Anxiety & Me
This is quite hard for me to do- I haven't really spoken about this kind of thing before even though it's a big part of my life.
I want to do this as part of Mental Health Awareness week (even though I’m aware I’m posting it after), because when I was growing up I feel like I didn't really have the support in order to deal with it in all in a healthy way.
Also, when I was younger, I didn't recognise my failing mental health for what it was at the time. I just called it ‘that horrible feeling’ which to be honest doesn’t really encapsulate exactly *how* bad things got, but I don’t think words could do it justice. I've also struggled with depression too, but I don't feel ready to talk about that just yet.
I thought I'd do two blog posts on this- I plan on doing this one, of my story with anxiety, and another one on anxiety and how it relates to my body and body positivity on the whole.
I know that that's something that affects everybody (especially young people) these days.
So, without further ado, here's my anxiety journey (I hate that phrase, but it honestly is because it’s something I’m always going to live with, and I’m okay with that).
I have struggled with anxiety ever since puberty hit, when I was very young in my early teens- although I didn't recognise it for many years, because I didn't know what to look for. My anxiety is something that I still struggle with, not so much on a daily basis anymore as I recognise my own triggers, and I know how to cope with it well now- I'll get on to that later.
These days, there's a lot of research and a lot of charities that help young people with mental health issues. However, when I was growing up (even though it's 10 years ago now), there was nothing, especially in the country where I was. There is no real support and provision there for people with mental health issues, or at least none that were offered to me, in the Middle East.
So, when I was younger, the first way I knew that I had anxiety was when I first started getting panic attacks, when I was much younger around any social situation whatsoever.
That included seeing my close friends at sleepovers or going to parties, or just going to the shopping mall to hang out with them.
I remember there were multiple occasions when my parents got angry at me because I made them drive half an hour or more to the location to see my friends, and then I would panic in the back of the car about going to see them and make them turn around. I just felt this awful feeling in my stomach. Like I wanted to vomit, cry and shit myself all at once.
I know that sounds disgusting but that's the only way I can describe it really- it felt like a black hole was in my stomach. The only way to stop this feeling was to go home and sit in my room by myself.
I'm not sure where it came from, or why I have it. I know that there is a family history, but it wasn't much talked about at the time, my family have a very British attitude when it comes to things like that. Keep calm and carry on, that's their attitude towards it.
It was really difficult for me. Because of this attitude I didn't want to talk about it with anybody and I didn't know how too. I thought what I was feeling wasn't normal. I thought there was something wrong with me. Now I realise there's nothing wrong with me. It's just a part of me. And it is what makes me me.
I have to live with it, and, to be honest, now I'm fine with that. But at the time, I wasn't. I didn't know that what I was experiencing wasn't okay. I didn't know that other people felt normal going to sleep-overs and birthday parties, whereas I would cry just because I was in a room with a normal amount of people, even though these people were considered my close friends at the time.
And what’s painful, looking back on it, is it was at the age where most people love to go to parties and sleep-overs, I just couldn't bring myself to do it, because of this horrible feeling of dread that would build inside me. I missed out on a normal adolescence because of this.
So, as the years went on, I started shutting myself off from social events. I stopped going sleepovers, I started saying no to birthday party invitations, and eventually, I even stopped saying yes to just one-on-one friendship dates like trips to McDonalds, cafes or cinemas.
I didn't know how to cope with what I was feeling at the time, this horrible anxiety, and these terrible panic attacks. So, I thought the best thing to do was to shut myself away because if I didn't have to encounter the social situation then I didn't have to encounter this horrible feeling. I called it the horrible feeling for years.
I did this for years and years, and I didn't tell anybody.
And then, I'm not sure what it was, but something changed- I guess it was right around the time that I started going on Tumblr.
Now, saying that the indie-hipster-amateur-blog-fandom thing had a massive impact on my life sounds crazy but it really did. I like to think it saved me.
Where I was, I was quite isolated, being in the Middle East. I felt like I didn’t really have anyone to talk too.
