I started experiencing anxiety from the fun age of twenty. I remember the exact day that I let the flood gates open and allowed mental health to wreck havoc on my mind and body.
Like I said I was twenty years old. A fun and energetic film student working part-time in a shoe shop – life was pretty sweet. On this particular day, my mother and I had gone for a coffee date to Costa, I ordered a caramel mocchiato for myself and a black coffee for her (I still have a photo of that exact coffee on my Instagram). A little after our date, my heart began doing this flip-flop dance in my chest, it was horrible and absolutely terrifying. I’d never felt such a sensation before and it completely shook me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night and then the next day on my commute to university it started happening again! I was so scared that as soon as my train pulled up to Barnes station (my last stop) I ran to the other side of the platform where I hopped back onto the train heading in the direction of home. Somewhere during that 2 hour commute I had worked myself up, convinced myself something was seriously wrong with my body and that I had to go to the emergency room immediately.
That was the first of many visits and doctors appointments that I went to for validation that I wasn’t dying. From that day on, I began to become insanely aware of every tiny sensation in my body and where I was becoming ill, I started feeling things that I had never felt before; chest pain (sharp, dull, you name it), jaw pain, headaches, palpitations, muscle twitches, dizziness, breathlessness, pain in my left and right arm etc etc. This kept me up most nights and the lack of sleep made my anxiety worse, and the viscous cycle continued. I began to avoid life. I avoided going to my lectures, which affected my grades and made me feel even worse. I avoided socialising because I didn’t feel safe around people or anywhere but in my own home. I avoided alcohol because it made my heart race and that terrified me. I cocooned myself into my tiny little space while Friends played on the television in the background on repeat for 12 months. I didn’t try anything new, do anything new or meet anybody new.
At that age I knew almost nothing about anxiety, aside from thinking that it was ‘a thing’ that people in their thirties got when they were going through a divorce, or a bit of a crisis or some other adult issue. Something else to add to the list of “Shit they really should teach you in school”. My anxiety was very much physical at this stage, I felt every single part of it to my bone and I was always worried about my health but never about anything else. Now that I’m older and just a tiny bit wiser, I think the chronic pain I was in was a way for my body to distract my mind on what’s really going on in there.
I cannot say that I found the solution to feeling better that time around in my anxiety journey. I didn’t commit to yoga and bathe myself in fresh handpicked lavender and start meditating five times a day, I kind of just started taking baby steps towards healing my ill and tired brain. I would say ‘yes’ to a few drinks at the pub every now and again and I would get off at Barnes station and walk straight to my lecture with confidence and focus. I put behind me what I had become over the past year, truly focused on myself and those small progressions led me to wake up one day, with a beaming smile, in realisation that I had not had chest pains in months, nor an anxiety or panic attack and most importantly, I couldn’t remember the last time that I googled a symptom. What a fucking achievement.
The second time around, I’m calling it Anxiety 2.0, has been somewhat heavier and I’m reporting to you from deep within the hole right now. My bad traits of endless googling, and touching certain parts of my body all the time are back, but the anxiety is also very in my head – as if something feels off or a guitar is out of tune – and it’s the first time where I have actually began to understand what mental illness means.
Brains are super funky and weird and complicated. They make you feel amazing and equally shit all within the space of the about 35 seconds. You know how those science people say we only use a certain percentage of our brain? Well my anxiety is like that particular percentage trying to invade the rest of the brain to see what’s hiding in there, what’s going on, what’s going to happen next. So just to add on to all the physical pain, I am now also a chronic worrier. I worry about a lot of things; my health, the future, money, my relationship, dying in a car crash, having a heart attack, having a stroke, fainting, climate change, upsetting people, not having enough time. I worry about my family and I worry about my friends back home. It all just makes the world feel very heavy on my shoulders which is why they’re always tense, I’m just trying to hold my world up.
There have been many days where I’ve felt ashamed of myself for feeling this way – which means that I close myself off and create a distance from people that love me the most and I become a bit of shitty friend/partner/daughter etc. I live in a beautiful area of the world, I have a roof over my head, food on my table, a loving and caring partner, family and friends; I should have zero care in the world right? Wrong. It’s just not how mental health works and I don’t want to continue putting myself down and beating myself up about it. My brain will not get better if I continue to do so and I am on my way to making baby steps again, but even tinnier ones.
Well that’s where I am right now. I just wanted to share my experiences so I can hear many others to generate some awareness. I know that society is beginning to talk more and more about mental health and there are some amazing advocates out there but I still feel like it’s not enough. So please please share, wherever you can, wherever you are to whomever you can. I’d really love for you to comment on this post about your mental health story. Tell me what makes you feel heavy, what keeps you up at night and even what makes you absolutely, wonderfully, Diney-like ecstatic! I wanna hear it all.