beyond’ by Paul David. These aren’t about bereavement directly but as a result of losing my mum I started to get awful anxiety in 2014. It is written from the perspective of someone that suffered with anxiety for 10 years. Finally an author that I could relate to.

 

  • A positive attitude (easier said than done) – As f*cked up as this sounds I have tried my hardest to look at any teeny positives that may have come from it. Mine being that this horrible event bought me and my sister so much closer to my Dad. He has become a bloody hero, smashing both the role of Mum and Dad in one go!
  • A friend that is willing to simply listen – I don’t often talk about the day that we lost our mum but when I do I feel such a sense of relief. As the saying goes… ‘A problem shared is a problem halved(ish)’. I also find that by talking about her to friends and family, it keeps her memory alive. I LOVE reminiscing and watching home videos. Such happy memories. This doesn’t work for everyone though as I know that my Dad particularly struggles with seeing pictures and videos that hold such precious memories.
  • Cry – Don’t be afraid to let out your emotion. I always feel so much better after a good cry, even if it’s for no reason. There is so much stigma especially around men ‘manning up’. I HATE THIS! It is just as hard for men as it is for women. Who the f cares what people think, let it all out whether it be in the comfort of your own home or in the middle of the office.
  • Exercise – This has been recommended to me a number of times. I have never been a big gym goer but when I did manage to encorporate it into my routine last year I felt so much better for it. This isn’t absolutely necessary though. Taking in the fresh air on a walk in the countryside really helps to clear my head when I’m having one of my bad days.
  • Continuing traditions – My mum LOVED Christmas. Every year was made so magical by the varying traditions she did for us. I could write a whole other post on this so I won’t go into detail, but again carrying on some of these traditions really keeps her memory alive. I know that if we stopped celebrating this time of year since losing her she’d be turning in her grave!
  • Charities – I didn’t take advantage of what these amazing charities had to offer but three that were recommended to me were MIND, St. Richards Hospice (a local charity) and the bereavement trust.

I am by no means suggesting that this is what you should do to get through the loss of someone so close to your heart. I am simply highlighting what is available. Everyone has different ways of dealing with such an event and there are certainly no rules. I can assure you I didn’t follow any but I knew barely anyone that had been through what I had apart from my own Mum. Not helpful! This is why I have written this post to reassure you that, in the words of the late Michael Jackson, you are NOT alone. I would love to think that I can be of help, even if it’s to one other person.

H x