It feels strange to finally write about my experience with anxiety when it seems like it’s always been part of my life. I remember being four or five and feeling sick, the gut-clenching nausea I now recognise as anxiety. I’ve got no idea why I felt that way, just that it was a feeling I would become intimately aware of as I grew up.
The hardest thing was asking for help, for recognising that maybe the way my heart would race and my stomach would turn wasn’t something everyone felt. But help was something I continually denied throughout high school and university.
I reached breaking point after my first date. One of my biggest anxieties had been about relationships so getting asked out on my first date ratcheted my feelings up to a whole new level. I was 20 and I’d always shied away from any kind of dating, especially after a weird incident at university which left me feeling genuinely scared of what would happen with a guy if I didn’t reciprocate their feelings.
This guy was about 20 minutes late, so I was sat in the cafe stewing over the fact he was probably standing me up, feeling like I was about to throw up and shaking slightly. I can’t even remember what we talked about, but my mind was racing the whole time. I was overwhelmed thinking about all the things I should or shouldn’t say, whether we’d kiss, how the hell I should kiss…
As it turns out we did kiss and it was pretty atrocious. He sort of lunged at me and went full tongue which took me totally by surprise. I think I may have even said something about wanting to throw up after that, because by this point I was almost dizzy with how fast my heart was racing and my stomach was churning. I don’t know how I managed to stay upright, honestly.
This feeling didn’t go away and I was sick all night. When I still felt like shit the next day, my anxious mind immediately jumped to what weird medical condition I could have. I mean, I wasn’t wrong. I just had no idea that my mental health could ravage my body in such a physical way. I went to work and distinctly remember being at a political press conference, hemmed in by 30 people in the beating hot sun feeling like I was about to throw up on the deputy prime minister.
I went to my GP on my lunch break and she diagnosed generalised anxiety, to which I sort of went ‘okay, cool’ and didn’t pause to think that maybe I finally had an answer. It didn’t change how I approached life or what had happened in the past, but suddenly I wasn’t just a weirdo. There was a genuine, medical reason for why my brain could so cruelly show me the worst case scenario, could convince me everyone hated me and I wouldn’t be good enough.
It took me a good six months to take things seriously enough to see my GP again and ask for a mental health plan and to see a psychologist. About a year and a half later I started medication, which was a whole new journey.
Of course I was anxious about taking medication. I was scared my personality would change, that I’d loose myself. Within a week I felt a change, as did my friends and work colleagues. The only way I can describe it is that I could see in my mind what I would usually worry or obsess over, but I just didn’t cling to it and turn it over and over in my mind.
I have been lucky that medication worked first go for me. It’s possibly because I tried the same medication which worked so well for my mum and we have such similar anxiety patterns. The main thing it did was stop the negative cycle of ‘what-ifs’ and free my mind from the hamster wheel of obsessive thoughts.
For most of my life I let my anxiety control me, let me brain lie to me and believed it when it told me I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, cool enough, good enough. Then I started fighting back and that’s when I realised how much of myself I had lost in the obsession and the worry.
Of course it’s not that easy. Some days it’s really bloody hard. My mind feels crowded, I can’t concentrate on anything but the inane thought I’m obsessing over and the only solution is to sleep. But I pick myself up. I’m surrounded by amazing people. I accept that not every day is going to be amazing and take the good with the bad. I remind myself that it’s never as bad as my brain would have me believe. Anxiety is a fucking liar and that’s probably the most important thing to remember every day.
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