Living with anxiety feels like you're under attack by something you cannot escape from, your mind. The silence is never quiet.
My story of living with anxiety.
As a child, I had many irrational fears. Breathing, traveling in the car, flying and sleeping, to name a few.
At times I felt like I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs, and had to breathe into a paper bag.
I wondered whether breathing was an automatic instinct for everyone in the world, except me; I felt like I had to remind myself to breathe. I could breathe, in and out like everyone else, but it still felt like I was suffocating.
As a teenager, I loathed being abnormal (as teenagers do). I wondered why others didn’t feel things and think things, the same way I did.
Everything I did felt wrong. I would mimic others personality traits to feel normal. I felt guilty for existing.
I can’t remember a time before the anxiety attacks started. By the age of 16, my anxiety attacks manifested sporadically when I wasn’t in any danger, and without warning.
The bright lights made my eyes burn. I felt disoriented, and all of a sudden it felt like every cell in my body was moving; there was blood rushing in my arms and legs. My mind raced.
All I could hear was yelling, a loud ringing in my ears. It felt like someone, or something was pushing down on my chest.
My heart stopped, for what seemed like forever before a hard thump followed by many rapid beats.
I could barely see what was in front of me. My insides felt like they were on fire. It felt impossible to get air into my lungs. I could feel an unbearable tension in my face, jaw and head. Everything went blurry, and then clear. It finally stopped.
Laying in bed wide awake night after night, fighting the urge to look at the clock, I felt like I had forgotten how to fall asleep. Fidgeting and not being able to relax, made me extremely frustrated.
My heartbeat would stop and start again, thumping loudly inside my ears.
I thought I was dying.
My newfound nocturnality gave me an abundance of time to relive moments from my life. When I was alone with my thoughts, I’d blame myself for everything and tell myself that I was a failure, over the most trivial things.
Most mornings I woke up exhausted, my jaw throbbing from clenching.
I didn’t know how to explain my thoughts and feelings to anyone. Feeling like the only person in the world with this “abnormality”, I told myself that it must all be in my head, I created this, and therefore I was the one who could control it.
For a long time, I was at war with my mind.
Battling the thoughts only made them worse, and lead to the worst emotional abuse I could have ever created for myself.
‘This is all in your head!’
‘You caused this yourself!’
‘There’s something wrong with you!’
‘Nobody likes you; they tolerate you!’
‘You are nothing!’
Needless to say, my mind was not my friend; so, I spent a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to silence it.
To disguise my insecurities, I would become the very opposite of what I felt inside in front of others. I became the smiliest, funniest, most supportive friend, family member and colleague.
At times, my performance succeeded, and other times people may have seen me as two-faced, rude, unfriendly, emotional or distant.
On the outside, I remain calm; hidden by a smile. When the anxiety snuck out, it transformed into nervous habits.
◈ Nail biting
◈ Picking my skin
◈ Pulling my eyelashes
◈ Foot tapping
◈ Clenching my jaw
◈ Playing with my hair
◈ Cracking my knuckles
◈ Avoiding eye contact
◈ Nervous laughter
◈ Pursed lips
◈ Rushing my speech
◈ Tapping my teeth together
If you look close enough, you can see anxiety through my unanswered text messages. Flakiness. Brain fog. The panic that flashes in my eyes when the spotlight is on me or if I am not prepared.
Not realising this behaviour and thoughts were a mental illness, lead me to suppress and internalise, pushing people away and spiralling into self-destructive behaviour.
As a young woman, I started researching my thoughts and symptoms, realising that many other people experience the same issues as me.
I also learned of many other factors that may be contributing to my mental illness, which gave me hope of a cure.
With the help of doctors and specialists, I tried most recommended traditional methods to cure my anxiety disorder. Cognitive behavioural therapy, positive thinking, exercise, Valium, Xanax and antidepressants, to name a few.
All attempts helped in the short term, but the effects wore off when I experienced fear or stress.
And by fear, I don’t mean jumping out of a plane.
Going to the supermarket, sitting at home, calling a friend, filling up my car with petrol and many more “basic human” situations still left me with crippling anxiety.
After a severe depressive episode mid last year causing me to break down at work, my husband pleaded me to take a mental health break.
For weeks, I didn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t articulate how I was feeling, or what was making me feel this deep sadness and hopelessness.
My mind was numb.
Now, after six months away from work (and life), I am finally starting to accept that I have a mental illness. Even though I hate labels, researching and learning about alternative ways to manage my symptoms from fellow-sufferers has been eminently powerful for me.
Depression is feeling nothing at all. Anxiety is feeling too much. Having both is a constant war. I still have bad days, but I’m starting to feel a little bit more like myself every day.
If you’re suffering, please understand that it’s okay, not to be okay. You fight a battle in your mind, and for that, you will be stronger.
How you feel is not a representation of who you are as a person. You are worthy of friendship, love and most importantly, life.
Please reach out to a loved one or a professional if you feel comfortable. For anyone who feels weak or ashamed like I did, the reality is that people seek treatment and take medication every day to keep them alive.
If you aren’t ready to talk to a professional, do reach out to me via email or comment below. We are warriors, and we’re all in this together!
Crisis support lines
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78
If you need emergency assistance phone 000 for police or ambulance.