December 4, 2013

BeckiI've been struggling to different degrees over the last ten years and at the moment feel like I'm doing ok.

I actually work as a mental health support worker, trying to help others to get their lives on track and to get appropriate treatments. And yes, I do this job because of what I've been through.

Before being unwell, I would have said that I understood anxiety. I didn't. Now I can actually understand some of what others go through.

I didn't tell anyone when the panic attacks started

I do believe that I'm a better person for knowing metal illness. I have an understanding and empathy with things that other people have no idea about. However, sometimes when panic hits, all that goes out the window and I just feel consumed by it. I feel as if I take a few steps forward, start to think "I'm coping, I'm doing alright", and then this demon figure grabs me by the hair and drags me off saying "I've still got you, I'm bigger than you are". It's as if every time I start to feel better, this condition has to remind me that it hasn't gone away.

The scariest thing about all this, at the beginning, was the feeling of being completely alone. I didn't tell anyone when the panic attacks started because I didn't know what they were. I thought it would sound trivial. It was hard to explain, because I didn't know what was happening, so couldn't say "I've had a panic attack".

I thought if I said to someone "I sometimes feel like I'm going to die", they would just laugh because it sounded ridiculous. If only I had spoken to people, I would have learned just how common panic attacks are and, knowing that now, helps enormously. The first time I saw a list of symptoms for a panic attack, years later, I felt so much relief that it wasn't only me.

It's been helpful for me to tell people that I have issues with anxiety

On the whole, it's been helpful for me to tell people that I have issues with anxiety and to explain how it affects me. However, there is still that small percentage of people that I feel I can't disclose all to - my parents, for example. I worry about their reaction and that they won't see me as a strong person, and therefore I tell them the bare minimum. I'm also conscious of being a burden and making them feel they need to look after me or tiptoe around me. This is something I need to work on and break through - why should me and my problems be at the back of the queue?

There is an element of worry, I must admit, of how people will react if I tell them exactly how anxious I feel sometimes and that I have panic attacks. Will I be spoken to differently? Will I be given the simple tasks by my boss at work so that I don't 'stress' too much? Will friends stop confiding in me because they are worried I can't cope with it? The answer to some of these is likely to be yes - that's why it's important to talk despite these worries, and to break that stigma down. Keeping your health concerns to yourself can become suffocating, and makes it seem as though you have something to hide. You don't.

How do you explain to someone that you need some help?

I don't like to say that the anxiety controls me, but the truth is it does to some extent. However, it used to control me all the time. Every night was a battle and most days. I once went seven nights without going to sleep at all because I was so tense, scared, anxious, I literally couldn't relax enough to sleep even though I was beyond exhausted. I didn't tell anyone how life was for me - I was living alone, and just didn't answer the door or go out - it was surprisingly easy to keep it to myself, but so by far the worst thing I could have done. But how do you explain to someone that you need some help? It's not easy, especially when you've kept it to yourself for a while already. The answer is: it doesn't really matter how. Just say something to someone.

I was trying to attend university during the time my panic attacks began. They disabled me so much that I missed so many classes, I had to take a year out. I didn't tell my tutors that anything was wrong. I came up with so many excuses and ignored so many letters about my absences. I wish now that I had said something to them - there's actually a lot of help there, but nobody can help you if you don't let them. They didn't know I needed help, and I didn't want them to know. At university I wanted to be perceived as intelligent and forthright, not as a quivering wreck.

People don't understand how big anxiety can be

People don't understand how big anxiety can be. There's a difference between exam nerves and this kind of anxiety. However it's not well understood and it is important that we talk about it. I felt on my own for so long, it would have made all the difference to know that someone else in the world knew what I was going through. I didn't talk about it mainly because I didn't understand what was happening to me, which resulted in a very lonely and frightening time.

I really encourage anyone reading this to ask for help, to talk to people. Just go and ask your GP if nothing else, write your GP a note if necessary. Talking therapies have been very helpful to me. It's so important to learn about your illness. Also it's amazing how you can mention problems to a friend or just an acquaintance, and get the response "I know what you mean" or "I sometimes get that too, I don't understand it".

I wish I had been more open about my illness

The conclusion to this is that in hindsight, I wish I had been more open about my illness. It would have helped to reduce the stigma, I would have learned much more quickly that there is help out there, and I wouldn't have felt so alone and so lost. Talk to someone. Don't make my mistake. Talking to people, or actually telling someone the truth when they ask you how you are, doesn't take away your mental illness, but it can make it easier to live with.

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It's like looking in the mirror.

Congratulations on writing this piece. I had to chuckle to myself a few times as I recognised exactly what you were saying. It sounded just like how my life used to be... "it used to control me all the time" "just didn't answer the door or go out - it was surprisingly easy to keep it to myself, but so by far the worst thing I could have done" "I was trying to attend university during the time my panic attacks began. They disabled me so much that I missed so many classes" This was me! I still say that isolation was the biggest problem. Avoiding situations just made them bigger and scarier. How are you now? Are you improving? It can take time but is utterly possible. Hope. Love. Relax. ;-) x


Your blog Could have me Becki, I can identify with every thing u said. I'm 47 and have suffered anxiety for 10 years sine I lost my husband to cancer, I was left with my two children who were 13 & 9 I thought I was losing my mind and never slept cos hated that awful dread wen I woke stomach in knots feeling sick mind racing & could not concentrate.... It's good days bad days hav tried most antidepressants & cbt but it never leaves my life completly could go couple months and fine then wham wake up & it's back! But helps to read other experiences


I no what she means iam realy suffering i dont go out at all its so bad

Re: panic disorder

Totally agree with the above post and glad you found people you can talk to ... I suffer from panic disorder and find it so hard sometimes , it limits my life as in places I want to go or things I want to do ... It's just so scary and people don't understand and I've found they can be very hurtful with comments


I am a life long sufferer myself and identify with many aspects of your feelings but in my experience I still feel if I am feeling very bad a trip to the gp is a waste of time as he will refer me to a mental health department that could take 6 weeks for an appointment ! That is useless ,I still feel there is total ignorance as to the degree of silent suffering and mental torture I and others go through ,I am self harming mentaly if that makes sense ! And when I am in good form I get very anxious and expect so sort of disaster or suffer acute paranoia.

