Anxiety isn't something that you can just get over. Often, your day-to-day life becomes incredibly difficult and normal tasks fill you with dread. It is undoubtedly one of the worst feelings, especially when a part of you longs so much to be normal. The thing is, there is absolutely no such thing. So why is there still such a stigma attached to mental health? I think it's because those who have never suffered with it struggle to understand or to put themselves in that position. So, in an effort to help others understand, I've decided to share a little about my own personal journey with anxiety.
I first started to realise I was acting differently to my friends when I was around fifteen years old. What was so simple and came so naturally for my friends was, at that time, entirely incomprehensible to me. Whilst my friends quite happily went on dates, holidays, and attended what may seem like simple social events to others, I shied away from pretty much everything. Whenever I did join in, I would get incredibly drunk to distract myself from my own anxiety and I would consequently make a fool of myself which I would then feel anxious about until Monday morning. It was a vicious circle.
It wasn't a "she's just a teenager" thing; I've suffered with fluctuating anxiety issues ever since I had my first anxiety attack in my teenage years. I'm now 24, and although I can certainly control and ignore my anxiety more effectively, there are still times when I just want to let it all in and that's okay. If I really don't want to attend something or even leave the house, then I won't. Most of the time, I try to push myself but sometimes you just have to give yourself a break, and those closest to you should understand that.
Of course, anxiety itself happens to everyone. We all get anxious at one point or another in our lives, be it prior to an interview or when we have an assignment due, perhaps, but frequent anxiety and panic can massively effect everyday life, and that's when it becomes a problem. What you should try to understand, is that those who suffer with mental health problems don't intentionally let their friends down. I want to go to things and to join in, but sometimes for reasons that I can't really explain, I just feel that I can't. When I do come, please appreciate that it takes a lot for me to do so.
I find that I'm most anxious when I'm in a place that I can't leave, or at least I think I can't. That's the thing about anxiety; it makes you feel like you can't do things. You can, I promise. My first year of University was particularly difficult: I despised the lecture theatre, where we sat in rows where we would have to make everyone stand up if we needed to leave. That was hell to me. Ever since, I have always tried to ensure I have a seat that is close to an exit (in the cinema, I always have the seat at the end or at the top of some stairs where I can easily leave without drawing attention to myself, for example). I'm not claustrophobic, I just like to be assured that if I need to walk out and take a breather, that I have that option available to me.
I'm no expert when it comes to mental health; all I know is what I have suffered with myself, and what I have experienced through talking with others who have mental health problems. With that being said, I can confidently say that the best solution is to speak up and speak out about it. I can't even explain how much better I feel if I just talk through my anxiety with somebody whilst I'm feeling it. And it's even better when they understand. I am so lucky to have friends and a boyfriend who accept that I have these problems and make an effort to understand, rather than judge because it is something unfamiliar or abnormal to them.
I think it's important that we remember each person is facing challenges that we can't see, and remember to be understanding, non-judgemental and open-minded in the face of mental illness. After all, we are all individual and each day may be challenging in ways others know nothing about. That's why it is so vital that we accept and care for one another.
So, if you're reading this, please smile at a stranger today. Talk to your friends about their worries and assure them you will always be there. It might not seem like much to you, but it might just change someone else's day, week, or even their life.
Me? I'm going to sit at the end of a row in the cinema where I can't leave without drawing attention to myself. Let's take it step by step.
If you are suffering from mental health issues and need extra support or help, then please contact the Samaritans.