Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Anxiety: my battle from the very beginning


Anxiety has stolen days, months and years from me. As a child a lot of my memories are fraught with fear; worry and panic shaped my world and ruined my life. As an adult, anxiety makes sure that even a typically "happy" day has thousands of intrusive thoughts or worries running through it, be it background noise in my head or a sickening churn to my stomach. Anxiety is cruel, devastating and frightening to suffer from. But it will never break me, no matter how hard it hits. Anxiety is a part of me, and always will be  - but it will, never, ever define me. I've come too far to let it. I can't let it. Won't let it.

This is my story, from the very beginning. 



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Anxiety first struck me at seven years old. 

I became petrified, out of the blue, that my mum was going to die. One moment everything was completely normal, the next I was consumed with terror. I became hysterical, this horrible fear gripping me that I couldn't fathom or cope with. In a split second my world seemed to have turned into something terrifying. I couldn't stop crying my eyes out, and feelings of dread, guilt and fright had this horrible hold over me. I remember my mum trying her best to comfort me, and the weekend passed in this devastating blur that I'll never forget. It still makes me sick to think of now.

Around this time I thought a lot about my Granny who had died when I was 2. My mum talked openly about her and I asked a lot of questions. I was curious but frightened about her death. I believe a fear of death is at the root of my anxiety and during counselling later on in life we made a mutual agreement on this. It played on my mind a lot and I can remember I'd be petrified of death in so many ways. 

I was suffering from anxiety, but my seven year old self had no idea what it was - which made all these sensations, thoughts and fears all the more terrifying. I had no idea what was wrong with me.

It would be a further 17 years until I would go and seek help - seek help and get a medical diagnosis of severe anxiety from my GP. 

The next time anxiety took hold was soon after when I was in the hairdressers, about 7 or 8 years old. I read a story in one of those trashy magazines where a woman said she'd gone blind in the night. As I read the article, fear struck me and I became paranoid the same thing would happen to me. This set off a pattern;  every time I read about someone getting an illness or something bad happening I'd be terrified of the same thing happening to me. It wasn't just a little inconsequential worry, it took over my thoughts and made me feel on edge all the time. It made me feel sick and I couldn't switch off and stop all of these horrible, irrational yet very real, thoughts from thundering in my mind. I now realise this is health anxiety, but of course back then I just felt even more isolated and alone, confused and lost. 

Panic attacks
For my 9th birthday present my mum took my best friend Rae and I to the ballet. One of her biggest dreams had always been to take me and she was as excited about it as I was. It was held in one of London's biggest theatres. Shortly after the ballet started I became dizzy, I couldn't breathe, the theatre started spinning and I got in such a state mum had to take me out. I remember sitting on some steps, the spinning sensation horrible and going through to the foyer.

I didn't understand what was happening but I was terrified. The staff were so kind, getting me a glass of water and gathering around, checking I was okay. My mum was devastated and I felt so guilty. I didn't know what was happening to me. I hoped it would be a one off but the same thing started happening when we went to Pantomimes at Christmas that year - one time we had to sit right near the emergency exit and another we had to leave the show entirely. It would happen in the cinema meaning I couldn't go to big screens anymore. I got nervous in any big space, it seemed to happen everywhere I went.

I was suffering from panic attacks, but my 9 year old self didn't realise what they were. 

I just felt like a freak. 



Knocking my tooth out led to more health anxiety 
When I was 10, I was out riding my bike with friends in my neighbourhood and I (stupidly) turned to look back at one of them. I clonked my mouth against a lamppost in our road and it knocked a U shape in my two front teeth out. All my neighbours in our road were on their hands and knees looking for my teeth (LOL). That sounds funny, but this whole event triggered more anxiety, as it led to me getting put to sleep for an operation. They made a mould for my teeth and luckily all was sorted but when I came round from the operation I was sick several times due to the gas. This led to a fear of being sick, I became paranoid and terrified that I'd be sick and it was an edge to my anxiety that took over more of my life.

