Honestly I am absolutely terrified to write this blog post. I really shouldn’t be because it’s giving an insight into my everyday life and something that is a massive part of me and has been for a very long time. I suppose this day in age the stigma about mental health could mean being judged as an ‘attention seeker’ or ‘looking for sympathy’ but I’m not doing that. I am proud to talk about mental health and I hope that talking about it as much as I do makes someone else feel like they can too or at least makes someone going through the same thing feel less alone. It’s not something to be ashamed of! I hope one day the stigma around it is broken and we can all accept how important mental health actually is.
I decided on the title ‘Succeeding with Anxiety’ because I don’t like the terms ‘Coping’ or ‘Suffering’ and in all honesty every day I am succeeding, no matter how hard it does feel sometimes, so I think the title was extremely fitting.
I’ll apologise in advance for how long this post is but I’ve tried to remember and fit in as much as I can to show how I have felt in the past, what comes with my anxiety, the situations that trigger it and most importantly how I feel now! I’d really appreciate it if you do give it a read until the end! Thank you in advance if you do!
I really don’t know where to start, I can remember being in Primary school and being terrified to go to school almost every day. I’d feel sick, I’d feel light-headed, I’d feel like I was going to wet myself, more importantly I was a nightmare for my mum! I would refuse to leave the house if my socks were lumpy, if my shirt collar didn’t feel right and if my shoes were too loose. It wasn’t that I hated school, especially primary, I had friends and I was doing well in my classes. As soon as I got to school I was fine, it was just the build up and the mornings leading up to it. I can remember being terrified to be called on to give an answer and I remember getting to the stage of almost wetting myself before I could pluck up the courage to ask to go to the toilet. At that age, I was just a fussy child I suppose?
I can’t remember how old I was but I remember how much I hated Sundays. I would have to sit in church and I was terrified. There was no toilet in the church and WHAT IF I needed a wee?! Of course the constant thought in my head of WHAT IF I need a wee made me absolutely desperate for a wee (whether I actually needed to go or not), to the stage I cried and had to be walked home by my mum or one of the Sunday school ladies. I remember my sister being so upset that Mum had left her first ever high school production to take me to the toilet every 10 minutes.
First few years of high school I don’t really remember having any problems, I was still nervous to be called on in class but I can’t remember feeling any extreme anxious situations. Unless there was a bus journey or travelling involved, then that was a different story. I haven’t really decided if I was ever really travel sick or whether it was just the anxiety. But I can remember (and I still do) sitting there before a bus journey and thinking WHAT IF I need a wee or WHAT IF I feel sick. Again I’d think myself into being sick or being desperate for a wee.
I’d say 14 is around the age I started feeling incredibly sad and lonely. I had a boyfriend and I got cheated on. This is where my self-confidence plummeted, and I mean plummeted. Every flaw was now right there, obvious to me and obvious to the whole world (or so I thought anyway). What was wrong with me? What did I do? Why wasn’t I good enough? Don’t get me wrong my family and friends were incredible, I was never actually lonely except in my own mind. Thinking about it now 14 is so young to have been feeling that way and it makes me sad that at that age that is how I was feeling!
At 16 I can fully say I lost myself. I had friends (not all of my friends) who would put me down and make me anxious. I had another boyfriend who was manipulating and plain mean. I wouldn’t eat because I felt so disgusting and not good enough, I would have panic attacks, I would be sick, I would avoid people. For 2 years I was scared of getting rid of these people and making the change to better my life. By 18 I was not me any more. People had torn down my confidence and made me feel absolutely worthless. The pain of being cheated on is something I would not wish on anyone, especially a young girl who already struggled with herself. Only now when I look back do I actually realise it was not ok, when you’re in that situation your judgement is fogged and you can’t really see what’s right and what’s wrong. ‘We accept the love we think we deserve’ is a quote I truly believe.
I had passed by driving test, first time. I was terrified to go to my lessons, but I stuck to them and ended up passing. At the beginning I drove a lot, I loved it. I had a car pull out in front of me and my confidence dropped. Not to mention the constant reminder from my ‘friends’ and boyfriend at the time of how bad a driver I was. I decided to get my own car after sharing with my sister. We didn’t renew the insurance and I kept putting off finding a new car. Months went by where I didn’t drive, when I found a car I put off insuring it, by 18 I couldn’t put it off any longer. But I was terrified, any excuse not to drive and I didn’t.
I did eventually end things with that boyfriend. I made a new friend, and her support changed everything for me. She ended up knowing me better than anyone else in my life. From 18 to now I don’t know what I would be without her. I was a lot happier than I had been in years from then on. I got rid of toxic people and appreciated the good friends that I had seemed to push away a lot more. While I was still anxious to drive I did drive to and from school with my sister. Having her there did help with my nerves.
I still didn’t love myself and met another boyfriend, who I do commend a lot for putting up with me. I was insecure, unhappy and not in a good frame of mind about myself and I think I vented that on to him a lot. We eventually ended and it was messy but I’m happy we are both still friends now.
I ended up being really poorly during my last months of school. For days or even weeks sometimes I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed due to severe headaches. Unfortunately, this was during exam times, being too ill to focus on revision and being ill during exams, I didn’t do well. I left school with nowhere to go. My friends were off to uni and I had no goals. I think that again broke my (very little) confidence. I felt useless and worthless, like I was a complete failure. School didn’t help with career pathways that weren’t university. You were kind of brushed to the side if that wasn’t what you wanted. I eventually (after a lot of blood tests and scans) got better from what was causing my illness. I managed to get an office job about 10 minutes away from home. I had to drive there which was brilliant as it would keep boosting my confidence with driving.
The job wasn’t anything special, just paper pushing in an office but I was doing something I had purpose and something to get me out of bed in the mornings. I had a good job working with some women that I am still so truly grateful that I met, I had the best friends and the most supportive family. I started to feel so much happier in myself and I was building back my confidence, things were looking great. Don’t get me wrong I still got extremely anxious, I hated doing anything alone, like popping up the shop or having to take phone calls. But things were good, I was happy and I started loving myself and my life again.
You know what they say you can’t love someone until you love yourself. That’s when I met Ieuan. I was in such a good place, we became friends through other friends. Next thing I know I adore him! They do say when you stop looking for love you’ll find it! I was living my best life. Something was bound to do wrong, right? Right.
Ieuan and I went on holiday together, my first holiday without my parents and I was absolutely fine. Travelling there and back I wasn’t my best anxiety-wise, I couldn’t eat and felt nauseous. But apart from that I was great, while we were there nothing made me anxious and I ate amazing food and enjoyed every minute. Around Christmas time Ieuan and I went to Cardiff for a weekend away. I feel like I ruined that, although it wasn’t the worst bought of anxiety I had experienced I was so anxious, I barely ate because I felt so sick and I would snap at Ieuan. Ieuan is and always has been amazing at dealing with my anxiety, he will never push me past my limits, he will always understand and even sits with me until I’m calm during a panic attack. He is honestly incredible.
When you have a boyfriend, especially when it’s so new, your friends take a back seat. I have never been one to reach out to anyone, I think this stems from having no confidence. I tell myself ‘well if they wanted to spend time with you or talk to you they would’ and I would convince myself I wasn’t good enough. So I distanced myself. I was what felt like completely alone, regardless of having a boyfriend and a great family, nothing beats having friends and I had lost that. It felt worse than a breakup. My mental health deteriorated a lot at this point, I lost confidence and hated myself. I was scared to go anywhere in case I saw friends together when I hadn’t been invited. Checking my phone usually ended in a break down from seeing things that I didn’t want to see. It was my fault, the way I had acted made them hate me, I was a shit friend. I can’t even describe how grateful I am that we sorted things out.
I got a new job, an apprenticeship, I never thought I would be able to do that and I did. I was still terrified of answering the phone and getting things wrong and looking stupid. I have thank god grown out of that now (although answering the phone is still my weakness). I do love my job and I do genuinely believe I am good at it, which I have never felt before in my life. It’s also helped me gain some thicker skin, dealing with colleagues and clients, I can really hold my own a lot more.
I am the happiest I’ve ever been but from 20 until now my anxiety consumed me. I don’t know what set it off but it became so much worse than I have ever had it before in my life. My sister and I went to Cardiff and London and I ruined both these trips, once in a life time experiences that I couldn’t enjoy to the fullest because I was so anxious. I wouldn’t be able to eat, I was sick, I would get light-headed, I would have panic attacks, migraines and I couldn’t sleep. As someone who has never experienced anxiety I think it was quite hard for my sister to understand what was wrong or why was I like I was. When you can’t explain or understand why you’re feeling like you are why would someone else?
