Amy, March 20, 2018

Picture of blogger: Amy

These photos were taken just hours apart. I know the second one may be shocking, and certainly not the kind of picture anyone would be rushing to share on social media! However, I'm posting it because I know months ago, before I was diagnosed with anxiety, I thought I was the only person in the world who felt the way I did.

Often people, myself included, view anxiety as being afraid of public speaking, large groups of people, or simply feeling nervous. This is the case for some, and these feelings are completely valid and challenging. However, there are so many more less publicised symptoms and ways it can affect all of us. Perhaps because anxiety is such an out of body experience, people find it difficult to find the words to express how they’re feeling. Therefore, even if we all share similar experiences, some find it impossible to verbalise how they’re feeling in the same ways because there simply aren’t the words to describe it.

As a young teenager, it's evident to me now, that I experienced the beginnings of overwhelming anxious feelings, which began to affect my behaviour and decisions. I was scared to travel, go clubbing, or go to music festivals; all the things I believed I should be doing and wanted to be doing. This isn't unusual. According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. 

Like many young people, I was massively concerned with how I was perceived by others.  When on the very rare occasion that I plucked up the courage to tell someone I was struggling, it was simply brushed off as 'hormones' - hormones are not supposed to be debilitating. According to the MHF, 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

Only when I began studying Psychology, did I begin to learn about mental health conditions and felt a sense of catharsis that I was no longer an 'alien'. My experiences had a name and my feelings were in a sense, validated. When I started university at 18, I had a complete breakdown during Fresher's Week. While surrounded by strangers and un-familiar routines, I was experiencing constant panic attacks and overwhelming irrational fear, to the point where I wasn't eating or sleeping properly, and I became too exhausted to hide my feelings from my friends and family any longer.

In a sense, I was protecting my peers too. I didn't want them to feel as if I was a 'burden’ or making a fuss. I constantly re-iterated that 'other people have it worse' and punished myself for feeling anxious, labelling myself as ‘selfish’. It felt like the end of my life, but it was just the beginning. Yes, I've missed out on opportunities and lost friendships. Yet, finally mustering up the courage to speak to a doctor, who took me seriously (persist with this!), and begin counselling, has changed my life more than ever in the past six months - more than imaginable.

I still have a long way to go, and by no means view anxiety as a tick box activity - completed! I know there are periods of my life where I may experience it more than others. However, I feel much more equipped to deal with these feelings, and I know the support is accessible.

But I don't want this to be my story.

Often when I tell people I'm feeling anxious, they reply "what about?" – when in reality, the feeling of complete panic and hopelessness can arise for no apparent reason, which can be terrifying and debilitating. As I said, I used to feel guilty for feeling like this, and compare myself to people 'far worse off than me', when in fact mental illness affects one in four of us at any time in our lives. It's perfectly okay and valid to feel the way we do – people need to be reminded of that.

So please try to treat others with kindness and compassion. You don't know what invisible battles others may be going through. And educate yourself! Yes, I have anxiety but I'm also a teacher, a daughter and a friend. Mental illness is one tiny part of someone, that can often feel like the biggest. And if you're wondering why I've gone to the trouble of writing this - mental illness is not ‘attention seeking.’

If this helps just one person not to feel the way I did, then it's worth sharing. You are not alone. Mental illness can affect anyone and everyone - it does not discriminate. So, talk, but make sure you listen too. Be patient. Be kind. Be the person you'd want to help you.

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