Blood tests & disorientation 
By 11, the most frightening period of my anxiety was about to start. One night everything seemed completely normal, I was with my dad watching a computer game, the next moment I got this strange disorientation wash over me. It was the weirdest sensation and one I can't even describe to this day. "Not with it", a feeling that I wasn't there, in the room, even though I obviously was. I can't begin to tell you how scary it felt, I started crying and screaming, hysterical, because it was the oddest, strangest sensation and I thought I was going to die or I don't even know what. It just felt so weird. Mum couldn't handle seeing me this way so she told dad to take me upstairs to my room. We lay on my bed and I stared up at my posters and I felt a bit better. It would come and go.

We started to call these periods of disorientation "my not with it attacks". It happened on the tube in London soon after as mum and I went to watch my dad run the London Marathon. Mum recognised when my attacks would come on as she could see my eyes get spaced out and my state frightened and tense. We went to the doctors soon after. He sent me for some blood tests because I'd also been suffering from constant lethargy, so he thought I might be anaemic. The blood tests confirmed nothing, so it was thought all the tiredness was from stress and the junior panic attacks I'd been experiencing. This chapter in my life was frightening, I was just living in constant terror. I was never really sure what the disorientation was and never really found out. I got the disorientation attacks when I least expected, and they carried on for years.

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Health anxiety 
I was 11 or 12 and health anxiety affected me again in a massive way. It was the school summer holidays and I had a stack of magazines to read. They were full of angsty teenage stories and many had the "real life horror" pages full of horrible tales written for shock value. I stumbled across a few that detailed illnesses and I became paranoid again about getting any illness I heard about. I spent most of the summer holiday worrying, convinced I had every illness going. One symptom of one illness I'd become paranoid I'd got was constantly being thirsty, so I became convinced I was thirsty all the time, so much so that I craved water and became petrified I had this illness.

It should have been an innocent summer holiday but I just remember my mum asking what she was going to do with me as we sat outside a cafe, me shaking and her feeling powerless. Soaps on the TV were my favourite thing, but they were good and bad in equal measures; one episode of Eastenders showed a character having a heart attack and I started getting frightened I'd have a heart attack, I became paranoid about pains I thought I was experiencing in my chest. This happened with countless different storylines the soaps portrayed.

Health anxiety affects me today, fortunately not to the same extent by any means. I spoke about how anxiety stopped me from going for my first smear test here.

Anxiety at high school 
When I started secondary school, a whole host of struggles met me when it came down to anxiety. The massive school assembly hall was huge, and soon I started to suffer from panic attacks when we attended assemblies. I would get panicky, chew my hair as a nervous habit and soon other pupils would notice and look around, laughing and pointing. It became common knowledge. It was humiliating and embarrassing, I hated feeling like such an outcast and a freak but I was unable to control my panic. My form tutors were amazing during my school years, they all knew and understood about my panic attacks and most would be accepting and kind. To their credit, a lot of the teachers at my school were supportive, especially seeing as mental health was hardly ever spoken about back then.

Things got worse when I started to suffer from more panic in classrooms and other halls - the sports hall, the theatre, the dining hall, it felt never-ending. School life was exhausting, I'd spend most lessons drenched in nerves with a pounding heart and the nervous dizziness I suffered with making me petrified I was going to faint. Some classrooms were fine, but if there was one where I felt claustrophobic and panicky in then I'd spend the whole lesson shaking, scared other people might notice but thankfully no one ever seemed to. I never once thought about telling a teacher or confiding in my friends or mum - I felt like everything I was going through was my fault, and something to be ashamed and embarrassed about. Once I feigned feeling ill so I could stay at home because I couldn't cope with a lesson in the sports hall. Seeing as everyone already knew about my troubles with the main assembly hall, I didn't dare mention I was struggling with most of my classrooms and the other frequented halls too.

By 2006, aged 16, I was able to sit my GCSE exams in the main assembly hall, (I was always sat nearest the door, which helped a lot) without a problem, the one I'd had so many panic attacks in over the years. It felt like a major triumph.

