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. 

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.

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. 

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 ♥︎

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Peggy Porschen, the pink houses of London & anxiety

For so long I'd admired Peggy Porschen and many of the beautiful pink houses and doors of London from an online kaleidoscope of hope but never actually made it to any of those stunning places myself. Since last summer Graham and I had planned to do our own "pink London tour" and finally in June this year we got the chance. As well as showing you some gorgeous picturesque places, I also wanted to be frank about my lifelong battle with London since I was a little girl. It symbolises anxiety for me, not to mention a whole book of bad memories that I'd rather forget. So as well as taking you on a pink London tour full of fun and frolics, I thought I'd first explain how London has affected my anxiety in the past (I intend to do a full post in the future about my anxiety from the very beginning, so will keep it vague for now). 

London reminds me of my first panic attacks....  
Central London is a quick twenty minute train ride away from my doorstep but I never go because in all honesty I hate it. London reminds me of terrifying times in my life; experiencing my first panic attacks there as a little girl, enduring a crappy work experience placement at my (not so) favourite magazine and getting lost on my own late at night after a meet-up with an online friend turned into disaster and left me with a low bout of self-confidence. 

Thankfully Graham and I both share a dislike for the city; the crowds and smoke, the rudeness, the crushing rush of the capital are all downsides for us. We have our beloved Bluewater which provides us with all the shops, cocktail bars and films we need whilst we have our pick of the beaches which are much more our scene; fresh air, calm, quiet and the soothing sea. Craving Southend as I type this, dude. I'd be lying if I said I loved London, and although this post is a happy one, I had to give you a little background on my battle with it. We had a perfect day, but as always when I arrived home from the city I was left with a headache from the stress of the crowds. The relief to be out of London was overwhelming, but whilst we walked the streets to find all the pretty pink places and indulged in Peggy Porschen cakes, I loved every moment. 

I've been to London three times in total this year, all happy occasions. I'm glad I can enjoy going if and when I decide. It's a stepping stone.

Peggy Porschen is pink paradise 
Our first stop-off point on the pink London tour was Peggy Porschen. The fancy cakes fuelled us for all the pink prettiness that lay ahead. I've been here three times now and it lives up to the hype 100%! First I went with my mum back in March as a late birthday present after I got back from Barbados. Determined to sit outside despite the sub-zero temperatures, the staff gave us pink blankets to put over our knees and were unbelievably lovely. I was so impressed with how sweet they were. Because Peggy Porschen is such a sought after cafe I expected to feel a little intimidated by it all, staff included, but I needn't have worried as they are beyond kind.

 My second visit with Graham on the pink London tour was just as perfect. The weather was breezy and balmy. Not quite the sizzling temperatures we're experiencing now, but still hot. We enjoyed slices of Strawberry Champagne cake and Raspberry cake. It is a bit surreal seeing so many people out front capturing photos of Peggy Porschen, a real life Instagram huddle of hysteria. I'll be honest with you and say that a lot of people getting photos seem to lose all sense of their manners as they clamber for their perfect Peggy Porschen insta moment... my mum and I waited patiently to take a few pictures and once it was all clear two girls had the nerve to tut at us for getting a mere few photos (and when I say "mere" I really mean it, I felt too self-conscious to stand there for long at all). Note to people like that: you're being twats. Peggy Porschen is for everyone to enjoy so let others capture some lovely photos too and stop being so selfish! Another reason why I don't come to London; I don't have the patience for it! Overall though, I absolutely loved it. Mum and I had another pink tea date there a week after Graham and I went, and are arranging an August date as we speak.

The pink houses and doors of London
There are so many gems! Graham sweetly drew up a map of the houses I'd found online and we followed his route throughout the day. After Peggy Porschen we wandered through Kensington and Chelsea, to this gorgeous bright street. The pink house was one I'd had a long-time love affair with and the woman who lived in the house was on her front door step. She was just going in so we said hello and complimented her on her pretty pink house. "It's fun, isn't it!" She said. We asked her if she minded whether we got a few quick photos of me outside her house, and explained about our visit to see lots of pretty pink places, that I had a fashion blog, and a love for pink. The sweet lady couldn't have been lovelier, and she said we were the first people to actually ask her permission for getting photos outside her house. We had a conversation with her for a while, and she told us she wanted to paint the house pink as it was fun and bright. My idol! We only got a few pictures as we didn't want to disturb her, then thanked her and went on our way. 

Notting Hill is always a good idea. Graham and I have been here a couple of times, it's always beautiful. The pretty rainbow coloured street is true treasure, and this pale pink shop was a bonus that we happened upon. Just before I started my blog Graham actually took me on a "Notting Hill" tour, to see the key places featured in the movie. Nearby we found this little pink babe with the gold lion knockers. 

This place reminds me of a pink sweet! Another unexpected treat that we stumbled upon, I'd forgotten all about this until we feasted our eyes on it in real life. 

This LOVE door is such a dream! A true Valentine's wish of pink bliss. Even more fittingly, in the same road I spotted this cute pretty pink car. It must have been destiny calling.... 

On our way to find our last door, Graham stopped in the street and gave me a funny look. I spun round to come face to face with these massive eyes looking at me, it actually made me jump! The eyes are even bigger in real life than they look in the photos! Eyeballing me! We fell about laughing, it was the cutest sight. One of my favourite doors, for sure. 

I've saved my favourite house till last, this gorgeous Barbie babe that wouldn't look out of place in Malibu! I fell head over heels for this house, it's even cuter in real life than you could imagine.....
 I really hope you guys have enjoyed our pink sightings! Thank you so much to Graham for making this dream come true, and for sweetly taking precious time on his well-earned holiday to do this with me! 💖

Have you been to any of these places?
I'd love to know which door/house is your favourite!