I hope you've all had a fantastic week.
Today I'll be going back in time and revisiting my younger self.
I am very lucky that I can pinpoint the very start of my anxiety disorder. I only discovered this was the moment after undergoing a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy a few years ago, and it was like an ultimate miracle revelation.
Although it's such a small, seemingly insignificant moment, it's nice to be able to just KNOW where it all started.
10 Years Old
So, back in 2003, I was my 10 year old goofy self. Back when I looked a bit liked this...
Apparently I'd never heard of a hairbrush when I was 10 years old...
Believe it or not, I was an incredibly quiet child and painfully shy (total opposite to the me some of you know now!)
To put this into context, my family have a history of suffering from very bad migraines.
I remember being in an ICT lesson, I must have been in Year 5 or 6, sat in front of my computer screen and without any warning, I got my first ever migraine. I completely blacked out and couldn't see a single thing. That's a terrifying thought for me even now, and being 10 years old, I remember being completely utterly terrified and was off school for a few days afterwards.
Obviously when I went back to school, I thought everything would just go back to normal, after all, I was better now and I knew it was just a migraine.
The minute I got into school, I was reminded of what had happened a few days before, and I began to feel unwell and I complained of feeling dizzy, so got sent home.
I went back the next day, and the same thing happened. I said I felt dizzy, went home.
On the third day of exactly the same thing happening, school started to get a bit suspicious. Because I had complained of feeling like this three days in a row, yet felt absolutely fine when I went home, school decided I was attention seeking.
I wasn't taken seriously when I tried to explain how unwell I felt, I was forced to sit in lessons in floods of tears because the room was spinning and nobody believed me. I have very vivid memories of being laughed at when I was crying, being called a 'baby' and being told I was 'ridiculous'.
This then started happening outside of school too. Everytime I had to leave the house, it filled me with absolute dread. I remember going shopping with my family being an absolute hell for all of us, as I just wouldn't go into some shops, or go in then have to rush back outside, crying, throwing tantrums when no-one believed me and at the time the only way I could describe it was 'feeling dizzy'.
Mum took me to the doctor's many times, I had several blood tests over the years (needles being my worst fear so that didn't go down too well either...) and they just couldn't find anything wrong with me. So it just got put down to me being 'dramatic'. Nobody even considered the possibility that it could be a mental health problem (including me as I had no idea what mental health was!) So I just had to get used to this feeling. The feeling that I've had every single day since that migraine 13 years ago.
So, when I went to high school 2 years later, I still had no idea what was going on.
So, when I went to high school 2 years later, I still had no idea what was going on.
I lost a lot of confidence in my ability when I was at high school and I was still having these undiagnosed anxiety attacks on a daily basis, and they were getting worse and worse the older I got.
I somehow lost my shy, quiet self, and became an irritating, disruptive, trouble making teenager.
I struggled with getting the motivation to go to school and skipped it when I could, but obviously this came across as me being a trouble maker. In fact, that's how I wanted it to come across as I would rather be thought of like that, than acknowledge what was going on in my own head.
I would sit in lessons feeling nauseous, dizzy, short of breath etc. I couldn't concentrate and just focused on when I could get out of that room. I would do my best to get kicked out of lessons so I didn't have to sit through them feeling unwell, ask to go to the toilet constantly, ask to go and fill up my water bottle, basically ANYTHING I could do to get myself out of the room for a breather. Any excuse I could possibly come up with.
I went through a phase where I was desperately trying to get myself suspended just so I could stay at home and not have to leave the house. Luckily, I was never successful in this aim, and I can't thank my school enough for that as I know I would definitely regret that now.
As I went from lesson to lesson, I remember part of my 'routine' that I had adapted, was to lock myself in a toilet cubicle just so I could have some time to myself and have a breather. And I would sit there and PRAY SO HARD that I would feel OK in my next lesson. I felt like if I didn't do this, something awful would happen.
A Revelation in Sixth Form...
Believe it or not, it wasn't until I was in my second year of sixth form, age 18, before anyone even thought that these feelings I get might be panic attacks.
