November 28, 2013

HayleyWhat if. Two words that probably have little or no meaning to most but, to me, they form the basis of my anxiety. What if something happens? What if I am ill? What if that was the last time I see that person? What if, what if, what if.

My fears are irrational but when my anxiety takes hold the questions consume my thoughts, I become paralysed with fear and spiral into depression. I feel trapped, like I am lost in an extremely large world with no way out.

My confidence vanishes, I feel on edge and the stress triggers panic attacks. During my worst moments the only place I feel safe is at home, meaning daily tasks, days out, eating out and holidays are almost impossible to face. My relationship with food suffers too. I link food to illness, so during heightened anxiety I only eat ‘safe’ foods. I once went on holiday to Italy, staying in a 4* hotel, but was awake at 3am each night eating cereal bars – in my mind no other food was safe. Crazy, isn’t it?

I have phobic anxiety and anxiety disorder

I have phobic anxiety and anxiety disorder. The problem with this type of illness, or any mental health issue, is that there is no outward sign to those around you to signal just how badly you are suffering. In addition, the treatment isn’t as simple as putting a plaster over the wound. The hardest part of my anxiety is the fact that I don’t understand it. I struggled for years to put into words how I felt, or to know where to begin to explain.

I realise now that mental illness doesn’t just affect the person with lived experience; it affects everyone close to them too. My anxiety has tested the strongest of relationships, and also broken the weakest. My friends at school somehow accepted me for who I was, and it didn’t matter how much of the school day I missed, or what social events I bailed on, I would always just slot back in. They never questioned my absence, they just accepted it.

One of my friends was my rock

One of my friends was my rock during the latter years of school, college and uni. We have grown apart slightly now, but she was never judgemental and offered me support at some of my lowest ebbs. To this day she probably has no idea how much her actions meant to me, and no words would ever be enough to thank her.

Teachers played an important role too. From the ones who just nodded when I needed to leave the class, to the ones who asked if I was OK quietly after the lesson, or the ones who would stay after school and plan with me how I would get through the next school day. It was these times when you knew you weren’t alone. I wasn’t understood, but I wasn’t alone.

Newer friends wouldn't want to know, that was my thinking

Newer friends wouldn't want to know, that was my thinking. My anxiety returned in my final year of uni and I found it easier to move out of my uni house and back home rather than subject them to my behaviour. I thought panic attacks and isolating myself just made me a burden, and it wasn't their place to pander to it. It meant I missed important social events, but at the same time they were impossible for me to face. To them it probably looked like I didn’t care, but this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I have huge sadness over this.

The strength of the relationship between my parents and I was the one that was always tested. We came through stronger each time, and we are incredibly close now, but to this day it makes me sad to think of the anguish my anxiety has put them through. They couldn’t comprehend the irrationality of my fears, but they tried desperately to understand, and I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for them. It was their comments that struck a chord with me though, and made me realise that the only person who could help me, was me. So, at 17 years old, I asked for their help in arranging for me to see a counsellor. I had seen various people before, but somehow I felt in a position to face up to my fears. I needed someone impartial to talk to, someone who wasn’t in a position to judge. Asking for help was the scariest thing I have done, it was admitting I had a problem but, in time, I opened up and talking saved my life.

I owe my recovery to everyone who listened, accepted and supported me

My 'illness' comes in waves, I wouldn't feel like this all the time. I have been in a period of calm for 3 years now. Don't get me wrong, there are times that I can feel it creeping back in but, over time, I have learnt how to dismiss the 'what if's'. I still don’t feel strong enough to travel the world, which I would love to do, but I hope one day I’ll get there.

I have learnt a lot in my journey; never be afraid to ask for, or to accept, any help. It isn’t a sign of weakness; it is a sign of courage and a small step in a long road to recovery. The second, to realise that no matter what battle you face, or how frightened you might be, there are always people who can help. I owe my recovery to everyone who listened, accepted and supported me and to them I will be forever grateful.

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what if

Its amazing what catastrophes our mind can dream up if we ask it 'what if?' and then leave it to ruminate. Talking to someone is so difficult but it helps put things back into perspective. Glad you've had a good 3 years hayley and I hope you can get out travelling eventually. My blog on dealing with stress and anxiety is at

Loved this post so much. So

Loved this post so much. So glad to hear you're doing okay and have the help of people around you. Three years is amazing and I'm really pleased for you - I know you'll travel soon. I went to India this summer and had the most incredible time, I didn't really get anxious at all which was a massive massive thing for me, as I'm sure you'll understand. Well done for writing this and good luck with everything! x

Me too!

