“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” – Cayla Mills
Since a young age, I have had anxiety. I never knew what it was, I always had this feeling, this feeling that there was something I wasn’t worrying about. If things seemed to be going on smoothly, I had to think about what I hadn’t considered or done. This for me was normal, running a checklist through my head and tediously considering anything I had missed.
I am sure, if I had told someone this when I was younger they would have told me that this wasn’t something that was normal. But to me I didn’t know anything else. I would stop, a few times a day with the sinking feeling, figuring out if there was anything.
Even writing this, its hard to break down what I would feel and think when I was younger as it was just part and parcel of the way I was. It transitioned, from wondering what I hadn’t done to then thinking bad things were going to happen, so the sinking feeling became deeper. It was the ‘fight or flight’ feeling more often than not. As humans we have anxiety for that reason to be ready for any predator attack and always being alert. But as we have evolved we no longer need this ‘alert’, we don’t have the same predators roaming around.
And so for some this ‘fight or flight’ sensor is still there but is now used for whatever the individual mind deems as ‘danger’.
By the time I was in my late teens, I would go in cycles of worrying about what I hadn’t done, to thinking something bad was happening. And then I started worrying about people I loved dying. Or my house being robbed or burnt down. This went around and around, there wasn’t really much time in which, I wasn’t thinking that everything was doomed.
I am not sure when it hit its pinnacle or when that sinking feeling was so deep I was basically paralysed with fear. It wouldn’t last for hours on end, some days it would be a minute thing and I would get over it. Other days it would run around my mind like a Tom chasing Jerry. I didn’t know how to maintain or control it, I didn’t really realise it was something I could control or maintain to be honest. And so this kept on going.
I remember one of the first times it was bad, I had to go to the hospital because I thought I was going crazy. I was convinced I was going to die within the year. I had got to a place where my mind was being so irrational. I had, had my ‘palm read’ when I was in high school and was told I was going to die at a young age. Since hearing those words, I couldn’t shake wondering when…would today be the day? What age is young? I had never told anyone this but would always be thinking about it. It all came to a head around a long weekend break. I couldn’t get out of this mind set and then started considering everyone else would die. You see this long weekend break had so many people I loved there and because we were there and having fun, I thought it couldn’t last and something bad would happen. I had to come back from the trip and had to take time off work, I felt more out of sorts than I normally did.
Luckily one of my friends wasn’t working at the time and she was the support I needed and always remains to be. I still don’t remember what I said to my GP but also had started the Yasmin pill and said to her that it was messing with my hormones but I think she could see there was also something else and so I went for an appointment at the hospital. They asked me questions where I had to rate how I was feeling, the main things where questions about feeling suicidal or self-harming etc. Well the outcome was that I had anxiety and was asked if I needed help. I said no because I remember my father would always say to us ‘don’t get anything on your record that could go back to your employer’ and I was definitely not going to go and add ‘mental health’ problems to my record. I, at this point wasn’t fully aware of what this was as its not something that was ever talked about at that time. Its still not something I could talk about openly within my family, especially with the men as they don’t see it as being a problem. I have no problem talking about it but the audience is always the issue.
Anyway once I had the diagnosis, I had to tell my friend what it was and finally had to say it out loud that at that current moment I was worried about what this girl had told me about my palm, she had to reason with me, to tell me I couldn’t trust a teenage ‘palm reader’ and base my whole life around it. This did slowly start to sink in and then I considered I couldn’t go by the words of a teenager but it never really went a away. I mean you could never really know could you? And I wouldn’t be here to tell my friend ‘I told you so’ would I?
I had to start to calm myself down and realise that I was more than overthinking and then had to rationalise what was happening. It’s still not something I can maintain.
Even after this ‘episode’ I have been to the hospital more times than I can even remember because my symptoms became worse, the feeling had manifested in actual physical symptoms. I started getting chest pains and shortness of breath. I didn’t realise this was anything to do with anxiety. I thought there was something wrong with me but as with everything related with mental health you can start showing physical symptoms. Its your body’s way of calling out. When I went to the hospital the first few times I was told it was ‘costochondritis’ where the cartilage around my ribs had inflamed. But the one or two times I was also told this can come from anxiety. And then for me it started making sense, the tightening in the chest and heart palpitations did start happening in situations. And it was clear that my anxiety was now also physical. And I am sure people have worse symptoms. I have only had a panic attack once. But we all have to consider that our bodies will have different ways of telling you.
I have realised there are two things which can make my anxiety worse. One being what people think of me. I had started letting what other people thought of me get the better of me. I let it over take my judgement. Unfortunately, one horrid trait of Indians, is that they are all nice and complimentary to your face and then as soon as you walk out of the door they are bitching about you. From commenting on your clothes or bashing your character. I have seen it happen too often and so now I am paranoid when I leave a room, its part FOMO and part wondering what they will say about me when I leave.
The other thing is my complete incapability of being ok when things are just going…..ok. I had to battle through this a month or so ago. I have recently been in a position where I feel somewhat stable, in many parts of my life where I hadn’t before and so I then wonder when it’s all going to come crashing down. It still can consume me and that stops me from enjoying the good stuff when it’s there. I have spent countless hours speaking to my friend about what could happen and the anxiety I am feeling. And waiting for something ‘bad’ to happen.
Keeping it at bay is one of the biggest things I am working on and will have to continue to work on. As I have said in previous posts, this life is a roller coaster and you have to start managing the big drops both in your life and in your feelings. Take your time to think about you and what you can do to make yourself feel better, it’s so important. No one can do that or be that for you. Some of the things that help keep those ‘demons’ away are talking out loud about it, exercising and now meditating helps me. I have also found great guidance and help in podcasts, the first one I listened to was ‘Happy Place’ by Fearne Cotton. As I continue I will share what has helped me through and why.
And even as I explain what ‘helps’ it’s not something I always have a handle on, sometimes I really don’t know how to stop overthinking and considering the worse but for myself I will keep trying and pushing through. Because life is a beautiful thing and you have to let yourself be part of it fully.