TW MH: ⚠️Let’s talk about this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme…. ANXIETY.
I had my first notable panic attack aged 13; and it changed the course of my life. I hadn’t realised all the things I’d been doing, seemingly small, but all the while, obsessive behaviours, that had embedded themselves into my life and daily routines since childhood.
Earlier that year I had taken an intentional overdose and by the end of the same year I was being homeschooled.
I moved to a new school but the anxiety continued. I had one friend, 🏽 and the rest of the world thought I was nuts.
I only felt safe around my mum, and I was so terrified of something happening to her, that my relationship with her became fraught under the weight of my illness. This also coincided with me having such horrific menstrual periods to the point I would faint, and I was prescribed a cocktail of heavy duty drugs, including, a large dose of SNRI’s with a side of benzos by aged 14.
I didn’t like who I was and I didn’t understand the level of anxiety I was masking. In large because I didn’t have access to the tools required to understand or make changes, and being the only person I knew my age on antidepressants…. it was a lot.
Therapy didn’t work, because I wasn’t well or focused enough to engage.
If I felt threatened I would lash out. If I felt like I was going to be abandoned, I would act out irrationally in a bid to push people away, so I could ‘get ahead’ of their leaving. Basically, I was constantly trying to control the narrative of my life, and let me tell you, trying to constantly predict the unpredictable, is EXHAUSTING.
To this day, I live my life around a cycle of anxiety, but I understand it so much better now.
A common analogy that a therapist once used to described anxiety to me, is like sensing a tiger in long grasses. We need our brains to cultivate a certain level of anxiety, to protect us, it’s in our genetic makeup to be alert to danger, but when we’ve established there’s no tiger, normality should resume. For those of us with long standing anxiety, or anxiety disorders, this often isn’t the case, and our brains become hyper-vigilant. This means we are on look out for the threat at all times, and our life can become very limited because of it.
There’s a lot we can do to reduce the level of anxiety we experience. Awareness of the debilitating ways in which it can show up in our lives is crucial. Because the reality is, we don’t all present in the same way. Not everybody who lives with anxiety will suffer panic attacks, some will have specific triggers or phobias that make them anxious, others’ may not know the cause of their anxiety.
I know myself that a lot of my anxiety stems from childhood and that any kind of hormonal fluctuation will exacerbate it’s effect.
There are also lots of services that provide support for those of us living with anxiety, which I will list below.
Anxiety UK offer both phone and text support for anybody experiencing anxiety.
No Panic offers advice, support, recovery programs and help for people living with phobias, OCD and any other anxiety-based disorders.
IAPT provide free short-term skills based therapy for those who are registered with a GP in England.
Mind is the UK’s largest Mental Health charity.
PANDAS provide free support to parents with mental health problems.