Mental health was never mentioned 

The one thing that upsets me the most looking back on those school years is that mental health was never mentioned or discussed during my education. This is something I hope that has improved these days, although I can't be sure. I hope any one out there going through the same situations as I did in school feels as though they can be more open or confide in a teacher, a friend, anyone about their mental health. It is SO vital we teach people that mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. I can't tell you how alone, vulnerable and scared I felt growing up. I don't want other young kids, teenagers, anyone to ever feel this way. I only hope one day things will be very different and the stigma can stop. Let's make the changes we can. 



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Seeking help 
By December 2014 I was at rock bottom. I needed help. After suffering for 17 years with my mental health I finally went to my GP to seek it on my own accord. Aged 24, I got diagnosed with moderate depression and severe anxiety and referred for CBT counselling which I'll discuss at length in a future post. The doctor and I agreed that I wouldn't take medication, I have never wanted to take it for my mental health. That's just my personal choice. Everyone is different and there is no wrong or right way.

Seeking help is nothing to ever be ashamed of and is something I regret not doing sooner. I would never write off going back to see my GP and getting more counselling in the future if I needed it, it is there to help and something I'd recommend doing if you are finding it hard to cope and struggling like I was. By January 2015 I was doing a job I couldn't stand, I spent most of my lunch breaks crying in the toilets and could barely function. Thankfully after a month the boss said they didn't have the funds to keep me on (whether this was a lie, I don't know) but I was just immensely grateful. 

My life today/I won't let it break me 
Although I type this and realise how far I've come, anxiety is something that I will always have to live with. Often I suffer with night terrors that leave me petrified of falling asleep, late at night I get intrusive, nasty images and thoughts flash through my head. Going to my grandparents funerals wrecked my wellbeing and now I can't think about them and block them out of my mind, yet they continue to haunt me before I sleep.

There isn't a day that goes by where I don't worry about my mum and dad dying or my boyfriend coming to harm. Shit, but true. I worry about thousands of pointless, ridiculous things that can leave me on edge. Stupid, unimportant things leave me vulnerable. There are (thankfully rare) days on end that I've been trapped in my own prison cell of hell, crying and devastated at scenarios I've convinced myself in my head that might happen yet don't. There are thousands of other things I haven't mentioned in this post in regards to my anxiety, as the post would just go on forever.

I've written this post in the hope that other people out there suffering won't have to feel as alone as I did growing up and going through so much of my life without the realisation that anxiety - however horrifying - doesn't make you anything to be ashamed of.

The same goes without saying for any mental health illness. If anything it makes you a survivor, a fighter and a warrior. Anxiety is devastating, cruel and frightening to suffer from. It can wreck your world in a moment and ruin so many days that could have otherwise been happy and carefree. BUT it won't break you, however hard it hits. I feel blessed that I can live my life as happily as I can alongside anxiety.

My 28 year old self is a far cry from the girl I once used to be. I have an understanding and supportive boyfriend who is always there for me. He's spoken to others who are battling with their mental health, listening to them and giving support. I'm proud of him. I have lovely parents and friends who are always there and accept me for who I am. I am lucky and grateful, and now I want to help others out there who need it. I want to make things better.

My anxiety is a part of me, and always will be - but it will never, ever define me. I've come too far to let it. 


Mental health matters. 
Let's end the stigma ♥︎

25 comments:

  1. Wow, this is incredibly moving. I'm really glad you chose to speak out and tell your story and I agree so much that it should be talked about, and it seems so backwards that it's not talked about when children are visibly struggling in school & at home.
    I dealt with a similar thing growing up in that what I started to struggle with was never connected with my mental health or the things I had been through. I just had a lot of blood tests, lab tests, operations, doctors visits. My mom even kept it a secret from me and my doctors when they asked about family history of mental illness, like it couldn't possibly be relevant. So bizarre and perpetuates the stigma of mental illness not being as valid and serious as any other illness.

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  2. I'm so proud of you for sharing your journey lovely, I always have admired you for your honesty about your anxiety and how it's shaped your life.
    I too was very anxious from a very young age, and it's only now that I can hand on heart say I can live above it, not dictated by it for every waking (and sleeping) second xx

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  3. This is a wonderful post and you have poured your heart into it. As humans we have evolved so wonderfully, yet recognition of danger for survival has turned into anxiety. Recognising that your thoughts are not the truth, I think is the first step to getting better. I have learned about this thing called thought reconstructuring, it's a wonderful technique to challenge negative thoughts :) take care!