Even going to the cinema is a massive anxiety trigger for me, WHAT IF I need a wee? WHAT IF I had a bought of coughing? (even though I hadn’t had a cough for months). I’d feel sick and fuzzy headed just going to the cinema. Sometimes when have a haircut booked, in my usual hairdressers, in the usual place, where I go always and think I am going to have to cancel because I get too anxious. Once Ieuan was driving me, dropping me off and I was then going to walk to his sisters 2 minutes away where he would be waiting for me. I’ve been to his sisters a million times but I thought WHAT IF I get lost?! WHAT IF I can’t remember the house?! It sounds absolutely pathetic when you think about it but it was something that I was truly worrying about. Of course I found the house and was absolutely fine so why did I think it would be so hard?
When Ieuan’s mum passed away in August ’17 I felt like I had to be the brave one for a change. I was so used to being looked after and having him be so strong for me, I never expected to be the one doing the same for him. We had his niece’s (our god daughter’s) Christening a couple of days after and I was incredibly anxious for this but I felt like I needed to be brave and pushed through it, although having a panic attack a couple of hours before and having a fuzzy head at the beginning, I made it through and more importantly I was there for Ieuan. I think the funeral was the first thing I haven’t been anxious for at all. I think that was because I knew I had to be brave for Ieuan, I’d drilled that into my mind so I wasn’t allowed to be anxious. I was finally the one looking after him for once.
I had a 21st birthday party. It was fancy dress, in a local pub, with all my friends, some family and good food. I honestly did have one of the best nights. Although towards the end, I spent most of my evening in the toilet being sick, feeling anxious, having panic attacks and ended up barely seeing anyone who had attended. Ieuan again was amazing, sat with me until I was ok. I ended up having to go home way earlier than anticipated with a migraine, I was devastated. The same weekend Ieuan and I went to Chester – somewhere different for us both, for a weekend away. In the mornings I was awful, I couldn’t eat, I was shaking and my head was fuzzy. By the afternoons I did end up feeling better and managed to eat which was such a relief. I find I always feel worse in the mornings.
We did a few things throughout the year including being lucky enough to attend the wedding of a friend of Ieuan’s. I had never been to a day and evening of a wedding before, I was so excited, but more importantly I was anxious. While sitting in the ceremony I felt like I needed a wee (although I had literally just been) and I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact I needed a wee. I ended up being bursting for the toilet even though realistically I wasn’t I had just thought myself into that situation. Thought I was going to pass out, I was light-headed and I couldn’t breathe. I genuinely thought I was going to have to leave mid ceremony to breathe and have a wee. Again Ieuan was there and held my hand, I took some deep breaths and felt ok enough to sit until the ceremony was over, and I am so proud of myself for it. I ended up wanting to go back to our room earlier than I would have liked that evening as I feel my anxiety did win that day.
I eventually decided that this was not ok, this was not normal and anxiety had started ruining my life. I wouldn’t drive anywhere, I would put off going places, places I was going I couldn’t enjoy as anxiety was like a dark cloud over me. I spoke to my mum and then I decided with a lot of bravery to go and see my Doctor. As soon as I told my doctor what was going on in my head she said I was 100% dealing with severe anxiety and it was not ok. I found talking to her a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Getting everything out to someone who wasn’t a member of my family or a friend was a big weight lifted off my shoulders already and that was only the first step. She referred me to a Mental Health doctor who would be calling me in the next few weeks.
My parents got Ieuan and I tickets to see Wales VS New Zealand in the Principality Stadium in November. My anxiety definitely won this day. The whole bus journey I worried that I needed a wee or was going to be sick. I didn’t eat anything all day as I was so nauseous. When we got to the stadium I did calm down a little but not enough to really be at ease. The journey home was a disaster, Ieuan and I planned to go out for a few drinks when we got home but I ended up going to bed with a massive migraine.
I went on a night out with my friends and ended up sitting in an anxious trance in silence for most of the night. Usually on nights out I am ok but this night my head was heavy on my shoulders and I couldn’t shake the anxiety. I am so lucky to be blessed with friends who understand anxiety and who are willing to take a step back and breathe with me when I need it. Having that support does make going out a lot easier and I think that’s why I am usually not anxious for going out most of the time.
The Mental Health doctor called me and we chatted about everything and he confirmed that my anxiety is/was quite severe. Although deep down I knew this, it was an amazing feeling having someone tell you and knowing you’re not alone, you’re not mad and you can fix it. He decided that some courses may work for me, he said I could train my brain to not think like it currently did. They didn’t want to just give me some pills and be done with me, they wanted me to work on my own mental health and with some hard work I would feel better.
