Amy is an amazing girl who has been dealing with anxiety since she was 14, because of this she is incredibly passionate about increasing the awareness for this topic, that is why she has answered some questions for me and I’m really excited to share it with you. She writes so eloquently and I am so impressed and so proud. We hope this helps, even if its just one person.
When did you first start experiencing feelings of anxiety?
I had my first panic attack when I was around 14 and at the time I had no idea what was happening, I had been complaining of chest pain earlier in the day so the first thing that went through my head was that I was having a heart attack. Everything was a blur, I felt completely isolated from the world around me, and all I remember is begging my mum to phone an ambulance. From there I continued to suffer from health anxiety, which, as I got older lead to panic disorder. My anxiety has definitely changed over the years- more recently my panic attacks have actually been the cause of my anxiety. It can be a hard concept for people to get their head around but it went from health anxiety to just the constant fear of having a panic attack – it’s a viscous circle which can be difficult to break.
How does it affect your daily life?
It affects my daily life quite a lot. What seem like simple everyday tasks for others can be huge tasks for me. Getting the train, underground stations, busy roads and anywhere I have previously had a panic attack can be triggers.
There was a point not that long ago where I felt anxious every second of the day and I would be scared to leave the house by myself in fear of there being no one there to help me if I had a panic attack. Luckily this has passed now, but it definitely made me realise how debilitating anxiety can be and how easy it would be for someone to become completely house bound/agoraphobic.
How have you coped with anxiety?
I went to CAMHS for a while – a lot of people don’t have a great experience with CAMHS, but it really helped me. After being discharged I felt a real passion to raise awareness for mental health and make sure young peoples voices got heard, so I joined my local participation group ‘The Camhelions’.
We do lots of awareness activities to try and break the stigma surrounding mental health, as well as delivering workshops to local schools/universities and making CAMHS waiting rooms a calmer and happier place. The Camhelions has also been a stepping stone for me to get involved with other activities and schemes, for example I am now a member of the NHS Youth Forum and I was also involved in the making of a film approaching the topic of mental health, which was shown at the Tate Liverpool. Although I don’t want anxiety to define me, it’s for sure shaped who I am as a person in a positive way today. I have met so many amazing and inspiring young people going through similar things to me, which has really helped knowing you’re not alone.
One of the less known symptoms of anxiety/panic attacks, but for me one the scariest, is dissociation. Dissociation is basically the feeling of nothing being ‘real’, its like being disconnected from the world around you. For me this mainly happens in the height of panic, it is almost like an out of body experience. For this, I have found mindfulness is a good coping strategy and I would tell anyone to download the ‘headspace’ app onto your phone because it is so quick and easy to use.
As well as this I take earphones everywhere with me so I can listen to music to distract me when I’m feeling panicky; I always have a bobble on my wrist which I can fiddle with and snap onto my skin to bring myself ‘back into the moment’ and I take sunglasses everywhere, I’m not really sure why sunglasses help me, its just a strange habit I’ve got myself into. These are all small discrete things to help me cope in public situations.
But most of all, I think having a good support system of people to talk to has helped me the most; my family, friends and boyfriend are so understanding and caring, I don’t think I would be where I am today without them.
What does anxiety mean to you? How would you describe the feeling?
When you have a panic attack, you forget about the world around you and all you want to do is get away. No matter how many times you have a panic attack, the next one is never any easier. In that moment your thought process is ‘I am going to die’, all logic goes out the window and all you want to do is run. One overwhelming personal trigger for my panic attacks is the lack of an ‘escape route’ in certain environments. This may seem highly irrational but the idea of losing control and subsequently tripping or falling onto a train track or busy main road seems very possible during moments of panic.
What would your advice be to anyone suffering with anxiety?
Don’t be ashamed of your anxiety and don’t be ashamed to get help when you need it either. I used to keep quite a lot of things to myself and convince myself I didn’t need help, and when I look back now, it’s obvious I was just in denial with how I was feeling. I was scared that I would go to counselling and they wouldn’t be able to help me, or they wouldn’t take the things I was getting anxious about seriously. For a while I was getting quite upset at the thought I was going to feel anxious for the rest of my life and I genuinely thought I was the only person in the world feeling how I did but after speaking to someone I discovered this wasn’t the case. I’ve learnt it’s best to be open and honest because once you have spoken to someone about how you are feeling, a huge weight is lifted from your shoulders.
I’ve accepted I may always have anxieties, and sometimes it may be fine and other times it may be worse, but I now have all the tools to deal with it, which makes me feel so much better. So, yeah, I’d tell people no matter how bad, trapped or lost you are feeling, just know it will get better, even if it doesn’t feel like it will right now. Ignore people that make you feel stupid about you’re anxieties, because believe me, they wouldn’t be doing that if you had a physical illness. Deal with your anxiety at your own pace; don’t feel bad if certain days you find it hard to fight against the anxiety, I know how draining it can be.