Last week we joined the conversation around mental health. Mental health is such a giant topic, especially with young people: 75% of diagnosed mental illness in the UK took root before the age of 18. We know that there is a massive stigma around mental health, and we want to be a part of the solution instead of the problem; we’re chatting mental health, faith and sharing lots of fantastic stories from brilliant friends.
Today we’re hearing from our wonderful friend, Tara – over to you!
Anxiety is one of the hardest things to understand unless you have experienced it. The intense fear and dread that all of a sudden comes over you, the irrational thoughts – I’m going to die, I can’t breathe and i need to get out of here before something bad happens. This goes alongside the physical symptoms such as chest pain, palpitations, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, dizziness and hyperventilating; all of which feel so intense and real, like it’s never going to end until finally it begins to subside. Unfortunately this leaves you with the fear and worry of when it will happen again causing a vicious circle of worry and panic.
I once read this: Having anxiety is like being scared and tired at the same time. It’s the fear of failure with no urge to be productive. It’s wanting friends, but hating socialising. It’s wanting to be alone, but not wanting to be lonely. It’s caring about everything, and then caring about nothing. It’s feeling everything at once, and then feeling paralysingly numb.
Anxiety and panic disorder has been part of my life since I was 16 years old – that’s nearly 15 years. It affects me on a daily basis and is often quite irrational, yet very real.
I first experienced a panic attack minutes before I was about to go on stage to perform in a dance show. I got stage fright and completely froze. I literally couldn’t move. My peers went on without me…while I was still stuck at the side of the stage. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like the world was caving in and I had no where to go or no way of escaping. I felt light headed and dizzy and had to be supported to move back from the stage. The physical symptoms lasted only 15 or so minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. And then when it finally subsided I felt embarrassed and ashamed. What was that? Why did it happen to me? I loved dancing. Why did I feel the way I did? And what if it happens again?
Yet that was just the beginning.
The anxiety for me starts when I wake up in the morning and I already feel tired. But I’m not a regular tired. I’m not normal person tired. I’m tired of being tired. Tired of constantly not being in control of my own thoughts and my own mind. It’s exhausting. Panic is exhausting. And that’s at the start of the day!
People with high functioning anxiety or panic disorder look like they have total control over there life.
Like there is nothing wrong.
They get up; they go to work and just get on with it. Yet this same person lives in the shadow of their own pain and struggle. Like it would be better if they stayed in bed, but somehow they get up anyway. Everyday is a battle with my own mind and thoughts. Over analysing everything and anything, yet having this constant need to please people. Many people have described me as confident and outgoing when they first meet me, but that is all just a front and that outgoing person that people describe is just full of nervous chatter and giggles because I don’t know what else to say or how to be. Because anything I do say, will later go round and round in my head, over and over again.
Did I say something wrong? Could I of said something better? Can they see straight through me and exactly what is going on in that twisted head of mine? But of course they can’t. I just want to stay curled up in my bed and go back to sleep…but here’s another thing about sleep….
I don’t sleep. Everything that has happened that day, everything that is coming up the next day, goes over and over in my head. My heart races, I’m boiling hot and i feel like I’m going to throw up. This can sometimes continue all night long until my alarm goes off and it’s time to face the morning battle all over again.
There are many things that can come hand in hand with anxiety and panic. The thing I struggle most with is feeling like I have no control because I cannot control what is going on in my head.
But guess what? We can’t control what others think, say or do. We can’t control what people think of us. We can’t control who our loved ones hang out with. We can’t control who we work with or who’s in charge. We can’t control Mother Nature, or today’s traffic…
So I was only able to get control of the things that I do. And this manifests itself as OCD and in the past, bulimia nervosa – which is an eating disorder. I thought if I can control what I eat and put in my body, then nothing bad will happen to me. Totally irrational, right? But it made sense in my own head. If I eat too much then that makes me feel full. And when my tummy feels full, it makes me feel sick. And that sick feeling will make me panic. Because I associated feeling sick with anxiety. So if I ate too much, I would have to correct it and make myself sick to get rid of the feeling before the anxiety struck. Again, totally irrational, but made sense in my head. What started as fear of panicking quickly turned to being about what I looked like and what people thought of me, until it spiralled out of control and I knew I couldn’t carry on.
I confided in a few people I trusted at church and went and got help for the eating disorder.
But this didn’t cure the panic. It was still there and I still had no control over it.
Psalm 56:3 says When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
This is something that took me a long time to grasp. How can I trust what I cannot see?
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
God cares for me… little old me. This is something that still astounds me, yet I am so grateful for.
I am learning that giving it to God is the best option. Panic is not something that God wants for us. So why should I disobey him and hold on to it?
But this can sometimes be hard, especially when you are in the middle of a full blown panic attack! So I have had to think of other things to distract me from the physical symptoms to calm me down. Distraction is the best method for me, but it’s always different for everyone. I have also found that music helps too.
Pete McAllen’s new album has really helped me to refocus in the midst of panic, something I never thought possible, particularly the song ‘Born to be Brave’ along with a variety of other songs and music too.
Another thing that helps is exercise. No matter how tired, drained or exhausted I feel, nothing beats going to boot camp or doing an hours work out down the gym!
The worst thing I have felt through it all is alone. Yet I know now, I am never alone. Because I have God on my side. And everyone needs to know this!
I have not shared my story much with people before now, but recently have really felt called to use my experiences to help others.
The panic is something I have had to learn to live with.
It still affects me every day, yet I have made the decision I will not let it define me.
Having recently gone back on medication to aid my recovery I have realised a few things.
It’s ok to not be ok sometimes and it’s ok to ask for help. It doesn’t make you any less of a person; it makes you human. What’s important is looking forward.
Let’s all start talking more openly about our mental wellbeing.
Let’s all begin to share I own experiences and stories in the hope that it helps just one person that’s struggling.
And finally together, let’s start to change the stigma that surrounds mental health.