Growing up, I was only in a class of 30 people, or less (at my sixth form, there was only 20 people that graduated in my year), and we all knew each other from the age of 12 up until 18. There wasn't much mixing of people- when a new person came they were stared at like they were unusual or treated with curiosity, like an exotic creature.
So, having this new network where I could talk to anybody around the globe really helped and gave me the space I needed to vent and talk and build new relationships.
If I stuck within the right circles, talking to people that liked the same TV shows or bands as I did, I felt like I really connected with them. I knew that I was in a relatively safe space- I wasn't stupid at the time. I trusted people hesitantly, but I made some real friendships on it, and most importantly, as I got to talk to people I became aware of mental health, and that it is in fact an actual thing that affected people, and it all started to fall into place in my head. The panic attacks (which I didn’t know were panic attacks at the time), the feeling of dread, the over-worrying, were all real symptoms of a real illness that I had. It was real, and for the first time in my life, I felt like everything I was dealing with was valid. Despite feeling validated, I was still dealing with it and had no idea how to get help.
I first said in my head to myself, ‘you have anxiety’, when I was 16 I think, and it was that thought that made me feel really sick. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me, like I had a condition. I had a disease and I thought people would look at me differently for it because after this realisation I looked at myself in the mirror differently.
But, so many people suffer from it, even the people that I went to school with that I deliberately tried to avoid for years later told me that they suffered from it too.
It's a much more spoken about topic now, and I'm just so happy that there are people that are my age now, that I was at the time, that have the right support and can talk about it so freely and not be treated how I thought I would be treated which is with disgust.
So, I didn't, I couldn’t, bring myself to tell anybody else.
I felt like it was my secret, like I should keep it my secret. And I internalised it and I internalised it and that just made it worse and worse. I started feeling physically ill. I had indigestion problems for many years, that we thought incorrectly was an allergy- I had to go to the hospital for many tests on my bowels and on my digestive system. It turns out now that it was just anxiety. I've only recently realised how much of an effect your mental health has on your body and how in tune your mind and body really are. I can pinpoint the exact moments of stomach pains and ingestion and various other problems with exact moments of extreme stress. I remember during exam seasons, my GCSEs and A-Levels, I would go through boxes and boxes of Imodium. They were prescribed me by the doctor and I just got given boxes of them, because that's how bad it got, that was the only way that they knew how to deal with it at the time was by giving me pills to stop the symptoms not even looking at the cause. Through this, I learned that my mind and my body were truly aligned in ways that I didn't think I could even comprehend at the time, and I started to look at it as a not a problem and more of a condition to live with.
I started realising what the triggers were, and instead of running away and hiding, like I did for so many years, I started to look at them differently. If I had negative thoughts in my head, which had plagued me for many years, such as over-worrying, or jumping to the worst-case scenario, or fantasising about bad things, or things that could go wrong socially, I start to look at it logically.
This person has invited me out on a date or to the cinema. They're not doing it to embarrass me by not showing up. They're doing it because they want to see me. I started looking at things a bit differently and I think that's because I started to realise at that time that I was liked by people that I wasn't a freak.
I started dealing with a bunch of self-esteem issues, which I also think had a massive impact on me- I know that they all derived from my anxiety. I previously thought of myself as ugly and repulsive- not nice, I was a horrible person. I thought everything I said were mean. I thought nobody liked me. I thought everybody hated me. I thought everybody spoke about my about me behind my back whenever I left the room. There were times when I went to parties and I was too scared to go to the toilet because I thought people were going to talk about me negatively when I left the room.
I ended up causing myself so much pain over this, and this was just my anxiety talking!
Then there were times where I'd look in the mirror and go ‘You are the ugliest thing in the world’ and ‘you're fat’. ‘Nobody's ever gonna like you’. ‘You're gonna die alone’. ‘Your personality is bland and boring, but simultaneously your personality is too much for people’. ‘You're not funny’ (which to be honest is one of my worst fears). The most horrible part is I made myself believe them for so long.