It had been 8 years of this strange feeling on a daily basis, and suddenly, it just made sense to me. These were panic attacks.
I went and saw the doctor straight away, and sure enough he thought exactly the same thing. I began a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which worked wonders for me in finding ways to manage my anxiety and accept it.
However, sixth form was perhaps the hardest thing I've ever had to do in terms of my anxiety.
I began developing my agoraphobia side of my anxiety around this time. I suddenly had a real fear of leaving the house, a fear still very much present now, and this really affected my time at school.
Sometimes I would get up, pretend I was going to school, then when my parents left for work, just climb back into bed.
When I realised my absences were getting noticed, I would turn up in the morning just for registration so they couldn't prove I wasn't there, then just walk home.
Consequently, I feel like I lost a lot of good friendships when I was in sixth form particularly, because I just withdrew myself from my friends completely. That is a big regret of mine, and I just want to say anyone out there who feels they are withdrawing themselves at these difficult times, don't!!!
Keep them close, share your worries with them, don't push them away when you really need them.
Positive relationships are key to fighting mental health problems, so don't isolate yourself.
That's one of the biggest regrets of my sixth form life, and I wish I could go back and retrieve some of those friendships.
Looking back now, I realise in school, sixth form in particular, I was suffering from depression. I was never diagnosed with that, but from my strong understanding of mental health now, I know I was.
I'm going to share something I've not really been quite so open about in the past.
From when I was about 13 to about age 18, I unfortunately went through a self harming phase.
I don't know why. It just happened one day and I found it brought me some relief, so I carried on.
It was a very dangerous habit to get into, and although I never self harmed to such a severe level to leave lasting damage, it is still a huge regret of mine for putting my body through that and that I didn't seek help for this before.
Displacement activities are great in helping break self harming habits. These are all different for everyone, but could be letting out that anger physically on something else rather than yourself, ie, throwing a cushion against a wall, squeezing a stress ball or tearing up some paper. These are the things I found incredibly useful, and that's how I managed to eventually break the habit after seeking help.
Please seek help if this is a problem for you. Don't suffer in silence.
I've debated with myself whether or not to share what I'm about to say next. I've decided to share, because being open about this is what I want, and you never know who this might reach and whether it might help someone.
(deep breath) I also went through a phase where I was prepared to end my own life. I think I was only about 14 at the time, but I very much had a plan as to how I would do it, if I did it. I was so low, and so desperate, I didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I felt that was one of my only options.
I think deep down in my subconscious, I think I knew I wouldn't actually do it. But looking back, it frightens me to think that I was in that state, and what the consequences of my actions could have been.
I am such a happy, positive person now, I have so much to be thankful for and happy about, and to think I used to be that low terrifies me.
And this all went on before I was diagnosed with anxiety.
So the truth is, the reason I felt this way, was because I had no idea what was going on!!
This is why we need to educate people about mental illness, and I think teenagers in particular. Teens are so susceptible to mental illness because of the changes in their lives: hormones, puberty, exams and having to decide at the age of 16 what to do with the rest of their lives!
Perhaps if I'd have had an idea of what was happening to me in terms of my panic attacks, I may have never gotten to that point in my life.
For me it was just a phase, but it frightens me that some of you out there get this feeling regularly.
We need to do more to get help for these people who feel like this and could be suffering in silence.
Improving mental health awareness in schools should be just the start. It should be a massively important topic on the curriculum particularly in high schools!!
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-24 year olds, which I think is a terrifying statistic, and something we need to pay more attention too.
I just want to reiterate, if anyone does feel like this, please, PLEASE seek some help.
There's always a way out, and this can affect anyone, so please speak up and tell someone how you feel.
I also encourage anyone suffering from depression, anxiety, or in fact, I just encourage EVERYONE to read this book:
'Reasons to Stay Alive' by Matt Haig.
He shares his experiences in such a refreshing and accessible way that we can all relate too, whether you've ever experienced depression and anxiety or not, he has a gift of being able to reach out to every single one of us.
I encourage you all to read it!
Thank you all again for taking the time to read my blog.
Until next week!