I generally don’t talk about some more personal issues on my blog. There are several reasons behind that but I think a big one stems from my need to protect myself. You can only put yourself out there so much in a place to receive so much criticism.
But one thing I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time is my anxiety and since it’s Bell Let’s Talk day I thought it might be time that I finally opened up. For those not in Canada: today is a day where Bell (a phone and communication company) sponsors a hashtag and for every time it gets used on social media they donate money to mental health research. Although there are some issues with the campaign and issues still existing around mental health in Canada but this day has at least inspired a national conversation about mental health. Putting aside whoever started it. At least we’re talking I guess? I have watched people open up on Facebook statuses and tweets but I’ve continued to keep my own struggles off social media.
I have an anxiety disorder. I have had one for as long as I can remember. It has manifested itself all kinds of different ways over the years. When I was really young it meant that I desperately hated people touching my face (I’m still not a big fan) so much so that I would faint and throw up if they were touching near my eyes for too long.
When I got a little older it was a terrible dread feeling, a horrible swoop in my stomach and a feeling of panic at odd moments. I wasn’t able to have brief feelings of ‘I don’t want to be here’ because the horrible panic would take over me, there was no in between. It was always confusing. It was like I had two minds. One that was freaking out and one that was confused about what the other was doing. I knew it was irrational but I didn’t understand why it was like that.
I was often called a ‘worry wart’ or ‘oh you’re such a worrier’ ‘you get so stressed about small things’. I didn’t understand what it was in myself and other people certainly didn’t understand it in me.
Then the panic attacks started coming. I would completely melt down at moments of stress. First the horrible panic feelings then full on shut down. I would cry silently and be completely unable to breathe. Of course the fainting was back. Now it was the same feeling as when someone was touching my face when I was little but no one was touching me. It felt like the whole world was rushing around me and I was standing still in this horrible panicked feeling. I don’t know if I’ll ever really be able to explain my panic attacks in a satisfactory way. It was terrible though and debilitating.
Near the end of high school I was facing a lot of stress and they started to get incredibly frequent, but I didn’t know how to deal with them. I didn’t even know what they were. There were two game changing moments for me in that final year of high school. The first was after a panic attack at a university fair my mom looked at me and so casually said, ‘you know I think you just had a panic attack.’ Really? That’s what it was? I’m not just a hysterical nut who freaks out at inconvenient times and annoys the people around them? This might actually be something? It was incredibly validating to have a name for what was going on with me. Although I wouldn’t start identifying with having anxiety for a while yet.
The second major moment for me that year was in French class. Me and two of my friends had to give a presentation fully in improvised French, I could have done it but I thought we were speaking two days later, instead the teacher said we had to go up and start right then. Two days early. You can’t prepare for these presentations, you pull a name of a place and an object out of a hat and just have to go talk about those things for 5 – 10 minutes. It removed the smallest amount of control I thought I had over the situation. Regardless of the reason my anxiety was brought out. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move. When I have panic attacks it feels like I will never be able to do anything again. My French teacher grabbed my hands, held them and looked me in the eyes. I tried to pull away but she grabbed my face and said I wasn’t allowed to look away. Then she told me I was having a panic attack (again, incredibly validating) and helped me calm down. I learned that day that having someone who is just there, who will look you in the eyes and talk to you and not let you squirm away really helps. Everyone is different, but it centres me and helps me to stop retreating into myself as anxiety makes me prone to do.
It’s important to note that anxiety isn’t just panic attacks that are other awful ways it can manifest itself and take over your life a bit. Ways I won’t go into it but they can be just as debilitating but not as obvious as a full on panic attack.
I had a hard time with anxiety in university. I like to be busy and so I thought if I could just keep busy I would be completely fine. I was working very hard on my school work but also interning at the same time and trying to give as much of myself to friends as I possibly could. Every moment was completely filled for the next 3 months. So how did I accommodate that? I stopped eating. Not entirely, I ate enough each day that no one ever really noticed that I wasn’t eating. It wasn’t a choice based on weight or anything around that. I simply just didn’t have time for it, I thought. I stopped making time for myself and my health and my mental health spiralled out of control. I started having incredibly frequent panic attacks and lived with an anxious feeing 24/7 that manifested itself in my feeling incredibly moody I would go from angry to sad at the drop of a hat. I lost a lot of weight in a short period of time. When I started drowning in my clothes I was having more panic attacks because I felt terrible in my own skin.
It was also during university that I discovered Zoella. I loved watching her videos as an escape but then one day she put up a video about her anxiety. It was incredibly eye opening for me. I started to research everything about anxiety and truly identify with it. I understand that this is what I had for real this time. I also started to learn about how everyone’s anxiety is so different and there are different triggers. I also learned how to keep it at bay in a healthy way.
A panic attack can be incredibly draining. My blood sugar afterwards is down way below what it should be so I always try to drink some juice, it’s a weird technique that really works for me. But I often feel wiped out for the rest of the day and sometimes just call it quits and watch TV and hideaway. It feels like recovering from the flu. So it’s good to take some time for yourself. Just take a break if you can and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Moving forward I try to be very up front about my anxiety. When it comes up I don’t squirm away from the subject or explain away my mental illness by saying ‘oh I’m just a nervous person’. I know what I have and it’s good to be honest. No one has been rude to me about it in that moment, which is a blessing. They normally nod understandingly or they will tell me they do too and we’ll discuss, even share tips on how to be healthy.
The best thing you can really do for anxiety is to be kind to yourself. Get lots of sleep, exercise, EAT, and drink lots of water. I really try to be as kind to myself as possible in these respects and it has a huge impact.
While this post is long it is in no way a comprehensive view of what anxiety is or even what it’s been like for me. I’ve lived with this for basically my whole life so there’s no way I can cover every story. I just wanted to cover some of what my experience is like. Anxiety is so different for different people. I never get anxious when traveling and I know that a lot of other people do. Everyone is different and this is true in mental health as well. I hope that sharing my experience just helps break a little bit of stigma or makes it more normal to talk about it in the future. Maybe you’ve even felt some of these things before and it can help you.
If you ever want to talk about anxiety or have questions feel free to reach out to me. If you don’t want to post about it publicly you can reach out to me on my blog’s Facebook page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m here if you ever need to talk. You’re not alone.