When negative thoughts would overwhelm me, I would start to think of the worst case scenario in my head. I would take an everyday situation that I was doing and I would start to think of the worst possible thing that could happen. And, I mean the worst thing. From people laughing behind my back to tsunamis or robberies, I fretted about everything.
At the time, it was really hard for me to understand that these things really were the worst case scenarios and that there was a less than 0.0001% chance of them happening.
And that, even if people laughed at me, at the end of the day, I really shouldn't care so much about what other people think.
For me, that has been one of the biggest journeys I've been on throughout my life- trying not to care about what other people think so much and trying not to focus on that being the only thing that I dedicate my energy to. And slowly, I was able to start looking at it in a more positive light. I think there's a direct correlation between the amount of anxiety I suffer from and the amount of time and pressure I would put on myself, trying to please others and to get others to care about me and to get them to think the right thing.
I think by stopping to care so much about what other people thought of me, and what the right people thought, and whether the right people thought the right things about me, I was able to focus more on myself.
And, to put myself first, which, at the end of the day, has been one of the primary factors in my managing of my mental health. There's no easy way to do this. It took many years of adjustment in my mental health to be able to do this.
I started to change.
And I started to look at things differently.
And I found myself.
I can't believe I'm going to write this now (again), but I found myself on Tumblr. Again, it sounds so cheesy just reading it back but it's true. I really did. I'm forever thankful for the friends that I made on that website, and for my Tumblr blog which paved the way for this one. And for the amount of freedom I got. I didn't feel repressed on it, and through expressing myself in various forms from everything from fan-fiction, (which I realised now was a way of me outpouring my burgeoning romantic feelings) to artwork that I did in art class (which was truly a saviour).
I started to save myself, and I started to rebuild the building blocks of me, one by one, because I felt for such a long time that they had crumbled into nothing. I'd crumbled into negative thoughts and loneliness, and this horrible feeling of pain inside me.
I have never really had any medical help in the terms of drugs. I spoke to my GP when I first moved back to the UK in 2015 regarding my anxiety, realising that I now had a potential way of coping with it.
In the Middle East, there wasn't really an option for that. I went into my GP, like, two days after I signed up with them about a week after I moved to London and said ‘I need help’.
They finally officially diagnosed my anxiety and depression (which, compared to the self-realisation and diagnosis a few years prior that made me feel sick, felt like a relief. It was all so real).
They gave me a drug called Citalopram. Which, long story short, completely fucked me up.
It did not help me cope with my anxiety and the depression that I was facing at the time. Instead, it made me go into what was basically one week-long lucid dream. I felt like I was high, constantly. I felt constantly jittery and like I wasn't myself. I couldn't concentrate on anything- and, at the same time, it made my pupils dilate to about the size of 2p coins, which was listed in the rarest side effects, along with strokes and death.
I went back to my GP and I explained the situation and said that they're just not working for me.
I didn't like the constant feeling of feeling high and out of it. The pupil dilation as well caused much unwanted attention with many people asking if I was okay, presumably wondering what the hell I was on- I even got questioned at work about it.
It just didn't sit well with me so I stopped them almost immediately.
It was my choice to not pursue any other medical options, although there were options available at the time. I decided not to follow on from my negative experience with Citalopram, however, I know many people that are on anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs, including Citalopram itself, and they have a much more positive experience with it, so I'm just saying, it didn't work for me, but it could work for you if you need it. Don't take my experience as a reason not to do medication, if you feel like it’s the right path for you. As I said, my pupil dilation was as rare as people dying of the drug.
To me, I think therapy is potentially a good option in the future. Dolly Alderton wrote about her journey with therapy a lot in her book ‘Everything I Know About Love’, which really sold it to me- I feel like there's a lot of potential issues that I might be able to talk about and raise awareness of in it.
And so, I continue to live with it. There's no real happy ending to this story- it’s life, there aren't really any many happy endings, unless you go to the Thai massage parlour in Soho, with ‘Sexy Hotel Rooms’ written above the door.
