December 15, 2015

I've lived with anxiety since I can remember. My mum died at a young age and other life events along the way have led me to suffer from crippling panic attacks and constant worry. My mind can be a very hyperactive place and I tend to obsess a lot, whether that's feeling bad about the way I've said something to someone or entertaining a really awful thought and then torturing myself with it. Its hard work!

The main overriding fear I have is about my health.  Lots of people say, flippantly: 'oh stop being such a hypochondriac.' Well I can tell you, when you have anxiety there is nothing flippant about it. It entirely consumes you and makes everyday living extremely hard, when exercising you worry that you’re putting strain on your body and you constantly self-check for any signs of illness. When talking about the future you think, 'oh well I'm probably not going to be around anyway'. No matter what happens, you always fixate on the worst possible outcome, I've ended up in A&E on more than one occasion thinking I was having a heart attack. It's exhausting to say the least and I've felt like an idiot.

I've always been seen as the strong one in my family and friends, the one who keeps it together, so it was something that I hid from everyone and downplayed it for fear that people would think less of me, that I wasn't as strong. In fact years ago when I was 21, when I opened up about it to a few people it was either met with confusion or a 'buck up' attitude.

Years later, I think the best thing I have ever done was let people see me have a panic attack, from there I found it easier to be open with them about what I was feeling and why I thought I was feeling it. The more open I was, slowly it didn’t seem as scary anymore. In fact a lot of people opened up about their anxieties which made me feel less different. I’m seeing a counsellor, whose helping me to see that the feelings I have are understandable given what's happened along the way, to be kinder to myself and say hey, it's ok to feel like that it doesn’t make you any less of a strong person.

Once I spoke to my friends, I opened up to my boss who was so supportive, and will always do anything he can to help. Some of my colleagues really don’t understand, and sometimes it’s hard to ignore the people that think I'm being pathetic or just skiving when I've taken time off but I'm hoping I can work to change those kind of attitudes. It's as simple as asking your colleague 'how are you today?' instead of 'what's wrong with you?'

I think what I've learnt is when you get into that dark place the only way out is to talk, even if you really don't want to. Depression and anxiety don't like talking: they want you to be silent, to be alone in your spiralling thoughts, to think that you're a burden on everyone and that they are sick of hearing your voice. That is absolutely not true. Think about it if your friend came to you and said they were feeling this way, you wouldn't say: “oh I'm not interested.” There are people who will stand by you, and not leave until you want to talk (no matter how much you try to push them away or tell them that 'you're fine'). Sometimes these people aren't easy to see at first, but if you start talking, they will soon appear. I know this because I have experienced it, I've still got a way to go but we all just need to keep each other talking. The more we talk the less scared we’ll be.

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