So I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while now but ironically, I’ve been too anxious to make it public due to my endless worrying of what others may think. After a lot of thinking and over-thinking (as this is what anxiety does), I decided that it was time to get real with people. A lot of people out there post only the positive aspects of their lives on their social media and I am just as guilty for doing the same. My Instagram consists of me going out to parties, hanging with friends etc. without so much as a frown on my face. But the truth is that that smile means nothing, and more often it is a mask to hide the invisible torment affecting me and many others.
How Did It All Start For Me?
It all started for me at around the age of eleven after a small accident. It’s quite funny actually. It was the first time shaving my legs so I had this brand new razor. So, the short version of this is that I managed to cut open my thumb in the process. It bled very heavily and I don’t really want to go into the details as I am quite squeamish. But my point is that this set off some kind of panic button in my head. And this was the day my panic attack disorder began. It was like someone had flipped the switch and run away with the off button.
The next day, I had design technology class and the teacher went through safety procedures for our projects. I remember he joked about someone (theoretically) being stabbed in the arm and for blood to come pouring out of them. Then I remember having a flashback to the day before and the alarms in my head went off once again. But this time was different, the room was spinning and my ears began ringing so loudly that the roars of laughter from the class were drowning out. Oh no, I was going to faint. I stuck my hand up desperately, my arm feeling completely numb, and told the teacher I was feeling faint. He sat me down and the class were stood around me. Someone tore off my jumper and I could feel everyone watching me. Then the teacher decided I needed to get up for some fresh air outside but I took barely took two steps before I woke up facing the ceiling with a crowd of people looking down on me. Ugh…embarrassing. After this happened I had a lot of people that laughed and ridiculed me for what happened, and I don’t blame them as it looked like nothing in their eyes whilst it felt like everything to me.
From that day on I was paranoid that I’d faint in front of everyone again or embarrass myself in some way. Plus, fainting was scary and I didn’t want to have to go through the experience again. I would have at least five panic attacks per day, often triggered by any sight or talk that related to blood. I had to ask to go to the bathroom in most of my lessons so that I could calm myself down. I remember that my body would be trembling all the time and my heart would be going at a hundred miles an hour. I couldn’t focus in lessons as my panic attacks would set off further panic- “What if I have a heart attack?”, “What if someone notices I’m having a panic attack?” My mind would be racing endlessly and although the thoughts often seemed ridiculous, during a state of panic they always felt 100% rational.
I couldn’t sleep but I could eat A LOT. And this was when I developed a secret binge eating disorder. I’d come home everyday and I’d eat as much as I could from the cupboards; crisps, chocolate, biscuits…anything. I just wanted desperately to feel better and I used this to comfort me. I put on a lot of weight from this. I wasn’t very close with my parents so I tried to bottle it up and hide it from them until one evening when I was in bed trying to sleep once again, I hit another full-frontal panic attack. I didn’t know what to do anymore so I mindlessly walked downstairs and bumped into my mother at the bottom of the stairs. She looked at me and asked what was wrong and I burst out crying in front of her. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had no one left to turn to and I desperately needed help.
A few days later my mum took me to a counselor that taught me relaxation techniques (that I still use today in fact). It all didn’t work immediately of course but after about two years I got a better grasp on how to calm myself quickly during a panic attack.
But it wasn’t over yet…
I’d always felt quite socially inadequate but I’d never thought too much about it. Although I spent almost a year of school struggling to find friends, by the time I got to around the age of thirteen I had found my own small friendship group. It wasn’t until I got to the age of fourteen that my mother thought it would be good for me to try and get a job. I didn’t succeed at finding one until I was sixteen when I began working as a waitress. I thought it would be a very easy job until I finally realised the weight on my shoulders wasn’t going to make it easy. I was constantly comparing myself to other workers and wondering whether I was good enough. I hadn’t realised how terrified I was of social situations until this point. I struggled to approach customers in fear that I would do something wrong and my heart was always racing with anxiety.
It got to a point where I would hide away in the toilet wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I took every complaint I had personally, thinking I just wasn’t good enough. And I began self-harm again as I was angry that I couldn’t push this crippling anxiety aside. I soon got fired from that job after having a breakdown before work; a breakdown that I couldn’t explain to anyone.
How University has helped me
Only during my first year of uni was I finally diagnosed with anxiety and depression by the university doctor. I felt more low and more worthless than I had ever before. I began to question whether anything was worthwhile anymore. I lived in a flat with four other flatmates that I barely saw, and I was more lonely than ever, not to mention that me and my now ex-boyfriend were always arguing over the phone. My own mind was always putting me down telling me that I wasn’t good enough for the world. I joined a few societies in university but I struggled to get involved as I thought I wasn’t good enough and I always suspected that people didn’t like me despite having no evidence to say they did.
Having learned from my lesson before about bottling my feelings up, I decided to reach out to my family, my friends and my university. All of them were much more supportive than I expected since I was very afraid of being rejected by them. My university even offered me free counselling, a specialist mentor to help me through and everything I needed to push through. I’d also almost completely forgotten about my means of escape. Through my depression I had almost forgotten about the things I love liking singing and writing.
-Don’t bottle things up, reach out to others.
-Create a support network.
-There are also apps and websites that can help e.g. Stigma app or Moodgym.