I like to think I have handled it well. Don't get me wrong, I have off-days. Everybody has off-days.
I still over-worry massively; for example, if I say something at work that's taken the wrong way, I'll immediately assume that I'll be fired by the end of the day. I know this isn't normal to think this! But, I do.
What I've done for the past few years is I get people who I trust to reassure me. I talk through my problems with them. I talk through my feelings in my head and I get them to tell me that what I’m thinking is most definitely not the most likely outcome. But, at the same time, it's what I am thinking and it's difficult to comprehend initially that what you're thinking isn't right and it's not you inside your head that's talking, it's the anxiety.
But then, slowly, you start to realise that it isn't logical in the slightest.
You start to realise that you're not going to be fired for saying a joke that didn't pan-out well, you're not going to be fired for not putting the right piece of clothing back on the hanger (But if you're listening to this Danielle, I did!). You realise boyfriend is not going to break up with you because you said something in a voice too loud and you're scared he's going to think that you're shouting it him, even though you did not mean to whatsoever, it just came out wrong.
And, your friends aren't going to hate you if you say no to going out because you just want to stay in bed, if that's what's best for your mental health- if your friends are real friends then of course they'll understand.
Not showing up to social occasions is OK, if it is what you need to do.
If you need to lie at home in bed and watch Friends on repeat for three hours and drink big cups of tea, that's okay, as long as your habits of making yourself feel better are not more self-destructive than the anxiety inside you is, that’s okay.
For example, I learned the difference between eating well, and disordered eating only a couple of years ago, but that difference has meant the world to me. Instead of eating 3000 calories one day and 500 the next, I now eat well, consistently.
And, yes, it's okay to have a Twix. Just as long as you know that you're treating yourself well.
I have loads of baths, with many candles.
And I buy pretty things for my home because it makes me feel happy looking at them.
I know when I have to take a step back from screens and just sit down and paint a fucking painting, because it's nice and soothing.
Whatever works for you, works for you.
It's great to put your soul into a piece of poetry that you know nobody else is ever going to see aside from you, because you’re the only reason why you’re writing it.
It's the best thing in the world to let somebody in. Doesn’t have to be a romantic partner, could be a friend, a colleague, a teacher, or family member.
Somebody who knows exactly what you're going through, or failing that, somebody who can empathise to the nth degree. Someone who you can trust.
Just let you be you, whether that's happy you or whether that's anxious you who's crying because you're worried about something that you really shouldn't be worried about. Or whether that's you with your heartbeat racing and you feel like you're going to be sick.
And, it is a fucking hard thing to live with. But when you start to learn how to cope, and how to live, day by day, then it does get better, and with the right people around you, it can make things a little bit easier.
Looking back on my past experiences, I don't regret a thing. I don't regret making my parents angry because I made them drive halfway into town, and they suddenly turn around because I was going to be sick, because that's what I needed. I don't regret crying in work because I thought I was going to be fired for saying the wrong thing.
I don't regret apologising 5938 times to the person that I love over something stupid that I did, that didn't even really bother them, because that's my anxiety and that's me coping with it, and I know that the people that really care about me know, that's just me, and they're okay with that.
It's something that I live with and it's something that they support me with and it’s something that, funnily enough, Tumblr helped me with.
So there we have it for everybody. That's my very brief story into my anxiety. It feels, even writing and getting this out there into the world, overwhelming.
I never honestly thought I'd get to a point where I can actually talk about it publicly.
The people close to me- P, Nata, my best friends, my close colleagues, they know that I live with it, and I know that some of them live with it too. And by building a strong support network, we support each other.
And most importantly of all, look after yourself. It's the hardest thing to do but it really is the best thing to do once you learn you're triggers and what makes you feel worse, bit by bit, you start to learn what makes you feel better.
I like to think that I would have many messages for my younger self, but the main one would be don't listen to the anxiety inside your head. And talk to someone.
- C x
Jacket- Marks and Spencers
Shoes- Steve Madden