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  4. I guess it's because we care about the people we love and that makes us get overtly anxious and scared that we might lose them .I am proud of you for sharing your experience here .Stay strong !.

    www.stylenbeautylounge.uk

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  5. I seriously loved reading this post and I'm so glad to see you've gotten help now and it looks like blogging has been pretty helpful too huh? Keep it up.

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  6. Oh wow Sophie, I'm very nearly in tears over this post, it must have taken a lot to revisit and share your story with us. It's so awful that you had to experience such severe levels of anxiety- I can't even begin to imagine this affected your day to day life. You're so right about the lack of awareness and open discussion about it, particularly when I was at school aka the time when most people feel at their most vulnerable. I have to say I relate massively to your 'not with it attacks' which happened to me initially in primary school. Out of nowhere I'd feel like I was underwater, on autopilot and that I was not in my own body. So horrible and disorienting. I have certainly been uplifted by your strength demonstrated here and inspired to share my own post on this in future. You're a true star Sophie! 💫

    Xxx

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  7. It makes me so happy that there are people like you out there that are willing to share their stories, because (for me at least) one of the scariest feelings my anxiety brings me is an intense loneliness. Like no one will possibly could have as many worrying, stupid thoughts as me. So when I read posts like this it makes me realise that we're all in this together. Let's end this stigma.

    Julia // The Sunday Mode

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  8. Thank you for sharing your story. It's never easy to share, but it's so important that we do share so others know that they're not alone. I was in a similar boat, my anxiety started at a young age as well. Again, thank you for sharing. You're amazing.

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  9. Bless you lovely - well done for sharing your story and I'm so sorry to hear of how much you have struggled with your anxiety for such a long time! It's bad enough to go through these symptoms when you're an adult and are aware of what's going on, never mind when you're a child. It's great that you're writing about it to hopefully help others! xx

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  10. How scary for you. I think the worst bit was reading how long it took you to get a diagnosis and treatment for it - but I'm glad with that in place, that thing are a lot better for you. Mental health is so important, like any other health issue. If something's not right, it needs to get fixed, broken leg or overactive mind with anxiety!

    Thanks for sharing your story :)

    Hope that you are having a lovely weekend :) We are getting some much-needed rain here which is fantastic. Does mean we aren't doing what we had planned though, haha!

    Away From The Blue Blog

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  11. I love the look of your outfit - it's very attractive, and I love the colours of the outfit pieces. You look very pretty wearing it. I also love the bouquet of sunflowers, and above all else, your courage.
    I too have suffered from anxiety my entire life, and am quite reclusive as a result - but I won't go into the details here. I just wanted to say that I admire you and say thank you for the public service of addressing the subject of anxiety in this post.

    https://full-brief-panties.blogspot.com/2018/08/national-underwear-day-2018-panties-in.html

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  12. Wow, Sophie, this post is so powerful. Thank you for sharing. You have always been open about mental illness and that is how we end the stigma. Also, I am just so darn proud of you. Thanks for being a shining light in the world. You are such an inspiration.

    Much love,
    Elise
    www.caturdaystyle.com

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  13. omg!! amazing post! thanks for sharing


    jadieegosh

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  14. thanks for sharing your journey with us! You are amazing!
    kelseybang.com
    4allthingsdisney.com

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  15. Well done for sharing your story - it's always lovely to see things like this as you never know who will read your posts and you don't know who it can benefit so well done!

    Layla x

    https://www.sprinklesofstyle.co.uk

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  16. Thank you for sharing your story girllll. I love love your honesty always. You're touching and helping a lot of lives with this. Anxiety is definitely something many of us have battled and probably still battling. -But like your said, we won't let that define us. Nope, nein, nada and NO!! I'm glad to hear that you're far from where you used to be. Much love! :-)

    https://www.missymayification.co.uk

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  17. I just came across your blog and I want to say thank you for writing this post. I have suffered with anxiety all of my life as well, over the past four years its got particularly bad and panic attacks/derealisation is something I suffer with too. I also have health anxiety and have had for as long as I can remember, being constantly worried I'd get ill/catch something. I'm glad I'm not alone in this!

