It is only natural that from time to time everyone will experience some levels of anxiety, or panic, in relation to events around them. Often this is linked to the in-built adrenaline based ‘ﬁght or ﬂight’ response. Ultimately however, it passes once the situation changes; but what if that was not the case, and the feelings remained constantly, heightened at the slightest suggestion of a potentially possible reason for them to maybe feel the need to be anxious.
I had troubles with my level of anxiety around exam periods
The ﬁrst time I knew I had troubles with my levels of anxiety was before an exam in my ﬁnal year of school. I was always nervous and insecure, and this was considerably worsened around the exam periods so I thought nothing of it as I set off to sit one of my last exams at school. As I sat there, I gradually became increasingly conscious of my heart racing. My palms were clammy, and I felt incredibly light headed and nauseous sitting in the room of my peers. The scratching of their pens and pencils seemed so much louder, clearer and crisper. My concentration was gone, completely, and it took all the effort that I had to try and stay sitting upright. I could hardly breathe. Ten or ﬁfteen minutes into the exam I had to excuse myself. I was home and in bed half an hour later, feeling completely unwell but not entirely sure why.
It became a huge adjustment to remain aware of how I was feeling
It was only when I ﬁrst saw my GP nearly two and a half years later; and was diagnosed with mental health problems, including generalised anxiety disorder, that I understood it to have been the ﬁrst time I suffered from a crippling panic attack. I had never realised that my levels of anxiety could heighten to that extreme, and it became a huge adjustment to remain aware of how I was feeling and try to keep it in check. It was more than feeling a little nervous, it had become a constant feeling of fear and dread. But at least I had the support of my family and encouragement from my GP too.
Things people take for granted fill me with high levels of anxiety
Unfortunately it didn't just stop there. For a few years I got on with things, taking medication, trying different therapies and all the while seeing and hearing people putting it down to being nothing other than a little shy and insecure which ultimately does nothing to help.
Earlier this year I spoke to my GP again about my anxiety, and the things I ﬁnd impact me the most over and above my persistent feelings of fear and dread. They conﬁrmed a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, which is even more challenging to explain and avoid presumptions and judgements against than generalised anxiety disorder was.
Things people take for granted, such as making a phone call, eating in public, meeting new people and being in groups/crowds all ﬁll me with such high levels of anxiety that my heart is racing and every breath catches in my chest. It is, undoubtedly, difﬁcult to understand something with which you have had no experience, and so I never expected it to be easy to explain my conditions to other people. But when my condition itself so cripples my ability to try and talk to people it becomes all the more challenging!
The best we can do is share our experiences as openly and honestly as possible
Anxiety, I feel, is often overlooked because everyone experiences it from time to time. But I challenge anyone in that moment of anxiety to try and take a second, to think how they'd feel if that was what they woke up with every morning, and what they carried around every day, which was heightened in line with certain triggers. Perhaps then they might gain a bit of understanding as to why it is so difﬁcult a condition to live with; but until then the best we can do is share our experiences as openly and honestly as possible to give a bit of insight.