Over the past six to seven years I have come a long way. There are some things that I have only ever spoken and opened up about to a few people. Over a number of blog posts I would like to discuss some aspects of my life that I feel should be openly discussed and not pushed to one side to be ignored by society. In this blog post I will talk about my own experiences with anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be represented in so many different ways and can be determined by a huge number of factors. It is completely normal and everybody will experience a sense of anxiety at some point in their life; however in some people it will show more so than in others, and in some people it will have a greater effect than on others. Learning to cope with your own anxiety can be difficult, but it is achievable and there are a number of ways to improve how you manage your anxiety, how you reduce your anxiety and how to identify your anxiety triggers (I have linked some sites at the bottom of the page that I found of help, as well as an online test that should help to identify your own anxieties).
Personally I have struggled with my anxiety. In some circumstances it has made me feel isolated, I would constantly ask myself questions: Why am I like this? Why is nobody else having a panic attack right now? Why can’t I do what everybody else is doing? What is wrong with me? Why am I not like everybody else? In some circumstances it has caused me to lock myself away and stop taking part in certain activities. And in some circumstances it has affected my ability to socialise, or even take part in everyday activities such as shopping or attending lessons in college.
I’d say my anxiety levels were at their worst and heightened throughout secondary school and sixth form. The first year at sixth form was definitely a learning curb when it came to my anxiety, as I felt under more pressure in various areas; including achievements in college, meeting new people and conversing and working with people in lessons. My anxiety affected my willingness to attend lessons because I would feel uncomfortable in class, I wouldn’t be able to speak up and I found the work challenging – but felt as though everybody else around me was succeeding. So one year into college I’d had plenty of tutor meetings, I’d been put on the referral list and was monitored on the lessons I attended. Due to isolation – from not feeling good enough for a class and feeling as though I had nobody to talk to in some classes – I entered a downward spiral of not going to lesson, not completing work and therefore feeling even worse in the next lesson I attended. I became fearful of attending lessons and so would choose to not go. At the time it was the easiest option.
I have such vivid memory of some of the times my anxiety really took over. One day I was in town shopping alone, and suddenly all the noise became a constant buzz that seemed to me as though it was getting louder and louder, sounding like laughter. My mind painted an image of every single person in the shopping centre turning to me and laughing, completely mocking me. I felt so small and as though I was suffocating. I felt completely isolated and just wanted to run away, with my thoughts going crazy and my whole body shaking, I just wanted to scream. I was having a panic attack and I just felt extremely dizzy. The only option I had was to divert upstairs to a bench, listen to some music and try to feel more on top of my emotions. After around half an hour to an hour of sitting there, I eventually felt the courage to return to shopping, but the whole event formed another fear. Because I was unaware of what exactly had triggered the attack – which was most likely a number of factors – I was so fearful of being alone in public because I was both embarrassed and scared about the physical effects. There have been incidents since in which I have had to call a friend to help me and walk me back to somewhere more peaceful, because I have just burst into tears or felt completely weak and faint.
Attending events such as those in nightclubs or the junction in Cambridge became all the more difficult throughout sixth form, and numerous times anxiety would reduce me to tears in queues and lead security to think twice about allowing me into such events. It made it all worse, with ever-growing fear that anxiety would completely take away my freedom. There were also some people who made it worse. And some that I had strong relationships with were often unaware of the extent to which some very small actions of theirs would affect my thoughts and worries – but they couldn’t help it because a lot of the time it would just be me seeing things to be worse than they actually were.
Anxiety has stopped me from taking part and going on to do so many things in the past. Learning to drive still hasn’t happened, and at nearly 19 years old I still have not had a single driving lesson. I guess at 17 my anxiety made me feel so small and nervous, I was afraid of sitting in a car with an instructor, I was afraid of being responsible for a car and anybody in it, and I was afraid of being out on the road. I had a fear of being in control but also of losing control and so until this day I still have not started driving.
Although anxiety has taken its toll in so many areas of my life, I now know how to better manage it. After many conversations with teachers, the college counsellor, study skills advisors, friends and through online medium, alongside researching self-help and deciding in my mind that I had to take back some control, I learnt my triggers and I learnt how to better deal with those triggers. I cannot sit here today and say that my anxiety has completely disappeared, as there will always be triggers around and I will come across new anxieties throughout my life, but I can sit here and say that I feel a lot better and less fearful.
Two years ago I would not have ever imagined how much I would desire to go out on and absolutely love a night out. I would never have thought I’d have met so many new people through conversation. And I would never have thought that soon I may be going on my first ever driving lesson and I kind of feel excited about it!
I have decided that anxiety will not take over my life, and as much as I may sometimes struggle with my anxiety, I am determined to take back control in my life and be able to have more freedom to take part in the activities and events that I do want to take part in but have felt that I couldn’t take part in, in the past.