    Lucy | Forever September

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  18. Anxiety can make life so hard. I have suffered from severe chronic depression and general anxiety since I was about 12 years old. Just as you experienced mental health/illnesses were not discussed in high school and so I had no idea what was going on. I often wonder if things would have turned out differently if I had received the help and treatment I needed when it all began.

    It's a tough battle

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  19. This is such an inspiring post, so sorry that you’ve had such a difficult time but it’s amazing that you’ve been able to seek help and that you have a supportive network around you. I hope the anxiety improves and that you can live as normal a life as possible. Sending lots of love ��

    Stephanie �� https://iamstephaniejay.co.uk/

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  20. I'm so, so happy yo shared your story Sophie, as it just goes to show how strong of a person you are! Ridiculously pleased to know things have improved so much for you, to the point where you feel as though you can better cope with your anxiety. I can completely understand (and in some way relate) to the health anxiety you've mentioned here by the way; it's incredible what a dramatic- and negative - impact it can have! Anyway, very proud of you gorgeous girl and I hope you're having a lovely week so far!!

    aglassofice.com x

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  21. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. You are such a fighter, strong and inspiration person and I'm happy to hear that today you have happy life in which you don't let that anxiety define you.

    http://www.exclusivebeautydiary.com

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  22. Hi Sophie,
    I can see that you have come a long way in your journey with anxiety. As you know I also have anxiety, and know how hard it can get sometimes to manage it. I share similar experiences growing up, like the nauseous feeling when in big crowds. I used to get this in church as a kid, and then later in amusement parks as a teen. Like you said it just comes on, and it's random for me because it doesn't happen all the time. Can you believe I also went crazy one day thinking my mom was going to die! It was the worst. This probably stems from my dad dying when I was seven. I am going to share a few things that have helped me in hopes that it helps you. Since finding Mindful Meditation in 2011 through a life coach the level of my anxiety has dropped drastically. So that would be something to look into and may help you as well. I'm also going to list two books here that made a huge impact on my thought process in dealing with anxiety. 1. The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama, 2. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. These two books teach you to live in the present moment and so much more. I highly recommend them if you haven't read them yet. By finding ways of staying in the present moment you are able to snap yourself out of the constant negative thoughts that are common when one has anxiety. I hope this is helpful Sophie! I know you can kick Anxiety's ass! :)) Stay positive and keep shinning bright.

    Much Love,
    Tania
    https://inspiremyfancy.com/

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  23. I love your honesty, sweet Sophie! Anxiety is an awful illness, and I'm sorry you had to go through it at such a young age. The scariest thing about it is how it can strike at any time and I found myself being more worried about panicking than anything else. Thank you so much for sharing your story, I think it's so important. You have some so far and like you said, it's something that never truly goes away but you learn new ways to handle it and make it a little easier - I'm so proud of you for never giving up! xxx

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  24. You're really brave for sharing your story, I know it will help so many people out there going through similar things and hopefully children and teenagers will learn that it is okay to reach out and seek help. I also wish I would have gotten help sooner, I only started therapy when I was 19 although I had been struggling from the beginning of adolescence and only got an accurate diagnosis now that I'm 22. Knowing what's going on makes such a big difference. I can't even imagine how hard school must have been for you, it's incredible that you still pushed through. And it makes it even harder that people around you didn't understand, it's great that mental illness is slowly becoming less stigmatised and that hopefully things will be easier for future generations - people like you are contributing to that! I'm proud of you for sharing your story and for how far you have come, stay as amazing as you are xxx

    P.S. Have you ever thought of doing EMDR? It's meant to be really helpful for coping with trauma x

    113thingstosay.com

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  25. How courageous you are! This post was so incredibly brave. My son struggles with the same disorders. It helps so much to continue to learn, and understand what he goes through everyday. I appreciate this so very much and I thank you.

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