2016 was a bit of a ‘shitshow’ year for me. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I didn’t ask for help sooner.
You know the feeling when you’re trying desperately hard not to cry, and that lump forms in your throat which you have to forcibly swallow, but it hurts and takes your breath away slightly. Or the feeling when you’re teetering, balancing on a very thin needle’s point, feeling that even the slightest of movements will cause you to fall- and you’re not sure what will happen. Or when someone asks ‘are you okay’ when you are absolutely not okay, and it brings to the surface everything you have spent so long trying to cover up and hide.
Well for me, that was most of 2016.
I was at college, studying A level subjects which I really enjoyed. I had a good group of friends around me, and an incredibly supportive family. I was sociable. Happy. Yes, if you saw me, I think you would say I was a happy person. An organised, friendly student, successfully navigating her way through college and thinking about further university studies. I was fine.
Except I wasn’t fine, and I didn’t really know how to process that. So I did what I think most of us do, and supress it. I tried so hard to appease everyone around me and give them the version of me which I so desperately wanted to be. I tried to manifest my getting better by purely pretending that none of my problems existed (10/10 do not recommend this approach). It worked for a little while. It got me through my A-level exams (just), although I do often wonder how that exam invigilator is doing; the one I broke down to just before my English Literature exam and who just stared at me with sheer panic before seating me at the back of the exam hall and giving me a squash and rich tea biscuit (the well-known pairing to help with an anxiety attack…). Before I knew it, exams were over and I was free, and that was when shit got really bad.
Sometimes it isn’t until you stop and take a breath that you allow yourself to actually feel everything you have spent so long trying to ignore. But in the summer of 2016 I allowed myself, for the first time, to be honest about how I was doing, both with myself and with my close family and a handful of very dear friends. And the truth was I wasn’t doing okay. You know those feelings I spoke about, the one when you’re trying not to cry, and feeling really on edge. Well I felt like that all the time. I’m talking a good 20 hours out of a 24 hour day were spent feeling like that. For weeks. I didn’t leave the house in about 3 weeks, and if I tried to it was a massive deal which inevitably ended up failing and me feeling like the biggest burden and nuisance in the World. I genuinely thought I had gone mad. That I was just really really odd. That there is no way anyone will understand if I try to explain how I’m feeling. That if I let people into my head they will either be frightened for me, or ashamed of me.
Like I mentioned, I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive family, whose patience and kindness was an absolute lifeline. It reached a point where we all collectively kind of went, ‘this can’t go on anymore, can it?’. No matter how hard they all tried, and no matter how much I willed myself to feel normal again, it wasn’t happening. And so, I went to the doctors. I was honest with how I was feeling. I said I thought I was going mad and that I felt bad for wasting her time as I didn’t think there was anything she could do to help. And then she said it, clear and simple.
“You’re not mad. I think you’re struggling with an anxiety and panic disorder”
Just like that, life started to regain some colour. I was like ‘oh’, so I’m not mad, or weird, or thinking this is all happening in my head and that I need to just ‘get a grip’. This is an actual thing. A scientific thing. Which I can get help with.
It definitely wasn’t smooth sailing after that visit. What followed were months of frustrations and failures, tears and tribulations (I realise I’m sounding dramatic but just go with me). But eventually, once I had realised that helping myself, through therapy and medication, was the best way forward, I slowly started to feel, well, like myself again.
Now what was the point of all of that?
I suppose it has been playing on my mind because after a year of being off medication for anxiety, I have been prescribed it again. I have to force myself to not see this as a failure. Because really it does feel like a step backwards. But in some way, it is also a massive step forward. I didn’t have half as many fears and doubts as I spoke with the doctor. I am more open with the people in my life (and apparently anyone who has managed to read this far) about my mental health. And I recognised quicker that actually, I’m not doing too well. And you know what? That is okay.
Everyone has problems and things in their lives they wish they could change, and they are all at varying degrees of severity. I realise that I am actually incredibly lucky, and I really try to not take things in my life for granted. But at the same time, if something is bothering you and causing you distress, then it is worthy of a conversation, of help, and of kindness.
Anyone who knows me personally knows I talk about mental health a lot. And I suppose its because I wish that I had heard conversations about it more when I was struggling. It would have made such a massive difference in making me feel more normal. More accepted. So, if one person reads this and feels slightly less alone, or slightly less angry at themselves for not being the person they so desperately want to be, then I would feel all of this ramble was worth it. To anyone who read this far, congratulations, and thank you. You either care about me a lot which I appreciate, or are just nosey, which I also rate highly.
Final words of wisdom? Be unapologetic in needing to look after yourself.
You are worthy of help, always.