It’s all about the baby steps. I’ve had a good couple of weeks overall. I have been up and dressed with makeup on every day! I’ve been around the house helping with chores and even contributing to our never ending food purchase, preparation, and cooking conveyer belt, that we have all grown to love so much with healthier living. And I’ve been doing this pretty consistently for the past few weeks. Now, this may not seem like a lot to shout out about, but when you have lived life with depression, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, then being part of such seemingly small things, is certainly nothing to scoff at. Continue reading
You may have already read My Story. If you have, you will know that I have suffered anxiety for over 20 years, having had a breakdown at the age of 20. There were signals that something was wrong far before my mental health took a final plunge. But I was totally unaware that these symptoms and signals, were signs of anxiety. It was by leaving these symptoms unchecked and not speaking of them, that caused my condition to worsen. Bit by bit, I became more and more unwell. This coupled with a lack of knowledge on the subject and a lack of understanding as to what was wrong with me, that inevitably lead to a complete meltdown. Please be assured that this is NOT the case for everyone.
There are so many definitions across the web of what anxiety is. I’m sure you have already seen many of them. One of my favourite resources is the No Panic website.
Rather than rehash whats already been published so many times, I will instead, tell you what anxiety is for me. How it has affected me as an individual. I hope you may see some similarities and take some comfort that you are not alone. It is only all these years down the road that I now know that anxiety is a common and very manageable condition and with the right help and approach, it does not have to take over your life.
Over the past 20 years or so, I have suffered various forms of anxiety; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety. All have come to me at different times and have affected me in different ways.
Whilst I had been suffering GAD for the year leading up to my breakdown, I had no idea that that was what was wrong with me. GAD for me was this constant feeling of unease, of being unable to relax, of finding myself caught up in my own thinking. I was constantly worried about the smallest of things. This constant onslaught of thoughts lead to lack of sleep, changes in appetite and changes in my emotions. I felt more tearful and less able to cope with things that at one time I would have taken in my stride. As my stress levels increased and my ability to recharge became less, the anxiety and then depression started to take a hold.
By the time I was on that fateful holiday in 1995, my nerves were in shreds. It was at this point that the OCD thoughts started. I had thoughts that were really quite horrible. I was ashamed of myself that these thoughts were actually in my mind. I had thoughts of a violent nature. It was in later years and when I read the book Tormenting thoughts and secret rituals that I realised that the thoughts were actually textbook for my condition. They did not in any way reflect who I was as a person, but were in fact a sign of stress and anxiety. At the time when they began, I literally thought I was losing my mind and that I was turning into a violent psychopath. It was everything my worst nightmares were made of. I was literally terrified of myself and the thoughts that took up so much of my time and energy. I was living on a knife edge, unable to relax and certainly unable to switch off. Again, I had no idea that all this was normal (in an anxiety sense), so rather than them being just passing thoughts in my mind that every person gets from time to time, they were signals to me that I had no control. I was losing control of both body and soul.
When the panic hits there is nothing like it. The anxiety rages through every inch of your body so that you shake uncontrollably. Your blood rushes from your organs to your muscles leaving you light headed like you are about to faint. Your breathing is so shallow you think you will hyperventilate. You sweat and there is a constant lump in your throat so that you can’t swallow. These are the physical symptoms. Mentally things start taking on a world of their own too. There is no control as your mind jumps from one terrifying thought to another. You are convinced you are crazy. You focus only on the worst possible outcome. You are lost, alone and petrified.
It seems like a mammoth task to do the smallest thing. Anything big like communicate, socialise, attend events, work, go to the supermarket or travel all go out the window. They are simply impossible. You feel that they just wont ever happen again. That you wont ever be strong enough again.
Even now, it amazes me, that you can actually have all this and still come back from it. But you can. You really can. Whilst my breakdown was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me. I can sit here now and also tell you it was one of the best things. It has shaped who I am today and continues to challenge me. What it has shown to me is that anyone, no matter how ‘together’ they are, can fall foul of this beast. It is not selective. But one thing is for sure, you can come back bigger and stronger than you have ever been. But aside from that, you will have an empathy inside you that can never be taken away. You will understand to some small degree what it is like to suffer mental anguish.
I whole heartedly take my hat of to each and every person who suffers real mental torment. There really is no comparison for me. When I was at my worst I would have swapped an actual limb for the chance to be free from my mind. You cannot do this of course, but it doesnt mean that I didnt want to. I would have given up an arm or a leg to stop the constant mental and physical barrage that attacked me.
