My name is Stacey and I have an anxiety disorder.
It’s not exactly diagnosed – I did go to the doctors once but I quickly learned you don’t get a certificate of authentication when you have a mental health issue.
I have always been a bit of a worrier. Actually, that’s a massive understatement – I’ve also been a lot of a worrier! I usually get wrapped up thinking about bad things that might (or might never) happen and end up getting completely worked up. I used to have a, reasonably rational, fear of going out alone at night which meant that I would avoid these situations like the plague or risk having a complete meltdown.
The situation became much worse after my first daughter was born. I would lie awake in the nursery for hours, trying to plan for every conceivable eventuality. What would I do if there was a fire? What would I do if an armed maniac broke into my house? How would I keep my baby safe? It used to drive me completely crazy, but I somehow managed it.
Then my husband and I separated.
After that, things got a lot worse. I would notice that my temper would flare up over the smallest things. I would get overly stressed out over the tiniest things. My ability to put things into perspective and stay calm went up in smoke. Whereas normally I was quite good at keeping cool and handling situations, instead I would want to shout, cry and/or throw things. It got ugly.
I started to get overwhelmed with all of the things I had to do and think about. I would have a job list a mile long, and yet I would sit on the sofa as if in a coma and achieve nothing…which then just made me feel even worse.
Everything came to a head when one night I was worrying so much about all of the things I had to do the next day that I started to have a panic attack. I wasn’t sure what was happening at the time, but I suddenly couldn’t breathe properly and all of my arms and legs felt really heavy – like they were weighted down. It was an incredibly scary feeling.
Once I had calmed down I immediately booked an appointment with the doctor. It was time to admit I needed help.
The truth is – that’s always been my problem. I don’t like asking for help. I don’t like admitting I need it. I’m incredibly self-sufficient. I have lived with people with depression and stress for most of my life and I didn’t like what it did to them. I’ve often been a confidant and amateur therapist to these people and if I’m honest, I always thought that it must be a flaw in their characters. I told myself that I was stronger than that, better than that and that I certainly wouldn’t fall apart like they did.
When you feel like that, when you’ve lived your whole life being “the strong one”, it’s very difficult to accept that you are fallible and reach out for support. I felt like a failure.
I wouldn’t say going to the doctor was a massive help. I really wanted someone to talk to, but instead was given an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course where someone rang me every couple of weeks to see how I was getting on. When somebody is struggling with keeping up with everything they have to do, giving them extra work may not be the way forward.
Eventually the phone check-ups stopped and I was left on my own again. At first I just wanted to give up.
I decided to keep reading through the online guidance and then (in a fit of madness) signed up to do an online course to qualifiy to give CBT, rather than receive it.
Slowly, it started to work. Reading up about how to help someone else, helped me to look at my own situation through objective eyes.
I learnt that it is possible to have more than one kind of anxiety, with different triggers. I myself have two – one surrounds fear of bad things happening (like a fire or plane crash) and the other is a sense of not being able to deal with a situation.
Both of these actually lead back to the same thing – I struggle with a need to be in control. When I feel like I am losing control, that’s when I start to panic and show symptoms of anxiety.
I have also started to learn how to manage my anxiety. If I find myself worrying about things in the future, things I have to do, or things outside of my control – I just tell myself to stop. Stop planning for next week, next month or next year. Stop preparing for an emergency or incident that may never happen. Instead I force myself to focus on the present and what I need to do right now. I also find writing long lists of all the things I need to do in the future helps – it lets me know I won’t forget them, but reminds me to leave them for another day.
So far, it seems to be working. I still have bad days but they are less frequent than they were. I haven’t had a full-on panic attack for months, which is remarkable considering everything is so hectic here at the moment. I now take one day at a time, and take back control of my life.
Above all, I’ve learnt to ask for help. I have great friends and loving family and I remember that there’s no shame in admitting that you’re not OK. It isn’t always easy, but I’m getting there.
Can you relate to anything I’ve said? Do you struggle with anxiety or stress-related illnesses? Leave me a comment with your tips for how to handle it. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved!