Suffering with my mental health is something I have always battled with right throughout my teenage years, all the way until I decided to defer my offer at university on the grounds that I could not at all see myself being able to go without having a panic attack every day at the train station.
Positive: I received a university offer and am now taking a gap year to work, learn how to drive and build on my confidence, everything that had taken a back seat during my A levels.
Negative: I deferred my offer because of my anxiety, thus letting my anxiety win again.
Now that I’ve received my university offer, decided to take a gap year and now have all the free time to work on myself, surely I should now be excited about applying for jobs and gaining the work experience that I need? Wrong. I’m not excited, I’m overly nervous. Would I be able to get the bus there? Would I have a panic attack on the bus? If I got the job would I be able to stay the full amount the hours without getting anxious and wanting to bolt out the room? How about lunch? Where’s the nearest exit?…
Positive: I now have a year to get a full time job, earn money and save for driving lessons. No more pressure of deadlines or exams.
Negative: I’m letting myself believe ‘what if’ scenarios which are scaring me away from applying for a job.
I suppose the starting point of dealing with anxiety is pinpointing exactly when it started, and where it became out of control. For me, my first memories of becoming overly anxious start when I was around 8 and I was at a wedding, sitting on a table attempting to eat a meal when everyone around me was a stranger (apart from my parents of course). I bolted out the room and was sick in the toilets, thus allowing myself from then on to be afraid of going into cafes in fear of another ‘episode’ such as that. However, after a very short period of time, this anxiety deteriorated and I was once again back to my usual happy self.
Positive: At this point, I had ‘gotten over’ my anxiety pretty quickly and there was no heavy long term effects.
Negative: Can I really use this as a ‘pin point’ moment, especially when I hardly remember any of it. The only moments that stand out are me avoiding cafes for a short period of time (I was 8 years old and not really in control of where I went).
I suppose I lived a normal life all the way until year 7 where I can really recall the struggles of a young girl trying to navigate her way through a new building with much older students. My two best friends had gone to different schools, and even though there were many people here from my primary, I was incredibly shy and very quiet. Most of year 7 is a blank, but I do remember making a few friends and navigating through the different buildings for each lesson. Everything any new year 7 would do, because we were all in the same boat. However I also remember having panic attacks outside of class, being scared of moving to another building, random students in my year asking me if I was okay, me playing it off by telling them I was ill. This resulted in hypnotherapy for a few weeks during the summer holiday before I transitioned to a year 8. As a quick note, the hypnotherapy worked, I was again free of panic attacks for 2 years.
Positive: My family found me help in the form of hypnotherapy and I was once again able to be just me, minus all the anxiety.
Negative: The days that my anxiety was bad made new memories which in years to come, would form the basis of the anxiety that I could never seem to overcome.
Then came the A levels. First year, completely fine at school. Had a lot of friends, a little less quiet but still kind of reserved. Panic attacks only occurred when I felt restricted in some way, especially when there was no clear exit. Sometimes I would feel the lead up to a panic attack but could normally divert my attention onto something else. Overall, my mental health was pretty good to me, although there were still some down days where I’d cry on the kitchen floor alone because I still couldn’t get myself to apply for jobs, jump into relationships etc in fear of triggering a panic attack. In the past I had learnt that I had a ‘fear of a fear’, a fear of having a panic attack which ultimately led to me having a panic attack unless I avoided the situation in which I thought I would have one. A vicious circle that I felt I would never escape from.
Positive: I could navigate my way to school by myself, I had created a small sense of independence and could control my panic attacks within my comfort zone.
Negative: I was ‘me’ but had surrounded myself with a comfort zone. Leaving my comfort zone would (what I believed) lead to a panic attack.
Second year. A levels. Had major overwhelming feeling in assembly hall where my surroundings seemed to shrink and I had this adrenaline to bolt out of the room before I was sick. I knew I was having a panic attack, but leaving the room would only make me receive more attention so I sat and waited it out while breathing so deeply I thought the entire room could hear me. This led to me skipping all my assemblies from then on, the thought that the hall would trigger my panic attacks burned greatly in my mind. I could not overcome it. This led to my next problem, until that moment I had always taken my exams in the assembly hall and I could no longer stand to sit in that hall for no more than a few seconds. However, I seeked the help of my head of year and managed to move my exams into an alternative room, therefore avoiding the problem completely. School from then on was (what I believed), smooth sailing. Life was good but I found a great attachment to taking a water bottle with me everywhere, a comfort item that I believed could help me if I was to experience a panic attack. I also took other forms of calming (non prescription) tablets that helped a great deal when I finally moved out of my comfort zone on certain occasions.
Positive: I had taken steps to overcome my anxiety by talking to those who I knew could help me. This ultimately made me feel much safer at school as well as calmer during the day.
Negative: Instead of confronting the problem, I most definitely avoided it. I’d never advise this, but it was almost as if I needed a quick solution as my exams were quickly approaching. Again, making excuses for myself was something else that I had discovered I did quite a lot during this period of time.
It was during a class that I entered the worst month to date of my life. Another overwhelming feeling of bolting out of the room (which I did) to have a panic attack in the staff rooms. In the past I had been able to ‘get over’ a panic attack and carry on at school the next day as if nothing had occurred. This was different. Following this day came many missed days of school in fear of having a panic attack during class. When I did go to school, I missed all classes because I felt as if walking a few metres away from the reception (my safe zone) would trigger a panic attack. I couldn’t sit still. Over the next week if I ventured to my tutor room I’d always run out of the class the second I felt my anxiety levels rising. It was uncontrollable, I felt as if I’d walked 10 steps forward and taken 20 steps back right to the beginning of year 7. Problems started arising with some of my friends causing more anxiety on top of what I was already feeling. The school phoned home and I left school early most days, even though I had not attended a single class in weeks. It was a bubble that I was trapped in that led to me being prescribed with antidepressants and beta blockers to give me the aid I needed to at least attend class.
Positive: At the time, there would be not one positive thought that would come to mind about what I was going through. However now looking back, I realised that even though my health was at an all time low, I was able to realise who my real friends were, the ones that supported me through this difficult time. I also seeked professional help, which got me back into control and into school to take my exams.
Negative: Everything. Thinking back to that time, there was not one positive moment or thought that I experienced.
I am now speaking in the time frame of which is now. This post has allowed me to reflect back on all the ups and downs of my anxiety, something that stays with me now, although I feel more in control that ever before. I could argue that this is because of the medication that I have been prescribed, and yes that is definitely a huge part of my ‘treatment’ but it is also the determination that I hold to overcome this. I’ve done this before, I have overcome my anxiety before. I know how to handle a panic attack and I have learnt that the current me will not be the me in the future. Although I deferred my university offer, I now have the time that I never allowed myself to develop my confidence to become who I want to be. I’ve gone through every method to ease my anxiety, whether it be counselling, hypnotherapy, non prescription medication, prescribed medication, yoga, even meditation. I know what works for me and that’s something that I have learnt, as well as learning these key facts that I keep written to remind myself that I can, and I will.
1. There is always a solution to everything.
2. You can always leave any situation.
3. Nothing is ever blocked.
4. The right people will always understand.
5. No one cares about anything but what they are doing. The attention is not on you.
( These facts of course are fitted for me and what I believed was the cause of my panic attacks. Everyone’s panic attacks are different and are caused by different things. These facts would not help everyone).
Update: After much debating late at night and constant worrying about applying, I have received my first job interview, it’s a jump but it’s the first step to a rewarding gap year.