Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Anxiety: Feeling the Fear but Doing it Anyway

Everything is going to be okay book

I do not take anxiety lightly. I do not trivialise or romanticise it, I do not brag about it and I do not wish it upon anybody. I feel like it's necessary to state this before I delve deeper into the topic because I have witnessed many articles and videos about anxiety that turn it into a desirable or quirky trait rather than the cruel, debilitating illness that it actually is.

Anxiety is different from worry. It is the persistent dread, the intense questioning of everything, the constant doubt. The same goes for panic attacks. They are common amongst those who suffer with anxiety disorders and are not the mild freak-out because you've lost your phone - something portrayed so falsely in the media. Panic attacks are the activation of the sympathetic nervous system resulting in physiological symptoms such as a racing heart, palpitations, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating and chest pains (this is just a small number from a plethora of other symptoms). It's scary. I'd go as far as saying terrifying. Panic attacks can happen completely out of the blue in any situation. They can happen when you're at work, in the shower, at a party or even whilst you're sleeping. Along with the physical symptoms, you also experience the psychological issues that go hand-in-hand like feeling as if you're dying, going crazy or losing touch with reality. That is the harsh truth of it and people need be educated on this. 

Looking back at my life, I can now safely say that I began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks very young, before the age of nine. I can recognise behaviours in myself that at the time, I didn't even understand myself. My first panic attack was on holiday with my family when we were at a restaurant. Nothing was wrong, the environment was fine, but for some reason my brain decided it was appropriate to go into fight or flight mode. I thought I was dying. 
I remember being terrified to go to sleep that night because I had no idea what had happened to me and I thought I was seriously ill. 

Things really picked up during my GCSE years and for me, that period in my life is now defined as the "anxiety years". In all honestly, I can't remember much aside from being deeply afraid and deeply unhappy. It was one of the worst times in my life and I never, ever want to return to that state. At my worst, I would have panic attacks multiple times a day. For a big chunk of time I could not be alone at all. I would follow my mum around the house to make sure I wasn't being left downstairs, I couldn't attend school, I had no social life and I was in a constant state of being hyper alert and panicky, or exhausted and in pain from being tense all day. For a while, neither myself nor my mum could envisage me actually ever recovering from this state. We were in a really dark place.

The point of this post isn't to bombard you with my mental health sob story. It is actually to convey the fact that things can feel like they won't ever get better, but they do. The point is also to put it out there that arguably the strongest driving force to recovery is actually yourself. 

I have an example of how I have managed to change my thinking and behaviours which, in turn, has ridden me of anxiety. It's not one of my proudest achievements, but it's up there as a way that I can track my progress and I think it's less of a dark example (again, I don't want this to be all-negative).
About four years ago, I was asked to have a blood test to determine whether I had a pretty serious condition, but I refused. I could not get my head around the idea of having someone stick a needle into me. Don't get me wrong, I am not phobic of needles in the slightest, but my anxiety was not having it and I bawled my eyes out at the prospect and, as usual, had a panic attack. And then probably had another panic attack because I wouldn't be able to find out if I had said serious illness!
This went on for a while - denying blood tests, hiding away from blood-test paraphernalia and pushing aside my problems and pretending I was fine when I really, really wasn't.

Fast forward to the day I'm writing this, and I've just had my third blood test. Four needles in total and about seven vials of blood drawn and I'm fine. I'm great, actually. I can't understand how past me was so terrified of something so trivial. I'd go and have another blood test right now, no big deal, and that is crazy to me. That something that was once a nightmare scenario is now something I'd do willingly.

Aftermath of a blood test

It's easier said than done, but finding the strength and spark inside you to do all that you can to help yourself is, in my opinion, the best way of managing anxiety. I've had counselling, CBT, hypnotherapy, the works, and did any of it do anything? No. Not at all. It was awful and left me feeling disillusioned. 
What helped me was inner strength, undying determination, constant support and reassurance from my amazing mum (and family) and time. 
Recovering from anxiety is far from easy and often feels like an impossible feat. The thing is, there is always a "before". You're not born with an anxiety disorder. If you lived without it at one point in your life then you can live without it again. It's easy to hide away from the things you're scared of, but you never truly live when you do that. Pushing past my comfort zone was (and still is) one of the best things I've ever done because once you break through that barrier of fear there's a whole world out there waiting and it's the best feeling ever to be able to look back at all those times you thought you were dying, all those heart palpitations and breathlessness and to know that it was harmless and you can live without it. 

I know for a lot of people, medication and therapy is the only answer, and this post is not about claiming you shouldn't do these things.
The point is that we are all stronger and more capable than we think we are, and in the darkest of times we forget how much power we actually have over our own situation. Anxiety is a visious cycle but it can be broken and, as the title of this post says, you should let yourself feel the fear but just do it anyway. It may just be the best thing you ever do.

*Please note that I am not criticising anybody who cannot cope with anxiety by themselves. I am aware that for some, medication and/or therapy is the only thing that helps, and I am fortunate to have been able to get better without these things.
If you need any advice or help with anxiety disorders, please have a look at these websites:


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