Dear Anxiety, Chapter two

It’s been around 18 months since I penned the post that lifted a big weight off my shoulders.

“Dear Anxiety” was me basically holding my hands up to the world and saying ‘hey, this is me, this has been my brain for the past six months and it’s been bloody awful.’ It was also incredibly cathartic. I found that I understood what was going on in my own head a lot better. I think it actually marked a point where I started to experience some sort of recovery. It also made me realise that there were so many more people that are living with the same thing. Starting a conversation is never a bad thing. Sharing stories only end up helping people, which is why I wanted to carry on my conversation.

So here it goes… Dear Anxiety, Chapter two.

“Anxiety can feel as huge as the big, blue sea, but remember that the sea is made up of smaller waves.”

I was experiencing regular panic attacks. Horrible, breath-snatching periods of time where the only thought that was running through my head was, “I am dying. I am going to die.” They left me absolutely exhausted and it is only now that I realise I was merely surviving. Just letting each day come and go; wake up, work, sleep. Just existing.

When I decided I’d had enough, I started seeing someone for NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) which is kind of a form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). My therapist basically gave me coping mechanisms which helped me deal with anxiety and panic attacks when I didn’t want them to occur – like in social situations for example. I realised my biggest fear was often the panic attack itself. She made my anxiety feel a lot smaller and something I could stand up to on my own. That wasn’t the end but I was getting there.

Then I had a messy break-up and to everyone’s surprise, I dealt with it spectacularly well. I kept myself busy and I realised I had lived the last six months of that relationship in paranoia because I actually, deep down, knew exactly what was going on. And I started to wonder if that was the reason the panic attacks manifested themselves in the first place.

I started to really find out who I was last year. Being on my own made me a completely different person and I had a refound confidence that wasn’t dictated to by fear anymore. I spent time with my friends and family, who I am forever grateful for. Without them, it might have been a lot harder.

Then the panic attacks started again.

My anxiety always manifests itself in the form of being worried about something to do with my health. That headache could definitely be a brain tumour. That stomach pain is worse than you think. Those pins and needles in your foot is definitely a blood clot. 

I noticed that I started to worry a lot about that. Then when I was flying home from Greece in the summer, I had a panic attack on the plane. I thought I was having a heart attack and I got totally flustered and felt trapped in my own head. My friend Anna was there and so was my brother, and they were able to calm me down, but I felt like I was losing control again.

What does losing control feel like? It feels like you are trying to keep hundreds of marbles in your arms without dropping them. When one starts to move, so do the rest and suddenly you find them cascading all over the floor.

That’s what losing control feels like.

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

Anxiety started creeping back into everyday life again. I started to feel panicky on the way to work which resulted in me taking days off because they suck the energy right out of you. It becomes a vicious circle because, without energy, you can’t fight the anxious thoughts that start to seep into your mind. I realised I had got to a point where I needed help again, so back to NLP I went.

She started off the session with, “Has anything big happened since we last spoke? Anything big in the last six to eight months?”

Well, shit.

Well, now you mention it, I found out my ex-boyfriend was seeing someone else and we broke up but actually, it was all fine because I dealt with it SO WELL.

Turns out our brains have this great mechanism for protecting us from stressful or life-threatening situations. When something bad happens, it basically keeps all the trauma hidden away from us to stop us from losing it. Then, when it decides that we can deal with it a bit better, it lets it out in small amounts every so often. Then it does it a little bit more and a bit more. The trauma has to go somewhere.

The problem is, you’re usually six months or so down the line from the trauma by this point so you’re literally sitting there minding your own business and suddenly you are shit scared of having a cardiac arrest on a plane or you have a panic attack at your desk. There seems to be no trigger because you’ve started to think you’ve healed from it all. Nuh, uh.

“Anxiety is having to remind myself that being afraid of things going wrong isn’t the way to make things go right.”

My anxiety hasn’t disappeared. It is very much still there, lurking in the background, but it is now a force I can control with healthier lifestyle choices and prioritising myself. I also met Dan in August, who has an incredibly calming and rational mindset (although sometimes painfully so) which counters my frantic worrying and spiralling thoughts. It’s something I am very grateful for.

I have also been prioritising my physical health too. Eating well and working out regularly has become part of my regular routine and I always feel so much better after a workout. As my physical health has improved, so has my mental health which has made me realise how entwined the two are. Self-care isn’t always bubble baths and candles, it’s taking the time to do something for yourself with your long-term wellbeing in mind.

I try my hardest not to let anxiety get the better of me. Most of the time, it arises when I’m in social situations I’m unfamiliar with and that I can’t control. I want to be there, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed it usually takes a quick trip to the bathroom to calm myself down. I have to tell myself I can’t carry on fearing the fear. To be honest, there are times when I tell myself that it’s a shitty excuse, to just feel scared. There is also still underlying guilt when I tell someone I am struggling at work. Because at the end of the day, I know my anxious thoughts are outrageous. I know that they aren’t real and I know that ‘it’s all in my head.’ But to me, it’s very real, and sometimes, I just have to give in.

But it’s okay to have to give in sometimes. It’s okay to have a bad day. It’s also okay to admit you’re struggling. It’s okay to ask for help, even if you feel like you’ve ‘recovered.’ It’s okay to open up about your story and it’s okay if you aren’t ready yet. Just know that you’re okay, and everything is going to be okay.

Photos by Kaye Ford

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