Roughly a month ago I posted a Facebook status explaining that I had recently been to see a doctor regarding my mental health, something which I had been planning to write for weeks but until then, wasn’t able to do. The reaction I got was completely unexpected and I had so many people private messaging me, some telling me that they wish they’d have known and that they ‘would never have thought it of me’, others telling me they had been through similar situations and trying to offer me comfort, and some just telling me how much they love and are proud of me. Well, it’s safe to say I appreciate all of the love I really do, and for about a week afterwards I felt like a massive weight had been lifted because people now knew so everything could start looking up right? Mmm..maybe not. You see, suffering like I do isn’t quite the same as having a broken leg or even being diagnosed with a life threatening illness, because both of those things you can be cured of, if you take the right drugs/have a little bit of luck those things can completely go away, but something I recently learnt whilst on my second doctors visit was that this is never going to go away, it’s just who I am, how my brain works and I have to learn to manage my thoughts. Yes I am on medication but it’s not going to make it go away, unfortunately these often nicknamed ‘happy pills’ don’t actually make you think ‘happy’ or remove the fear I feel in everyday situations, they simply remove the physical symptoms of it like feeling sick, shaking and not being able to breathe, something which then makes me feel a little bit like i’m going crazy as my mind still gets panicky but on the outside I look cool as a cucumber. Apparently I have to deal with the thinking part by myself unfortunately…doh!
So many people have tried to help me since finding out, asked me how I am, asked if there’s anything they can do and sat talking to me trying to understand, but explaining it has been really hard! Not because I don’t want to or am afraid of the confrontational nature of the conversation, I don’t like speaking about my feelings but in this case it actually isn’t the reason, I just didn’t know how to explain everything! I’ve spent ages reading other peoples stories online trying to find the right one to direct people to and say ‘this is what I mean’, but i’ve not found it! So here’s my plan..over the past week or so I have been compiling a list of some of the things/thoughts I go through on a regular basis, to try give some perspective to those people who love me and are trying to help, so you understand better.
Diagnosis: Anxiety (and resulting Depression)
Explanation: Imagine you’re walking down a dark alley way and you feel like somebody is following you. You start to get butterflies in your stomach, you might shake or feel sick, some people might start to sweat more because they’re scared. Imagine you look out of your window to see your dog stood in the middle of the road and a car is driving straight towards it (analogy stolen). You might find you start to panic, you can’t breathe properly or you start to feel dizzy. These are all completely normal reactions considering you’re walking down a dark alley way or you’re about to witness a loved one get run over! But here’s where the difference occurs, I get these feelings ALL the time. First of all it started with just when I had something big coming up, like attending the first day of the dance summer school I went to in London or starting back at school after a long summer break, in a new class and a new year group. Then these feelings started to get more irrational, they’d happen every time I had to meet or talk to somebody new. If I was ever confronted about anything, particularly told off at school i’d instantly feel sick and start to cry. I still didn’t really think anything was wrong though I just thought I was shy and a bit of a scaredy cat. Then the really ‘stupid’ thoughts started happening (yes I think i’m stupid…I haven’t quite accepted the fact it’s an ‘illness’ yet). For about 2 years before I went to the doctors a whole array of things would (and still do) scare me to the point of the physical reactions mentioned above; feeling sick, shaking, feeling dizzy, being unable to breathe etc etc. I’m going to list some of these below in an attempt to explain:
1. PHONE CALLS – I HATE phone calls. I can’t explain why, I just do and if I have to phone somewhere to make an appointment I will usually sit there staring at my phone for about half an hour before I work up the courage to do it, but in that time i’ve probably had a mini panic attack. For anyone who knows me and has gone ‘but hey you work on LUSU reception answering phones all the time’….yes I got that job in an effort to snap myself out of this but it didn’t work, when the phone rings at work my stomach jumps a mile but because I have to answer it (it’s my job!) I put my protective front up and deal with it.
2. Going somewhere i’ve not been before – I will only do this if i’m with someone else.
3. Cashiers – I will always use the self service check out at shops to avoid them, and if I walk into a shop and they don’t have self service I have been known to turn around and leave without buying anything.
4. Walking into empty shops – It’s just me and the cashier…that freaks me out!
5. Looking for a seat on the bus – I feel like everyone is watching me and tend to try to sit down as quickly as I possibly can.
6. Meeting new people – I like to think of myself as a very friendly person who always makes people feel comfortable in my company, however that is all a front and underneath i’m actually a nervous wreck. Don’t get me wrong once i’ve met the person I’m glad I did but if it was up to me i’d never go anywhere new and i’d never meet new people. This also applies to meeting up with people I have not seen in a long time as the possibility of an awkward situation is a massive no go. Because of this i’ve lost a lot of friends because they think I don’t care.
7. Sitting alone – It doesn’t matter where I am but if I am sat alone in public then I worry that everyone is looking at or judging me.
Whilst a lot of people don’t understand what is going on with me, others think they do and….well you’re not exactly right…
Misconception number 1: I am not just stressed. About exams, or life after graduating, or anything that ‘normal’ people get stressed about. I have had this for almost as long as I can remember and just before I went to the doctors it had got to the point where I would wake up every single morning with butterflies in my stomach. It didn’t matter if I had a full day of plans or was going to spend the whole day sat in bed watching episodes of ‘Dance Moms’, thoughts of the day ahead filled me with dread. This isn’t situation specific, this isn’t just because I happen to be taking my University finals, in fact half the time I forgot that was even going on because I was worrying about everything else.
Misconception number 2: I have spent about 2 years thinking I could snap out of this and that I just needed to stop being a scaredy cat or a miserable poo and start trying to be happy but turns out that’s not possible. I guess that’s the difference between an illness and a bad day. As I previously mentioned i’m still having a hard time accepting I’m actually ill and kind of still do want to ‘snap out of it’ but apparently I can’t (that’s my brain, the doctor and the drugs telling me that). Everyone has bad days, wakes up sad, has things that scare them, but then they go away, or something good happens and you get happy again. My problem has been one constant bad day and scary situation for at least the last year if not longer. Obviously i am ‘happy’ at times, I smile, have a good day out and laugh until I cry too, but difference is then I might go to my bedroom and suddenly feel like my mood has been dragged into the dirt with absolutely no reason for it. I can be happy as larry and feel ‘normal’ one minute, and then be in a horrible mood where I just want to sit in my bed and make it all go away another.
Misconception number 3: I don’t want your sympathy. Feeling loved, getting a cuddle or a ‘how are you’ text every so often are VERY much welcomed, but I don’t want people to act awkwardly around me. I don’t want you to gasp when someone says something about mental illness which you think will offend me (i’m yet to find anything which actually offends me), I don’t want you to cringe, blush and go silent when I mention the counselling service or my medication, and I don’t want you to tip toe around me if I’m having a bad day. Just treat me like normal, I’ll shut myself away or go for a walk if I don’t want to talk 🙂
If you have got to the end of this thanks for reading, i’m impressed!! This isn’t supposed to be a sob story, far from that actually I just wanted to explain. Anxiety isn’t just being scared and depression isn’t just being sad, there are so many different factors and they’re different for everyone, unlike the broken leg which is a bone…broken…painful…and in a cast, pretty much the same for everyone except maybe the pretty colour of the cast! I hope maybe I’ve explained everything in a half understandable way whilst still maintaining the ‘I am 60% normal’ front, and I want this to just be a ‘personality trait’ people expect of me, not a sympathy worthy, deep talk prompting topic. Apparently it’s here to stay so now I just have to make friends with it 🙂
LOVE YA ❤