Larger social structures are at work

I'm 2 years out of university, and your described experience was so similar to mine it is eerie. I didn't take a year off until after I graduated, and although I slept poorly (3-4am - 11am), I appeared to have missed the horror of staying up for days that you went through. But other than this, it was strange to read your words and discover someone who went through something so similar. Didn't tell my parents - for the same reasons. Or tutors (instructors). Didn't seek help. Didn't know why I felt as I felt. DID go to a doctor, but he just gave me sleeping pills, which I tried one night, and then threw out the next day because they made me groggy. It's been a long and strange trip since 2 years ago. Things are different now. I've learned a lot about myself and others. I agree wholeheartedly with your statement: "I do believe that I'm a better person for knowing metal illness. I have an understanding and empathy with things that other people have no idea about." Reflect on this new understanding of yourself. Yes, anxiety (and, in my case, depression too) has taken some time away, and put you through periods of hell. But you have gained as well, I would wager. I feel like a whole new world of understanding the human condition has been opened to me. I *get* fiction more - I *feel* the motivations of the characters, their strivings, victories, and failings, more than I felt them before - the feeling is just 'deeper', the understanding more complex and nuanced. The same goes for my interactions with others - my appreciation of those close to me is much deeper and much more complex, and based on, what seems to me, a 'fuller' understanding of them as persons making their own way in the world. In general, I just feel I understand a lot more about life and what it means to be a person within it. And I feel a lot better about myself: three years ago I had my nose buried in books and I was happy; I then faced graduation and was dazzled by the appearances of things in the world that I had formerly paid little attention to - 'This real estate agent seems so happy and so together and here I am stupidly sitting with a degree in the social sciences wondering how to make my mark on the world - why didn't I just become a commercial real estate agent? I'm such a failure'. But one's worth is not measured by one's job, and the lives of others are much more complex than their carefully-curated presentations belie.

Larger social structures are at work

(Part 2) Furthermore, that insight I was talking about allows me to see people as more complex. Yes, this real estate agent has a lot together, but perhaps this isn't the whole story, and there is a complexity to his life that isn't adequately captured by just seeing him as happy and happily-employed. The hours might be hard, he might focus all his time on 'keeping up' through non-meaningful trend-watching, and in general, he might just be a person struggling to make things work, just like you, I, and everyone else. It used to be difficult not to be dazzled by the appearances of others, which i always assumed was the truth; I now see that a lot more is going on behind the scenes and that appearances are very frequently deceiving. But that is just the beautiful complexity that comes with the human condition; look past the presentation, and you will see a person much like you, unsure like you, and with weaknesses and fears like you - and that is what makes us human. Finally, what i have also learned is that larger structures are at play, and this contributes to mental unwellness. I'll keep this brief, and only suggest a few things. One, facebook allows us to present a carefully curated story of ourselves to the world - so we all end up comparing our 'behind the scenes' to everyone else's 'highlight reel', while forgetting this very disequilibrium. Two, student debt and joblessness and unemployment and underemployment is very real and very difficult to navigate. Gen Y are an optimistic group - which is difficult to maintain when the economic structures in place a) place educated grads in low-paying barista jobs; b) absorb idealistic students into employment structures which do not fit their values of wanting to make the world a better place; and c) overwork professionals (lawyers, financial professionals, professors) until they drop out or burnout. Combine this with political systems that are anti-inclusive and anti-participatory, and actively pursuing goals such as less transparency, more inequality, and less citizen-input, and you have a political-economic world that it would be outrageous NOT to be less-than enthusiastic about - or even downright depressed about. But it doesn't have to be this way, there are good people everywhere, and things worth fighting for no matter what. And the important point for mental health is to recognize that maybe it's not all you; maybe there are larger structures in place. The trick is finding your place within it


I have never known what it is not to be mum made me afraid of food as a child. She was always telling me if I was ill that it must be something I had eaten. When we were going on holidays I was not allowed fatty foods for a week before we went because mum thought it would make me sick.i got over it in my teens but after the car accident it returned as it caused me to suffer petit mall took years for it to be diagnosed so I was given any pill to save the doctor from having to bother that time I married and had 2 parents didnt let me say what was wrong with me in case people thought it ran in the family.WHAT HEAD INJURY.but I did as they said and kept quiet.i felt I was a failure and so afraid.My hubby Iwas a workaholic and I strugled to raise the children on my own with a bit of support from the family I felt like a second class person.i changed doctors and never looked back.i worked in top class hotels but I slipped and fell because of a coffee spill .after months of pain my doctor would not let me go back to broke my heart I loved my job.i know cant travel far because of panic attacks and the condition the fall at work gave me.i feel guilty because in turn I limit my hubbys life.then as if it all wasnt enough I lost my son. But I go. Out most nights and do what I wonder I have always been afraid of life I was right.dont give in to fear it rules your life and nothing has the right to do this.

I like that.

Don't give into fear because it controls you and nothing has the right to control you.

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