It took me a long while to have the guts to open up about anxiety to those closest to me as I felt alone, ashamed and like no-one would understand or care.
The stigma surrounding mental health was very different when I got diagnosed with anxiety ten years ago at the age of sixteen. Mental health was never spoken about at school so when I first got diagnosed I had no idea what anxiety actually was. Of course I knew you could feel anxious, but anxiety and anxiety attacks boggled my mind.
There were times I thought I was going mad and that the physical symptoms I kept getting were all in my head. My first panic attack frightened me so much I still get anxious about having another. I felt like I was dying. My hurt felt like it was ripping and I couldn’t breathe properly. My poor parents bundled me into the family car to visit an out-of-hours doctor who ended up being completely useless and couldn’t diagnose me. Looking back I know it was a panic attack.
I don’t know how I would have got through my teenage years without my parents. My mum slept next to me on the nights I didn’t want to be alone. They put up with my anxiety-provoked anger. Food would be made for me on those days I felt too fed up with life to eat. I was too anxious to drive so my dad drove me everywhere. My mum would reassure me when I told her I didn’t want to be here anymore. I am beyond thankful to have had them there for me; more than words can explain.
I have a vivid and heartbreaking memory of a seventeen year old me sitting at my Dell dial-up desktop searching for blogs on anxiety. There were about three different posts I looked at but I couldn’t find anything to give me a glimmer of hope or understanding. Not like there is today.
I felt frightened, alone and confused and I feel so bad for my younger self.
Why am I so open about my mental health?
Because I would hate to feel like there are others out there who are feeling the way I did at sixteen. The fact of the matter is that 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer a mental health problem each year yet so many feel abandoned and afraid. The more that people speak up about it, the less stigma there will be attached to it.
I am also not ashamed anymore. I am a normal twenty six year old that has a full-time job, in a relationship, has a handful of friends, that loves to be active and is a chocoholic. Having anxiety does not define me and I live a normal life. There is such a misunderstanding of mental health that you can’t function properly or are not a valued member of society, but that is totally wrong.
I have been made to feel weak, like an outcast and weird by those who don’t understand. The reality is that I am probably a lot stronger and more resilient than those people will ever be. Mental health sufferers are not weak.