I start typing, then I delete. I type, then I delete. This is a subject I’ve been procrastinating over sharing in depth for some time as it’s so close to home and personal, but in doing so I am hoping it might act as some kind of therapy or at least lift some of the burden so it’s not something I’m internally struggling with anymore. I’ve briefly touched on the subject a couple of times before and so many of you have reached out to say you’ve been through anxiety riddled points in your life and you were hoping that I would share my story, so here goes…
For as long as I can remember, since growing up, I’ve always had anxiety and worried about everything. I don’t know if this is because I’ve had so many long standing health issues since birth and frequenting hospital and having a lot of tests left me scarred and in fear all the time, or if it’s just my nature and the way my brain is wired in the sense that I overthink everything. It’s been a struggle and I remember a lot of nights I would just lie in bed as a kid feeling fear and worrying about everything, not sleeping. These worries were never for myself, but more for the fact that I didn’t know what could be out there, if people or animals were getting hurt, if someone was going to try and hurt my family etc.
We lived next to a pub as a child so I was often witness to a lot of fights which were alcohol related (this is the main reason I don’t drink as I’ve seen the damage it does) and I know this did a lot of damage to my mental state because of an incident that happened when I was about 12. Two drunk men were looking for a relative of mine as there had been some issues between them and they thought my house was where he lived. They had arrived at around midnight and because I was always worried and a light sleeper, I heard them come to our door, but it was dark so I couldn’t see very well out my window since I was hiding behind the curtain. I woke my dad up and he went to check and found out they had urinated up our door (disgusting I know). My dad said it was probably just silly drunk people and they were gone now, but I was terrified and rightly so because an hour after, they had come back and there was a huge smash of glass. They had thrown bricks through our window and front door and glass had gone everywhere. It was terrifying and the police were called, it was a whole commotion for ages and it led to me not wanting to sleep at my dad’s house for months. Instead I would sleep at my gran and grampy’s house and just come back in the day time.
It’s not the only bad experience I have had growing up, there have been numerous others as well, like a coach crash which caused some injuries and nightmares, traumatic hospital visits, mental abuse, but this is the one that sticks out to me the most and one that I have feared for my life with the most. I didn’t understand why they did it and that’s what left me with the most anxiety because they could do it again. I remember always being worried after that, any noise that’s loud or any bangs I hear, I will jump and flinch and that sends a shot of adrenaline through me, and as I’m typing this now, I can really see the correlation between my health and how anxiety is partly to blame. I think a build up of traumatic events and situations have caused me to subconsciously be on alert at all times and to overthink everything and almost disable a part of me that used to exist.
How does anxiety affect me as a person?
I worry about every single thing. This even comes down to me hearing birds going a bit crazy outside as I’m worried a cat has got them. I feel fear and adrenaline when I am out shopping in town and I’m worried a car might run over a bird or if someone is going to hurt someone else. If I’ve gone out to eat then it has to be at a restaurant I am ok with and I have to know what I’m eating in advance as I will get anxious about the food causing me issues. I can’t always ask for things in the shop because I might feel fear or un-confident with the shop assistant. I don’t use the telephone as I can’t see the other person. I never go out alone, partly to do with being worried something will happen to me because of my health problems and because I’m always scared of other people. I don’t really have friends in person as I find it extremely hard to get close to people as that adds more anxiety to my life. I rarely trust people. I don’t like people touching me or getting too close to me and in my personal space. I don’t like big crowds. I struggle to go on holiday or trips away unless it’s all strategically planned down to the last bit, but even then I will have constant worry and anxiety during the trip. I’m struggling to want to go back to St. Ives as we had a lot of worry with baby seagulls there and having to help rescue some chicks that had fallen off a roof, so whenever I hear baby seagull sounds, I’m panicked instantly. I have to make sure any animal outside is ok, and has an owner. I’ve been involved in a lot of animal rescue and some of the things I have seen have been heartbreaking, so I feel a great sense of responsibility for them. These are just some of the things I am mentioning and just the tip of the iceberg with most.
