Monday, 8 May 2017

Mental Health Awareness Week: Living With My Anxiety

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought it would be good to write a piece about how I have lived most of my life with anxiety issues. 

I can't pinpoint the exact time I first suffered from anxiety but as far as I remember I definitely had it when I was in my first year of senior school (so around the age of eleven). I started thinking I was different than everyone else and that I must be weird. I never opened up about my problems to the full extent of it until recently.In the last few months I chatted to my dad about it and he asked me why he didn't know about it until now. It's because I didn't want to tell people. I felt weird and like there must be something wrong with me. 

For me I really struggled at senior school in particular with assemblies and exams. But I even struggled in most lessons. Back then I would get into a room with my fellow students and all I would do is obsess with one of two things. It would either be needing to go to the toilet and worrying I wouldn't be able to hold it and that I would wet myself or that I was going to throw up. Both obsessional thoughts in my mind was "what if I did this? and what would people think?" I remember depending on which thought it was at the time that I would do certain things. Like I would go to the toilet a minute before the bell would go for the next lesson even if I didn't need to go or I wouldn't eat much at lunch if I was obsessing about throwing up. My grades at school definitely were affected by this. I would get into an exam and I wouldn't be able to concentrate because the thoughts were there constantly going around and around, what if? or I'm going to be sick or wet myself. Waves of panic came over me. I would go hot, I would get scared, I would talk to myself in my head saying "You are going to be alright Ellen, don't worry".  I tried to stop focusing on it and do the work I need to do but it was always there as my main focus. 

It was at this point that I started avoiding doing things if I could. Most kids loved a school trip but I would avoid it by pretending to be ill. I have to admit here I did a lot of skiving and played my mum a lot (sorry mum) to avoid going to school. If I had a way to avoid doing something I would.  

In my late teens and early twenties I had the darkest period of my life. I got glandular fever and then I hit rock bottom. I had a huge bought of depression which added to my anxiety. Some of the thoughts I had around that time were so dark and the slightest mention of anything affected me and away my mind would go, obsessing. All I thought was I must be a bad person and I wanted them to lock me away and throw away the key. At this time I was put on medication for OCD and I remain on it to this day. It takes away the really really dark and nasty obsessional thoughts. 

When most people think of OCD they think of people constantly cleaning or washing their hands but it can manifest in so many different ways. Imagine thinking the worst thing you could and then it going around and around in your head constantly. That was what it was like for me. My first bought began when I took the morning after pill and my tongue swelled up. At the time the doctor told me it wasn't an allergic reation to the tablet but stress. So I started obsessing that my tongue was going to swell up when I was out and about and how embarrassing it would be because I wouldn't be able to talk. I spent hours in front of the mirror checking the size of my tongue because I was convinced that if I got stressed it would swell up again. It never did swell up again.

I can remember another day I was sat at my computer and I had the thought "What if I screamed constantly? How embarrassing would that be?" it then went on from there to some really dark stuff which I don't want to write here because it's nasty and I find it quite embarrassing. Suggestions from things I would see in the media I would get taken away with and away I would go obsessing about it. The anti-depressants I am on have helped taking away the dark thoughts and whilst I have reduced my dose over the years I know in my mind that I will probably be on them for life. I would rather be on tablets my life though than feel like I am losing my mind completely. 

So in my mid twenties I started feeling a lot better as the nasty thoughts were under control due to the tablets but it didn't stop my anxiety about throwing up in public and to this day I am still suffering with this. 

The worst places for my anxiety are cinemas, theatres or where there is a big group of people in one place. No matter how hard I try I still get the thoughts of "what if I'm sick? I feel sick" I then panic. I go hot, I feel like I can feel the sick coming up and I can't breathe properly. The worst thing about all of this is I have never been sick in public so I don't know why I think it but I do. It's like a switch as soon as I get in to the situation I start getting the obsessional thoughts etc. I've felt it at my sisters wedding, my grandfathers funeral and at family meals in restaurants. 

It's only recently I have talked more about my anxiety and decided I want to do something about it. I am thirty eight now and have had this for at least twenty seven years it's time to get help and try to overcome it. I am not living my life, I am avoiding it!

I want to be able to go to the cinema or theatre and enjoy it. I want to go and see Phillip Schofield film one of his tv shows (I actually told Phillip about my anxiety when I met up with him in my mid twenties which I never thought I would do and he was incredibly understanding about it. I just didn't want him to think I was a bad fan for not going to his shows). I want to go to a Boyzone concert in an arena. I want to be able to see some of the world and travel. Most of all I want to do all these things and enjoy myself doing them, not just survive them like I do at the moment. If I go to a cinema for example I spend ninety percent of the time panicking and the last few minutes of the film I calm down because I know the end is coming up and I will get out of there. Then I come out of the cinema and in my head have an overwhelming feeling of joy, like I have achieved something because I went to the cinema and survived without throwing up. Where as most people go to the cinema to have fun. 

I often wonder if I had spoken up about it when I was eleven would my life of been different. Would I have got help and sorted it out? Would I have succeeded more in life? Would I be happy and content with my life? Would I of had more happy experiences? One of the reasons I've never had children has been because I wouldn't want to hold them back and the way I am now I would of avoided certain situations because of the way I get and that wouldn't of been fair on them. 

So here I am now. I am finally asking for help with this. I have been to my doctors and I am waiting to see a therapist to learn some techniques to overcome the anxiety. I am also pushing myself a little more to do things that make me feel uncomfortable. I've started going to bingo once a week with my mum and sister. Every single week I sit there obsessing about throwing up whilst playing along. One week I got in a really bad state where I could hardly breathe but I make myself go every week because I do enjoy it and I think maybe it's good to push myself. To this day I haven't been sick in public but the thoughts are still there. I hope one day I will find a way to control the thoughts instead of letting them control me. 

If you too are living with anxiety please speak to someone and seek help like I am doing. There are so many people out there who can help you.  Don't suffer in silence like I have done for so many years. And most importantly know that you are not alone. 

Links to charities that can help: