Source Mental Health Awareness
Although the first one to have a laugh and a joke, I have suffered from anxiety most of my life to some extent. Anxiety can be organic and have no roots in life events, but for me it started in senior school where I was bullied to the point I did not want to live anymore. A previously loud and precocious child, I turned into an introverted and shy teen, who would look at the floor as she walked and hunch over. Still, I had a raw vulnerability that is still with me to this day, and is something that is easily picked up by those looking to hurt and exploit me.
Today, I am very blessed to have a fiance who adores me, and would never take advantage of my vulnerability and my propensity to wear my heart on my sleeve. With most people, I hide behind humour. It is an age old tactic which for me works well, especially when out in public. I am very shy when not sat behind a computer screen (though people who know me would dispute that), and being in a wheelchair doesn’t make it any easier, as you can’t meet people at their level, and few people are willing to meet you at yours. Just going out the door when you are a disabled wheelchair user is hard, like packing for a 5’4 toddler. Add anxiety to the mix, and I sometimes find it hard to go out.
Anxiety is more than fear. Fear is a healthy and natural feeling which has strong biological necessity; it helps us detect threat and things that may harm us. It is a the very core of the human need to protect life, life of the person in question and life of those we are charged with protecting. It goes right back to basic ‘lizard brain’ behaviour, the animalistic primitive part of our brain that controls us automatically using chemicals and brain signals. It works in the background without our knowledge, and is responsible for our very survival. It is responsible (amongst other things) for the fight or flight response, which basically weighs up the perceived threat in a situation and tells your body whether it should stay and fight or remove itself from the situation.
Then there’s anxiety. Some say it’s a learned behaviour, others say it’s chemical, a response to stress. It is like fear+. Anxiety can be triggered by something specific, a person, place or thing, or can be ‘free floating’ with no specific trigger. It can feel like you are constantly on alert, waiting for something that may never happen. Your heart races, you can’t settle, and you feel constantly on edge.
Believe it or not, a panic attack can often be the first real sign that something is going on. Us British are not conditioned to complain (unless it is about the queue in the Post Office) and often go through the symptoms of anxiety doing nothing and putting it down to work stress, or just the business of the world today. You can’t ignore a panic attack. All of the symptoms of anxiety are amplified, and many people actually mistake it for a heart attack. You can’t breath, you feel pain, you sweat. It’s very frightening, even when you know what it is. A panic attack can be a one off, but it can also be signs of a wider problem. If you do or have experienced symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks, please see your GP
What can you do to help?
If you have a known problem with anxiety and/or panic attacks and have visited your GP there are lots of things you can do to help. Breathing techniques and CBT are the two main contenders here. Breathing techniques, especially when combined with mindfulness (being aware of and taking in where you are, what is around you and what is happening). This can stave of a panic attack if you know it is coming. CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is used to change thought patterns. Whether you use it in a self-help matter or have CBT privately or through your GP, this therapy (please don’t be put off by the word therapy – just thing of the words definition as ‘something there to help you) helps you to change even longstanding thought patterns which can lead to anxiety and panic. From writing your thoughts down to literally ‘choosing your thoughts’, this can be hard going but worthwhile.
In conclusion, and from someone who has suffered from anxiety to one extent or another for the last 20 years, this is not something that you should let hold you back. Again, I am speaking as someone who has, and still does at time let fears and anxiety hold me back. The more you avoid something, the bigger and scarier it gets. Only you can give it power over you, and only you can take it back. My personal belief with most mental health issues (I am of course not referring to those over which the person has little or no personal control) is that it’s easier to stay well than to try and get better, which can be a long and arduous. I personally try to stay well when it comes to anxiety and depression by catching the warning signs early and acting before it really gets a chance to take hold. This is not always possible for a new sufferer, but is in my opinion essential for an old hand like me. If you have tried everything available to you and are still suffering, please don’t despair or blame yourself. Sometimes these issues are bigger than we first realise, and may take extra help and support.
So there you have it – my personal contribution to Mental Health Awareness this week. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to comment, even if it is anonymously. There shouldn’t be a stigma around Mental Health issues but the sad truth is there still is. This is why it’s so important for people who are willing to speak out to do so.
If you are suffering, please know you are not alone. If you know someone who struggled with these sort of issues, you have no idea how much a text or a hug from you can mean.
As the great Winston Churchill said:
~If you’re going through hell – keep going!~
Sometimes the only way out is through.
Myself and Yaya from Expat Frugalista are hosting a mental health linky for Mental Health Awareness Week. If you have any posts, old or new that talk about your own experiences of any mental health issues, from your point of view or that of supporting a loved one, please do link up. The more people speak out the more we do do smash the stigma surrounding mental health issues