Anxiety. Not the feeling, the illness. It has become more prevalent within society over the past few years due to big names within the blogging / YouTube world opening up about their experiences. Originally I did not have a word for what I was experiencing. I knew I had suffered with depression and I just figured that my excessive worrying to the point of breakdown was a part of that. I have always been anxious. As I am an introvert, when I was younger it was hard to distinguish my normal introvert behaviour from the times when I have purposefully isolated myself due to my anxiety levels. With hindsight, I can see a lot of the times I have locked myself away from the world were not because I enjoy my own company but because I was paralysed by anxiety. Over my life there have been months when I have not left the house. I am not exaggerating when I say that. Growing up I often convinced myself that bad things were going to happen to me or my family and the only way I felt better was if I stayed home or within spaces I considered to be safe. I had periods of time where I was fine. I held down a full time job for years. It was easier during times of employment to keep myself afloat; being in a routine really helps me especially when I feel I am good at the job in hand.
The middle of 2014 was the beginning of my spiral out of control. I had just finished my first year of university. There had been a lot of traumatic events over the previous years and I guess I had just reached breaking point. I was constantly worrying about family or friends dying – to the point where I’d convince myself that they were already dead. Every time I received a text or phone call from my Mum I would go to the worse possible place; my Gran had died, something had happened to my baby sister, a million other irrational fears would manifest in my head. For years I had been begging my partner for a puppy as I had to leave my family dog behind when I moved to London. In March 2014, we bought our puppy Pip. I loved her immediately and although she made my depression so much better, she also made my anxiety increase tenfold. Every time we left the house, I’d convince myself that Pip’s crate was going to collapse on her or the flat would catch fire. It eventually got to the point where I could not leave the house because I was convinced if I leave, Pip would die or be stolen. And I could not sit through lectures because I felt that something terrible was going to happen and I had to be constantly ready for it. This could range from worrying that the lecturer would pick on me and humiliate me to worrying that shooter was going to come in and kill everyone. I could not stop my brain from spiralling into catastrophe mode. I would regularly hysterically cry for hours at a time. I couldn’t stop. A lot of the time I did not even know why I was crying.
Eventually after one hysterical fit too many my partner forced me to go to a counsellor. I say forced because I was adamant I was not going. But it was the best thing for me. I had my first session and although it was horrible to go over several things, I came out feeling lighter and as though a burden had been lifted from me. Honestly, that feeling only lasted a few days but it was a little break from feeling on the edge and I needed it. Over the next few sessions my counsellor helped me figure out where all my anxiety had come from – the root causes. She also made me see that I had experienced anxiety my entire life. It was difficult to deal with. It felt like I was reprogramming my brain and reprocessing everything that had happened throughout my life. But it did help. Initially anyway.
Then 2015 hit. By now my counselling sessions weren’t really helping anymore. I felt every time I went, it just repeatedly brought up the same issues without dealing with them. I was still struggling to leave the house. I hadn’t attended any of my lectures in months. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t concentrate. I missed every single coursework deadline. I was in a state. Nothing was helping. This went on for months. I managed to sort out university by applying to resit the following academic year. In September 2015, I finally went to the doctors. I had seen a doctor previously in 2012 and she had diagnosed me with severe anxiety. She had recommended counselling but I had refused to follow up on her recommendation. I know that was my own fault for not following through but I was not strong enough at that point. The new doctor was absolutely incredible. She took me seriously, she listened when I asked for medication and she referred me for CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy).
I know a lot of people are sceptical of medication when it comes to mental health but for me they have been a lifesaver. I had spent a year arguing with my counsellor about whether I needed medication, I was adamant I didn’t and she thought I did. It got to the point where there was nothing else for me to try. Counselling was not working. I tried mindfulness and although it helped, it definitely did not help enough. I realised that I had struggled for years with this illness and I needed more help. I needed the medication and there was nothing shameful about that. If you have a physical ailment, you usually take medication. Why should mental health medication be portrayed as the “easy way” and stigmatised? I know for some people, medication does not work. It is not a one size fits all when it comes to mental health. Some people respond better to talking therapies and others have to take medication alongside talking therapies.
I started CBT in December. My therapist is lovely and so so helpful. I stopped my counselling sessions as I found they were triggering me more and more. Every day is still a struggle. I currently haven’t left the house for anything other than my CBT and doctors appointments in over three weeks. But recovery is not a straight line. And although I am still struggling to leave the house, I am stronger in other ways. I am able to pinpoint if something is helping me or hindering me. Despite not going to lectures as often as I would like, I am keeping up with my studies at home. I have learned how to deal with the exhaustion that comes alongside anxiety and depression (although this is one of the harder elements of mental health that people are not aware of, fighting every day is tiring!). I know I will get better. I know I can get through this. Because I am strong. And if anyone else reading this is struggling in similar ways, you can get through this too. I promise.