Papow Ponders #12: My Anxiety Journey

I have previously touched on my issues with anxiety in my Papow Ponders series. You can read about them here: Papow Ponders #8 and Papow Ponders #10.

When I went to The British Belles’ meet-up last week, I flapped around talking to different people. After a while, I got chatting to the lovely Marge. She asked me how I got to this point as it can be quite daunting being in a room full of people. I told her my story and I felt like maybe I should share it with others

Before going through everything, I really need to emphasise that this is one person’s dealings with anxiety. Everyone is different and everyone handles anxiety in different ways. This is personal to me. I am going to do my best to be as succinct as possible!

Manifestation

My anxiety shows itself in various forms – both mental and physical. Over the years, some of these have changed; some I don’t have any more and some are constant. Some of my mental manifestations have been with me since I was a child but I’d say 2009 was around the time when my anxiety really started to show itself more prominently. These are just a few of the ways my anxiety has manifested itself.

Mental

  • I imagine how everyone I love will die
  • I wonder if I will somehow cause their deaths
  • I worry about losing my job
  • I worry about my health
  • I worry that everyone hates me
  • I worry that people will think I’m insane
  • I become paranoid and feel like I’m being watched, talked about or followed
  • I imagine the worst case scenarios for everything
  • I panic about needing the toilet and not being able to find one
  • I fear being late
  • I over-plan
  • I obsess over small details
  • I look for ‘signs’ that things will go one way or another
  • I engage in routine and ritual obsessively

Physical

  • White patches on my skin that came and went of their own accord
  • Chest pains for which no cause was found
  • Hyperventilating
  • IBS
  • Dry scalp
  • Spots
  • Sleeplessness
  • Over-eating
  • Palpitations
  • Hair loss
  • Tiredness
  • Fidgeting

When I experience bouts of anxiety, I either completely shut down, become flustered and panicky or I try to power through. Looking back on my anxious behaviours, I can safely say that I become a nightmare to be around.

Seeking Help

Admitting there’s something wrong and finding help can be a big and scary step – but for me, it was the best thing I could have done.

My Doctor: I’ve been seeing the same doctor since 2011. I’d not really considered my mental health so I looked down all the physical health routes to begin with. I got my thyroid level checked and sorted, monitored blood sugars and did as much as we could with the other physical symptoms of my anxiety. My doctor is incredibly lovely and understanding so looking at my mental health was actually his suggestion. Around May 2016, he encouraged me to be honest in my questionnaires and assessments, then he gave me options for what we could do. I really don’t know what I’d do without him. Like most people, I go through the NHS for all my healthcare needs and I have been lucky to find someone so understanding (especially as GPs are so over-worked). I didn’t like being told that there was something wrong in my head; I knew there wasn’t going to be a quick fix and I worried about what other people would think of me. I was given the choice of Talking Therapies, medication or being signed off – I was given time to think about what I wanted to do. Even after my referral to Talking Therapies, my doctor’s been there every step of the way, which has been such a help to me.

My Family: My family (my mum, sister and husband) have been incredibly supportive throughout everything. I know not everyone has that. If I need anything, I know they’ll be there and I know they’ll take me seriously. My mum’s been a nurse and a midwife, she’s seen a lot and been through a lot so it’s a comfort to me having someone around who understands. My sister and I have the ability to communicate without words and she gets me – she’ll happily be there with a hug, food or something to watch when I need it. My husband’s a rock. He knows me through and through and he deals with A LOT from me. Again, I know that supportive families aren’t always easy to come by and I am fortunate to have my clan.

My Workplace: I shared what was going on with my previous school and they were really encouraging. They gave me time to go to appointments and gave me extra time to visit my new school (I am prone to bouts of anxiety during periods of change). In September, I started at my new school and passed on information about my anxiety. My move’s been so positive and the school continues to work with me on my anxiety.

My Friends: When I spoke about my anxiety with my friends, I felt a lot of love. I also found that I was not alone, that more people suffer from anxiety than I thought. As I started talking about my issues, I didn’t feel so strange. Now that I know that there are more people to talk to, I hope people feel comfortable to talk to me too.

Time is definitely something to consider. I’d been dealing with symptoms of anxiety since 2009 but didn’t get treatment until 2016. I wish I had considered my mental health earlier but sometimes it takes other people to point it out to you.

To get through the other side and start living with my anxiety, I feel that all of these people were integral. Some sufferers might need a lot less and others might need much more to support them – whatever works.

Tools & Coping Mechanisms

Anxiety to me is a lot like the weather. You can have weeks of sunshine and suddenly a rain cloud appears over you. Sometimes, you can see a storm coming across the distance which you can prepare for and sometimes, the weather changes in a flash and you’re left in a downpour without an umbrella. Although I am in a positive place at the moment, I can still have days when I have terrible bouts of anxiety. To help me, I have a few coping mechanisms I use.

Preparation: If I feel prepared, I am much less likely to feel stressed. Packing bags the night before, going through checklists and researching new places help to calm my mind. To some, it would seem overkill but it enables me to breathe and answers some of the questions my head constantly asks. I book tables, I message everyone for definite confirmations, I look up locations, read reviews and check travel. It can be exhausting but if I don’t do it, I really panic. My other half is so understanding of this and is happy to listen and go through the motions.

Downtime: As much as possible, I work some form of downtime into each day – especially when I’ve been mega-sociable or out of my comfort zone. A cup of tea, reading a book, watching an episode of Drag Race or slumping on my sofa are all ways I relax. When I don’t get enough downtime, I can get quite irritable and frustrated. I know it sounds like I’m a spoilt brat but it helps me to function better.

Nature: When I took my A-levels, my German teacher told me to walk in nature whenever I felt stressed – I totally understand why. For me, it helps me to get away from the rest of the world. I listen to the birds, the breeze and my footsteps – it helps to empty my head.

Reading/Research: Personally, I’ve found that reading more abut anxiety has helped me massively. I’ve been able to identify patterns or behaviours and I’ve also found coping methods that work for me.

Gratitude Diary: When I was at my lowest, I started a diary of three good things that happened each day. I did it religiously for five months solid. I have a tendency when I’m anxious to say how terrible and pointless everything is so the diary helped me to get out of that train of thought. I’m not doing it currently but I know it’s something I can go back to if I need it.

Meeting People: A strange support tool for someone who worries about what people think of her, I know. Through blogging, I’ve found others who also suffer from anxiety and I’ve arranged quite a few one-to-one meet-ups with them. I find that it helps me to know people better and it’s much less intimidating than a big meet-up – it’s much easier to deal with and I know I’m not alone.

Moving On

I can measure the improvement in my anxiety  through The British Belles’ meet-ups:

2015 – I didn’t go because I was scared of being laughed at or ignored.

2016 – I attended, staying very close to my better half and bestie.

2017 – I attended, talking to friends and strangers – my better half even had to ask where I was!

Like I said though, it’s like the weather and it is ever-changing. Before last Saturday’s meet-up, we were at the venue forty-five minutes early and I spent nearly half an hour working out where to sit, checking my make-up and asking Nick if everything was OK. I know my anxiety will always be hovering around in my head but over time it is playing less of role in my life and I hope that continues.

If you’re going through the motions with anxiety currently, know that you’re not alone. Some might have it more severely and some less so but how you are feeling in yourself is important. Feel free to ask questions or share your own experiences – the more we talk, the more we breakdown the stigma around mental health.

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