Things are a lot better though. There were points in my life where I wouldn’t leave the house as I had so much social phobia, I wouldn’t talk to strangers, I couldn’t eat out anywhere, I would have a panic attack if I was in an uncertain situation, I even had OCD rituals that could last over an hour at night time and that’s something I developed over years to try and control the anxiety. I’ve had a lot of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other therapy to help with that. Of course you now know I can go out (I still dislike crowds) and I can talk to some strangers, attend events sometimes, travel to places (I push through it) and eat out in certain restaurants. I know I have come a long way and I forget that because I still feel controlled and like my life is on hold because of the way I feel inside and how much the panic and stress causes me to avoid doing things, but I have to look back and see the journey. There are a lot of times now when things don’t go to plan and I start to get really worked up and angry and full of fear, to the point where I don’t want to talk to anyone because I’m trying to work it out in my head and I can come across as rude (well I worry I do), but I don’t know how else to manage it.
Has anxiety affected my health?
I think it has in so many ways. It’s been a catch 22 in most cases because I was born with health issues and going through what I did has contributed to making it worse in the long run. I know I have adrenal fatigue as I’ve been told numerous times because my body is always in fight or flight mode, with adrenaline passing through which often reaps havoc with my digestive system and the functioning of my body in general. I’m tired regularly since I was diagnosed with M.E at the age of 13, but due to being worked up and stressed often, that uses all my body’s energy and muscles, which are not the same as a normal persons due to hypermobility and Ehlers Danlos, so it’s a mess.
It creates blocks for me because I end up having emotional attachments to things and putting my love into items I own and having things the way I like them, so when things change or I am now in a current position where I have too many things and not enough room but struggle to part with them, it’s stressful. I think it’s due to when I was younger and we grew up without much money (nobody’s fault, I had a nice childhood and I love my parents) so I didn’t really have many things. I would collect rocks, sit in trees, and do other things outside instead with friends, we made the best of the situation. So when it got to the point of earning my own money and being able to buy anything I wanted, it got out of hand, and I treated everything equally and of importance. I know this is something I have to have therapy for but I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s going to be one of the toughest things I’ve ever done (even more than my social anxiety CBT) and I fear it would put me in a awful mental state, riddled with more fear and anxiety from the exposure therapy and that would make my health worse. I have managed to tackle some of it though over the past few weekends and have really made progress on my thoughts and feelings, as well as parting with things – which I’m immensely proud of myself for. It’s a journey which I am taking by foot instead of by car.
How do I cope and get around these feelings?
I don’t know the exact answer to this because I think my body has just developed a way, on its own. The feelings are always there, with every single thing. I’m quite germ-phobic as well so there’s often anxiety centered around that and that can be a struggle when there’s other people involved. I always try and wash my hands when I can, limit touching, I don’t touch doors or anything, I always have hand gel just in case. I try to do my deep breathing and relax my body which definitely helps me through panicked situations. I try to do positive thinking or listening to music. I try to think it’s just temporary and it will pass. I try to sit around nature and enjoy the weather and surroundings, but even that can turn bad in a moment and I need to leave. I try and remember that it’s all in my brain and something that I’ve created on my own because I don’t really need to have anxiety at all since it’s not real, but then that frustrates me as to why I’ve let it get like this in the first place and why can’t I snap out of it if it’s just a creation in my brain. I try to eat healthy and avoid as much sugar as I can. I go to my Buddhist group which has helped try to change my way of thinking and feeling towards things, but it’s not easy. I always feel like if the world was a nice place and everyone was kind and loving, we had world peace, and animals and humans were treated equally, as was nature, then I wouldn’t have any anxiety as most of what I feel is towards the behaviour of others and how they can be so ignorant and disrespectful. It’s why I often feel like I’m not from Earth at all and am from somewhere else as I don’t understand this way of living which is what makes my anxiety and stress so bad.
I’m working with Lucy (my naturopath) who has been hugely helpful with getting my diet better, and trying to work on anxiety, but I don’t know how to get around things in order to start living a ‘normal’ life. The prospect seems quite daunting and alien to me as I’m so used to my online life and speaking through text. I struggle to sometimes understand the point of life and the existence overall. This has gone way deeper than I ever intended and I really am exposing myself, but in the same instance it almost feels like a therapy session in itself because I’ve laid bare a truthful me and am asking any of you for any advice you might have for coping methods. I would also love to hear any of your experiences and how you might be going through the same thing. Now the big question for me here is, do I hit publish or not? If you’re reading it, I must have been brave enough to click that button. Lorna xx.
P.S. – I had written this post a week before I was contacted about the Lloyds Bank & Channel 4 #GetTheInsideOut campaign on spreading awareness for mental health, which is happening this month of February, so I thought it would be ideal to mention that in this post and support it via social media. I hope nobody feels alone in their own mental health struggles and realises it’s a lot more common than you think. People just don’t like to talk about it.