Possibly the worst thing for me when I’m anxious is the feeling of being out of control. That you are broken into shatters and you will never be whole again. That there is a wall you have to climb and you just know that you are not strong enough to do it. Fear runs through your body in waves of terror. It’s not always constantly at that level, but constant enough that your body and soul are exhausted. You feel lost and scared and you think it will always be this way.
Social anxiety came much later on for me. Before this I was a confident and compassionate person who went on to achieved a degree and held down a career of responsibility, even whilst suffering GAD and OCD. Even though I had had years of depression and anxiety behind me, somehow, it had never got to the heart of who I was. I had always, still, been able to hold my own in any given situation; relationship, boardroom, party. It didnt matter that I had a mental health history. My confidence was never shaken. As I got better in the early days, I quite quickly reverted back to my old confidant self.
I was working and I had taken on another promotion. I found myself in a management role for the first time. At first it was no problem. I enjoyed every minute and finally felt the success and recognition I had always dreamed of. But due to excessive pressures, and an inability from me to say no, the stress levels started to increase. I did not see at the time that I was doing everything wrong. I was not looking after myself. I drank too much coffee, had too many late nights working and said yes to everything. Again, without me realising the stress levels were increasing and I was letting it happen. I was burning that candle at all ends. Family were saying to me that I was working too hard. I just thought they were worrying over nothing. But finally in the boardroom, a meeting with all the high level executives, my line manager turned to me to speak and present. At this point my body started shaking. Words would not come out of my mouth. I was dry. I looked around in complete panic. I attempted to give a quick presentation, but the anxiety and stress took hold. Thank goodness my boss could see what was happening and took over. But for me the damage was done. My confidence in my ability to perform was in shatters. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. I left the office and cried. I felt broken, embarrassed and a complete nervous wreck.
It wasn’t long and the anxiety had a complete grip of me again. This time it had got to the heart of me and my confidence in myself. I felt nervous in almost every situation. I thought I could no longer communicate without being anxious. This really did destroy me. I had never put any faith in any other area of my life except my personality and my ability to mix and network, to socialise and host parties, to work and achieve. Now this had gone, I really felt like there was nothing else. Looking at this point of view now, it seems almost ridiculous to have felt this way. But anxiety is ridiculous. It is irrational and can churn you up so much that you no longer recognise yourself.
I’m pleased to tell you that all of this was 6 years ago. Things (as they always do) got better. I sit here now from an even stronger vantage point. I have experienced all that anxiety has to offer. I have not beaten it completely, and I now accept it as part of who I am. I don’t think I will ever be free of it completely, but at least I now have an understanding and a sense of acceptance.
Some points to help you start on your way to recovery:
- You will need to take small steps and get the love and support of those around you to help you through. Talking to those you love about how you are feeling is so important to your recovery. As you educate yourself, educate those you love.
- You will need to accept your anxiety and see it for what it is. Just having the knowledge that you have an anxiety disorder is probably the most important step on the road to healing.
- Go and see your GP and tell them as much as possible about how your feeling and the mental and physical symptoms.
- Read as much as you can to educate yourself to the type of anxiety that you have. This too will help the healing process. Join online forums; talking to those that understand is really so so important early on. It will bring you comfort and support.
- Therapies help. I had very good immediate and lasting effects from prescribed medication. Particularly in the early days. For me they were what saved me. But medication is not right for everyone. It maybe that counselling, psychotherapy, psychiatry, nutrition, exercise might be what save you. For me it was a mixture of all these things.
- Meditation and Mindfulness. This has without doubt been the most effective measure I take in order to limit the anxiety. Through mindfulness and meditation you can learn to sit with your anxious thoughts and allow them to float on by. There is no trying to stop them or change them, you just allow them to be and accept them. There is now so much evidence that meditation can actually encourage the growth of grey matter in the brain. It can actually change the chemistry of your brain to a place of calm. So over time, not only will you be able to see the thoughts and feelings for what they are, but you can actually get to a point where your brain changes to such a degree, that the onslaught of anxiety completely dies down.
It may feel that the wall is insurmountable, but with the right measures you can really start to live again. Anxiety is the hardest thing to live with. Even 20 years in, there are days that I can’t stop it. But by taking all the steps I mention above, you can start to heal. Life will be better, I promise. Just make your healing your priority and when you come through to the other side, you will be stronger and more wonderful than ever.
Onwards, K xxx
” You are smart, you are kind, you are beautiful and you are important.”
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