I have severe anxiety and stress which can lead to panic attacks and depression, even culminating in non-epileptic seizures.
From my perspective, mental illness cannot always be seen, so the people who experience it are often seen as fully functioning individuals, even when their minds are running marathons in all directions at once. Often, I am not able to concentrate or I’m unable to finish things. With my drive, determination (stubbornness as my husband says) and the high standards I set myself, this means I become anxious and stressed very easily.
I know my thoughts are irrational, that doesn't mean I can control them
Generally my thoughts are totally irrational. Even though I know they’re irrational, that doesn’t mean I can control them. When I am anxious it is easy to spot. I cannot stay still, my palms may become sticky, I am unable to follow a conversation and try to do many things at once. My speech becomes very fast, and I am unable to find the the words I want to say.
I eventually opened up to my husband and a few close friends. Now I am starting to post things on Facebook and Twitter. For me, opening up was frightening. At first, it felt like I was admitting to being a failure and broken - I was worried that they would not like or want to know me.
My husband was relieved I was letting him in
My husband was relieved that I was letting him in – he started to understand what I was going through. He just listens and gives me a hug. By knowing more it seems to help him be there for me. Despite this I still find it difficult to share how I am feeling as I do not want him to worry. It is a balancing act but I now tend to tell him much more.
With friends it has been more difficult. I have been selective with the people I've opened up to, mostly choosing very close friends who I have known for many years. They understand a bit about what we've been going thorough and can support us both, especially if I am hospitalised. Then they do nice things like invite him to dinner to show they're there for him too.
There has been no downside to opening up
There has been no down side to opening up – it has helped lighten the load by giving me people to talk to and it has helped others, they tell me, as they know what support to give.
All I require is for someone to say: “I am here - let me know what I can do”
Listening and being patient is crucial, being there for someone is easier than you might think. There are three things my husband does that really help:
- He grounds me in the moment and helps me think only about that rather than everything else in my head
- He tells me when I'm thinking too much about the future and things I can't control
- He points it out when I'm dwelling on something in the past that I can't change
So you don’t have to be a medical professional to be there for someone, anyone can help someone who experiences anxiety, stress and panic attacks - it's just about being kind and knowing what the other person needs.
It’s important that those of us who experience poor mental health are able have conversations with people about what makes a difference, so that when your illness takes over they can help and know that they are helping you.