It is hard to express to someone who doesn't suffer from anxiety how debilitating it can be. I have paced the floor all night worrying about things which 'could' happen, even though my rational side says that the likelihood is slim to none! I am so glad you have spoken about this Hayley, it's nice to know that there are some people who understand. xxxx

This post jumped out of the

This post jumped out of the screen at me, I could have written it myself. I have suffered from the 'what if?' complex from the age of 11, I'm now 26. Although much better now, I still only eat 'safe' foods when I'm out, and I love the idea of travelling the world but can't go farther than a 60 mile radius of home, because something awful might happen! Why do our brains do this to us?! We miss so much of life because we are worrying about things that are either out of our control or really unlikely to happen anyway. Thank you for your post, it's not something I usually feel comfortable talking about, but your story has inspired me to respond, and it's nice to think I'm not the only one (that sounds awful, I wouldn't wish it on anybody, but at the same time it is comforting knowing your not alone) wishing you all the best for the future, and whatever it may hold!


I myself suffered a anxiety and depression its the worst feeling ever it has made feel like runner away many times. Without the support of my husband and family , gp I'd be lost.

Thank you!

Thank you Hayley for sharing this. It is so difficult to explain an illness that is unseen and how debilitating it can be. Thank you for putting into words what I cannot.

you've just spoken my mind!

what you've just written is exactly how I feel and what I go through. I to go in cycles, and the anxiety really affects my eating and appetite which fuels the anxiety. I really struggle to eat when I'm at my worse. I'm currently trying out CBT and I think it's really going to help. I feel I'm a different person since before I had anxiety attacks, it's quite sad. it affects everything like you say holidays, social activities from large to small, and most importantly confidence!

Thank you, Hayley.

Thank you for an honest blog. It has made my day. I too suffer from anxiety and deperession. The feeling of being trapped in a big world is something I can relate to. For me, when the thoughts and questions start racing around in my head, I find it difficult to focus on anything at all. No matter how smart we are, the irrational thoughts take over! Congrats on finishing uni. I also graduated this year and know how big an achievement it really is after battling with MH issues. Take care and good luck :)

What if ??

Hi Hayley, Just wanted to add that I enjoyed your blog. Mental illness effects us all in different forms but as you said the best cure is to talk and get it out of your system. I am sure you will get to do your travelling one day in the future. Best wishes , Bob.


A well written and informative article. The biggest problem Is not the voices that we hear It's the friends that disappear With prejudice and fear In the distance We need you near Showing that you care The isolation That we feel The ignorance Is all too real Is showing Love Such a big deal To one who is ill ? Just unwell Regards & All the Best Kim.

Hayley, you are one in a

Hayley, you are one in a million. Words cant really say how much of a friend you have been to us over the years but you are a gem xxx

What if?

This is very much how I feel. One of the best things I do to avoid escalating thoughts etc. is ensure I spend as much of my time as possible with people I know have positve influence over my behaviour. People who I know I can be honest with about my oddities. A wonderful post though.

Living in the moment

I posted about this very subject today on my blog about depression. Living in the moment is the only way to stop the what if monster from consuming me! The root of all human suffering is desire, say the Budhists and mindfulness and living in the moment are the only way for me to stop what if from consuming me. I also find daily meditation to be helpful in keeping myself in the moment and accepting life as it comes. What if only breeds desire and anxiety. Thanks for posting this!

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety: emotion that feels tension, apprehension, and worry that happens during your every day conflicts or a crisis. Anxiety disorders are difficult to overcome when it messes with your everyday activities, moods, and though process. Normal anxieties establish three features: irrational, uncontrollable, and disruptive.


Hayley thanks for your blog. For some of us you can identify with someone and they seem to have your back even though you do not realise it, they may not. My husband is that special person, our son when he havs crisis goes through various stages not eating properly, not sleeping and finally self loathing, binge drinking and self harming. We have supported him at 4am by talking, reminding him we love him and visiting never knowing what to expect. Work stress has been a trigger and problems arise which can becomeover whelming. Their was a suggestion of it being Bi polar which gave some comfort as silly as it sounds and with this a feeling of coping for me. He takes tablets which he hates but recently has stopped as he is convinced he has coping better with a suspension at work brought on by unpaid holiday monies on two wage packets and finally an over whelming feeling of emotion and having a melt down in front of work colleges. Resulting in a disaplinary for him, delay in finding out the consequence and being transfered to another that had no hours. He has been given a life line of a new job and now we just wait and hope. When we are born are we taught to cope, "What if ?" we just learn when life presents us with challenges. "WHAT IF ?"

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