Anxiety put simply is a fear of the future. The fear of the unknown, of feeling completely overwhelmed and worried about things that haven’t even happened or may never occur. Anxiety’s greatest enemy is worry. Understanding and learning how to cope when it decides to rear its ugly head, has been my life for the last 4 years.
Anxiety is hard to explain but I am going to give it a shot. Think of a time where you were really nervous. Maybe it was before you had to give a speech in front of a large crowd, your first flight or sitting an exam. When you felt anxious at those times you may have felt nauseous, couldn’t stomach any food, had to run to the toilet a few times and you may even have felt a bit shaky and light headed. Now imagine feeling this way when there is no exam or no large crowd to speak in front of. It is just a normal day and things you can normally handle feel like the world’s biggest task. You are tired from being worried and life has become mentally and physically draining. You are now in a vicious battle with no one other than yourself, sometimes the worst of enemies. Your mind is racing and you can’t switch it off and suddenly it is becoming hard to calm your body down. You know you should be doing your breathing exercises and you start to worry and get more anxious about the fact you’re feeling anxious. Suddenly you’re experiencing a panic attack but to you it’s a heart attack. You are short of breath, your chest is tight, and you’re sweating and feel faint. The thought that you may die crosses your mind. This is anxiety.
You check yourself in to the emergency department and you tell them your symptoms. They run all the tests. You clearly have not suffered a heart attack; you’re a young, healthy woman in her 20’s who is suffering a panic attack. Your doctor makes you feel better by saying that you’re not a total mad woman because the symptoms of a panic attack are almost identical to that of a heart attack. This gives you some level of reassurance but still you feel like an idiot and your trying to work out what has just happened to you, and question, will it happen again?
There is no other way to explain it but anxiety has been one of the most debilitating experiences of my life. Learning to live with it and understanding what it means has been a journey in itself. Before I started to experience anxiety, I never knew what it meant or what people would go through. If someone had told me four years ago that I would experience things like panic attacks, excessive vomiting, taking valium or drugs to help me get through the day, I would have laughed in their face. I never thought I would be in this place and now I’ve learnt to never say never because you just don’t know if it could happen to you.
If you have never experienced anxiety then take the time to learn, as someone you know may not be comfortable to talk about what they are feeling and fighting an inner battle. Most of the time they will be the happiest people in your life and you would never guess they are going through this. I have been blessed with a very understanding family who has supported me unconditionally on those not so good days. I think it would be tough if the people closest to you in your life didn’t understand and I encourage anyone who maybe doesn’t have as strong a support network, to make sure you are seeing a councilor regularly or find someone, even a close friend or work colleague, you can confide in. In my experience, the minute you start to open up that you have been through something like this then others share similar experiences and stories of those they know who are going through it too. What frustrates me though is if we broke our leg or had a heart condition for example, we would talk about it openly but mental illness is still something people very much brush under the carpet.
“Mental illness is still something people very much brush under the carpet”.
Going through these tough times has taught me how to care for myself a hell of a lot more. I can now see the signs if I feel in anyway it could get out of hand again. At the moment, I am focusing on eating better foods; I don’t drink alcohol or coffee and have decided to take a more holistic approach to caring for my body. I can go months feeling great and every now and then I will experience a set back. It’s hard when this happens as at anytime it could spiral out of control but having a support network including a fantastic councilor and family that know about it, is something that has helped me get through it. I’ve learnt to listen to my body and if I feel run down or that I am working too hard, I will take a day to unwind, relax and try to re-charge.
One thing I know for sure once you experience anxiety you will never feel the same again. You can be so busy with life and work that you don’t stop to actually hear your heart beat or feel the way you are breathing. I have never felt my body quite like I do now having had an anxiety disorder. Actually stopping to listen and feel your heart beat is a powerful thing. Life is not a race; it is about taking one day at a time. They say if you experience depression you are living in the past, if you experience anxiety you are living in the future. The reality is we just need to live in the present. Let’s just take one day at a time that is all that matters.
Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.
With love, Anna-Nicole xx