Living with Anxiety | My 18 Year Journey

By Unknown - July 03, 2018

"Our Anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it" - Khalil Gibran

Today on the blog I am going to be talking about anxiety, and my experience of it. I know this is a topic that is talked about a lot on the internet now, especially amongst bloggers and YouTubers, and I have seen people talking about their experiences as they are still going through it. I have always wanted to put my two pence worth in on this subject matter, purely because I feel like, after 18 years of dealing with it, I'm a bit of an expert. It feels like a very individual problem when you're in it and coping with it every day, but as someone who is pretty much on the other side maybe I can give a different perspective. 

Before I get into it, I'd like to say that anyone who speaks out about their experiences of this is very courageous and brave. Know that it is helping a lot of people, and the more we talk about it, the more people are educated and the less isolated they will feel.

So, a little bit of background. I've called this post my 18-year journey because it was 18 years ago my anxiety reared its ugly head and never left. However, if I think all the way back, which I did with my therapist, it probably started when I was about 2 years old. I don't mean the panic attacks or anxiety, but I had a stint in hospital with a hernia. I obviously can't remember this but this may have been the cause or the trigger. 

I was about 6 years old when I fainted for the first time. My mums' cousin had a horrific car accident where he was left severely disabled. I remember going to see him in the hospital with my mom. I remember going fuzzy and things going out of focus and hearing my other cousin in the background saying she was going to take me for a walk outside. The next thing I know I'm coming round from passing out.

It wasn't long after this that I started having what I now know was panic attacks. I would be so frightened of fainting that I would be thinking it was going to happen at any moment. I starting thinking I was fainting at school. My parents took me to the doctors who sent me for an MRI scan. Nothing obviously came back from the scan, but no one looked into it any further of what the possible causes were for these 'episodes'.

I spent the next couple of years feeling ok, getting on with my life but avoiding certain things that I was 'scared' of. Then I went into Year 6 at 10 years old and that's when it all broke down. I physically couldn't get myself through the school gates without freaking out. And so began the battle that became my life. 

They looked at all manner of things: I was being bullied, I was being naughty, I couldn't learn in the same way as everyone else. No one, not one person looked at it as a mental health issue. My parents took the advice of 'professionals' who didn't seem to know what to do with me. I saw a counsellor who gave me stars for going to school, however, that was just another way to let someone down because I had no control over anything. That was the mistake people were making, thinking I could change this or I had any control. If I knew the answer to this, did they not think I would be doing something about this? I was 10, 11,12 years old and I didn't have the answers. 

Finally, after 2 long years, my parents made the decision to remove me from school and homeschool me. They had tried everything else and nothing anyone was doing was helping so they took the decision into their own hands. And I could not be more thankful to them for this. The decision had massive implications for me and my family. My mom had to give up her job, financially it took its toll and I think my brother probably had to take a back seat which I never really thought about back then.

But the worst of it had gone and I had a good few years panic attack free. Going from having one every day to only having one once every year it was a massive step. I started seeing another counsellor and I thought I was cured. Then I turned 15 and decided to try and do a course at a college that accepted under 16's. I had another panic attack and was back to square one. It was so disheartening every time I had one because I didn't know what to do, I didn't know how to cope with it and I was so frustrated with myself. 

Lets fast forward a few years now. I am 20 years old, I have qualified as a hairdresser and I was in my first serious relationship. Things should have been great, but they weren't and my anxiety cropped back up again. I ended up being signed off work with sick leave for stress and I ended up leaving my job. I decided this career path wasn't for me anymore and that I wanted to go back into education. I had avoided education for a while because I associated it with my anxiety, however, I was determined. So I made my way through college getting the qualifications I needed and I got a place at University doing psychology and counselling. I wanted to help people who were in the same position I was. During my 3rd year, my anxiety was simmering and I decided enough was enough. 

I was able to get Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and it changed my life. My anxiety, that had plagued everything I had done since I was 10 years old, that had gripped me and taken control of everything I did, was now under my control. And it felt so fucking good.

It was hard work, sometimes I didn't even believe it was working, but slowly and surely I noticed little changes in myself. Events of situations that would normally cause a reaction, weren't all of a sudden. And if it did, I got it under control and I was able to manage my emotions.

I finished university, I got a job (and several jobs since lol), I went through a break-up and I entered the rabid world of dating again. All through this, I had my anxiety under my control. I met my current partner and started to fall for him. I knew he wanted to travel, and I had always had the desire but saw it as something other people did, people who didn't suffer from anxiety or a mental illness. It wasn't for me.

And then one day, he asked me to go to Thailand with him, and before I could think about it I was saying yes. This was my last and final hurdle, flying. Now I skipped over what prompted me to leave hairdressing. That year was one of the toughest for my anxiety since I had been at school. I had 2 major panic attacks that year, one of which had been in the airport. I had always been a nervous flyer but this was different. My panic attack lasted around 4 hours, building up over time and going so far I couldn't bring myself back from it. I got on the plane but I was terrified. After this, I didn't fly for 7 years.

Then Thailand landed in my lap and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I was feeling strong within myself, I was in a good place and now was as good a time than any to conquer this last hurdle. I trusted my other half implicitly and so the flights got booked and we started planning our trip. Now I'm not going to lie and say I didn't have flutters of anxiety at the thought of going and as the time grew closer I decided I might need something just to get me on the plane. I went to the doctors and I prescribed some medication. This was the first time I had ever taken medication for my anxiety as that caused me anxiety in itself. 

But I did it.

I got to the airport, waited for our flight, boarded the plane and I took off without having a panic attack. As soon as the plane leveled out I burst out crying because I had done it. It was an incredibly poignant moment for me because I finally felt like I had beaten it. After 18 years of battling it, I had finally won. The wonders of technology meant that I could text my parents whilst I was up in the air and let them know I was ok. 

I did 8 flights in 2 weeks, and I could not be more fucking proud of myself. I had the best holiday, Thailand was incredible and overwhelming. I remember sitting on the promenade in Krabi, waiting for the tuk-tuk to take us back to our hotel. I looked around me and was in awe of where I was and how far I had come. This was the start of the rest of my life, and nothing could stop me. I felt invincible at that moment, and the most content I had ever felt. 

I still have anxiety. I accepted a long time ago that it is a part of me that will always be there, and you know what? I'm glad. Because although it does not define me, it has shaped me into who I am. I am conscientious, empathic, passionate, opinionated, a little defensive sometimes, loyal and I think about others and care. But most of all I care about myself, I am self-aware and I know myself better than anyone else ever could, which is the best thing that could have ever come from my experience.

My Dad always used to say to me, "Laura, this is just a little blip in the grand scheme of your life, things will get better because there is always light at the end of the tunnel".

I can confidently say I am living finally living in the light at the end of that tunnel (as bloody corny as that sounds haha!).

If anyone would like a post about my coping strategies and the tools I learned to manage my anxiety, let me know in the comments or drop me a line on Twitter.

Until next time folks...

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  2. I'm so very proud of you for overcoming your fear of flying and how far you've come