This is a weird one for me to write. I’m going to be completely honest with you, before I realised last year that I had developed anxiety and it wasn’t going away, I associated mental health problems with weak people.
Yeah, I said it. I was part of the stigma that surrounds mental health. Nowadays, I’m ashamed that I thought like that; but on the other hand, I can understand why I thought like that and why people might still do. Prior to my anxiety experience, my father had suffered some serious bouts of depression which pretty much turned our world upside down. I don’t want to go into the in’s and out’s of the situation as it’s pretty painful for me to discuss. However, it left me resenting my dad and I hate to say it, but I considered him weak for allowing mental health issues to affect him.
I obviously don’t think like that now, but it took me a little while to change my perspective. Unfortunately, change was brought about by my own experience with mental health. Last year, I was rushed to hospital and underwent an operation with general anaesthetic. It wasn’t super serious but it left me feeling shaken up and when I went back to uni, I wrongly believed I would be able to return to partying straight away. I had a particularly heavy night out and for the rest of the week I felt overwhelmingly anxious about my personal health.
Slowly but surely, I developed what I think is termed as ‘health anxiety’. I was constantly concerned about my heart rate and the risk of a sudden heart attack. And by concerned, I mean obsessed. I checked my pulse continuously throughout the day for weeks, even asking my house mates to check it! I was scared of exercising incase it raised my heart rate too much. I struggled to sleep at night because lying still meant I could constantly feel my heart thudding so I developed a weird twitch with my hands and feet where I constantly had to be rubbing the bed so I could not feel the beat so loudly in my chest. I still do it now sometimes when I try to sleep or am lying down watch TV. It sounds ridiculous to me now but I had a genuine fear that I was suddenly going to pass away in my sleep. Any time I felt sick or dizzy or even more tired than usual, I was convinced there was something seriously wrong with me. This anxiety constantly made me feel tight chested, which then convinced me that there was something terribly wrong with my breathing and chest; always saying to my boyfriend, ‘I can’t breathe, why can’t I breathe?’. It meant that I struggled to concentrate, do my uni work, socialise normally with my friends or just interact on a basic level with my housemates. I literally could not explain it to anyone and I knew my boyfriend genuinely had no idea what I was on about as supportive as he was.
You may ask, how can all of this develop from an operation and then a night out? Well, I wouldn’t say these were the only causes. I believe they actually triggered an innate anxiety that I was already susceptible to. Since I was little, I’ve always been a fairly anxious sort of person, always worrying about little details and over thinking everything. I wouldn’t say it was full-blown anxiety but the amount I worried definitely wasn’t quite right and made life a lot harder. Like most people, I’ve had a few traumatic events occur such as my Dad’s illness. When I was a teenager, one of my closest friends died in an accident. I strongly believe the after effects of this event relate to my anxiety, especially the health aspect as I always worried about sudden death. I also think that the pressures of uni and the lifestyle certainly contributed; I was involved in and still am with a group of friends who really, really love partying and going out. Not to say I don’t, but the mental effects definitely hit me hard.
So what did I do about my anxiety? I recognised it eventually, and both my mum and my boyfriend did gently suggest I talked to someone else who might be able to help. I spoke to the Wellbeing centre at my uni and they were incredibly helpful, giving me 5 sessions with a counsellor. They were fantastic and made me think about why I might feel anxious and gave me practical solutions to dealing with my anxiety.
Since a lot of my anxiety centred around my heart and the stress it caused me, I was given a small dose of beta blockers to remedy this. I’m still not convinced about their useful effects and from speaking to friends with anxiety, I believe they are given out rather freely. I suspect mine had somewhat of a placebo effect on me but I suppose that is better than nothing.
It’s now over a year since I felt my anxiety start to develop and I can safely say the health aspect has almost vanished. Leaving uni and the party culture has certainly helped but I do sort of think it just faded away in its own time. Undeniably, I still feel significantly anxious at times (as we all do) but I’m much better at managing it and thinking logically. However small my story might be, I definitely recognise now that mental health issues can happen for anyone and everyone, as I never considered myself part of that bracket.
Above all, I’m just trying to remain positive, happy and lucky. Most of the time!