By mid January this year I had started my courses. The first lot were in the evenings, a group of people and the mental health doctor at the front talking. It was an open course and anyone could attend so Ieuan came with me as a support. 2 hours of discussing what anxiety is and why it happens etc. I feel like I learned a lot more about what was going on in my head as well as understanding that it wasn’t just me. Ieuan learned a lot too, I think, although already being super supportive he now learned how to be supportive in a way that would benefit me a little bit more. This course ran for 4 weeks, by the end of it I felt ok, I was kind of sceptical as I didn’t feel a change in myself. The next 4 week course started mid February and this was during work hours, my employer was so supportive of this and allowed me the time off, including travel, as Health Related Appointments so I wasn’t sacrificing pay to go. I was still far too anxious to drive myself to them and I was lucky enough that my parents took time to drop me off and pick me up. This class was a little different, a smaller group, not open to anyone, where you needed to talk to the other members. This class really helped me feel normal as everyone else in the room, of all ages, all walks of life, were going through exactly what I was. Throughout both courses the mental health doctor and I would have progress phone calls, I would tell him about my progress and he would let me know how he thinks I was getting on.
In all honesty I felt like the courses had been pointless. Although, when I look at what I’ve done since then, I have come on leaps and bounds. Ieuan and I went to Oxford to visit my family, although I was waking up very anxious and feeling sick, even being sick once or twice. Considering I was in a completely different place, doing completely new things I wasn’t half as anxious as I would have been a year ago! I managed to eat and enjoy without anxiety being a dark cloud over the trip.
I am driving a lot more, admittedly I don’t really have places to drive regularly BUT I now just get in the car and go, no half hour stress and cry about traffic or stalling or parking. I just get in the car and drive. I am extremely sceptical about driving on big roundabouts and going through loads of traffic lights BUT considering my relationship with driving a year ago I am doing awesome. All the WHAT IF’s in my head are now faught with the rational things that CAN be done to sort those what if’s if they were to happen, there is always an answer.
Biggest Weekend did test my anxiety a lot and I would wake up each day feeling so sick and shaky and light-headed but as soon as I was ready I was fine! I wasn’t sick, I did eat and I enjoyed every second. The WHAT IF I need a wee was in my head but so was the IF I need a wee, I will GO for a wee. I know it’s no big deal and there will always be a chance to go for a wee and there’s no need to stress about it! Ieuan and I went to Manchester as a little city break. I am sooooo super proud to say that the only time I felt anxious at all while we were away was while travelling up! The whole 4 days we were up there doing something different in a place neither of us knew I was not anxious at all! This is the biggest and most incredible progress I have ever had an I was and still am so proud of myself.
It’s not all an easy ride though as Ieu and I went to Ed Sheeran and anxiety did take over, I felt very unwell before we went to catch the bus up to Cardiff and felt extremely anxious and nauseous on the journey up. BUT I managed to eat when we got there, enjoy a couple of drinks and although in a massive and crowded place enjoyed the concert and the atmosphere more than anything! I was a little unwell coming home from this but that could have been the pairing of alcohol and a bus trip!
I’ve been on holiday recently and unfortunately my anxiety won when it came to the travelling aspect. I was very unwell on the way there, I was shaking and crying and I was so gutted, I did actually end up being sick. I felt like I was causing everyone else to enjoy less which then made me even more worried. I managed to stay stable from the airport onwards although I didn’t eat all day. As soon as we arrived at our hotel I was absolutely fine. During the whole holiday I was absolutely brilliant, I take that as pure progress as if it was a year ago I would be a mess each day doing all the different things. Travelling home I was a lot better too, probably as I had survived the journey there.
It is quite hard for me sometimes looking back at all the amazing things I’ve done and places I’ve been and remembering that I was anxious that day instead of remembering how much fun I had. Don’t get me wrong I do remember the fun I have had but anxiety is always a black cloud over things. Although I am not currently perfect, I have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years and I am so proud of myself! . I have a way to come but looking back I have done fantastic. I also feel incredibly lucky to have such an amazing support system of family, friends and my boyfriend, without them I don’t think I’d be able to be as positive as I am!
I hope that telling my story will make people who feel the same as I do believe that they will be ok too. There was a time in my life I thought I would never be ok, I thought I would never be able to enjoy anything but here I am enjoying so many things with so many amazing people. I even have some self-confidence which I thought was long gone! Sometimes I do feel hopeless but then I think about all I have achieved and I feel better!
I will hopefully do a follow-up post of how I’ve been doing later on in life but for now I’ll leave with this:
It will always get better.
Thank you so much for reading, especially if you read the whole thing as it was quite long!