Opening up about mental health | Anxiety and panic attacks

3 May 2021

I wasn't sure whether to write this post or not but the words have been spiraling around my head the last few days and I've been itching to type them out. I hope it all makes sense and this isn't just a word spill on a page! 

I feel like throughout my time writing on my blog, this one and my previous one, I've shared a few things about my anxiety, fears e.g my dog phobia and the realities of lockdown. My aim for this post is to be just open and start a conversation on the topic of mental health. Over these past few weeks when opening up in real life, I've found it so comforting to hear other people's stories and to know that I'm not alone. As well as writing out my thoughts and how I feel being quite therapeutic for me, hopefully, this may help anyone who is feeling similar, like how hearing other people's stories have helped me. 

I've always struggled with anxiety and been a bit of a worrier but it wasn't until around 4 years ago that I started to experience it where it became a lot worse and was affecting me on the outside, as well as the inside. One moment I remember vividly was sitting in an assembly hall and having a rush of anxiety come over me, making me feel hot, sick and like I just needed to run and go outside. This affected me so much that I could no longer enter an assembly hall, I tried a few times after this event but my school life was so much better when I made the decision to no longer attend them. 

The same rising feeling of anxiety that travelled up all the way through from my stomach to my throat, making it hard to get a deep breath in, has frequently occurred ever since. In a classroom, getting my hair done, in a theatre, and even lying on a bed getting my eyebrows waxed! 

I definitely don't think the last year has done me any favours and I'm sure many other people are the same. With finishing school in March last year, cancelled exams, staying inside, starting Sixth Form in September, back into lockdown at Christmas, 3 months off school doing online learning and then thrown back into a sense of normality again with things opening up one by one. Quite a lot of adjusting! And I thought I was coping, but it turns out that I was doing everything I possibly could to mask my anxiety. 

I broke up for Christmas a week early and went into home learning which was my first taster of what was to come, not that I knew that at that point. I'm not quite sure what triggered it, whether it was a build up of emotions that needed to come out one way or another, but I had my first proper panic attack on Christmas day night. However, I didn't know that it was a panic attack when it was happening. I was totally terrified that I was going to sick, and that's where my emetophobia makes this all worse. 

I came over just feeling ill and my body went into a shutdown panic mode. I took myself upstairs and wanted to sort out how I felt by myself because I couldn't have anyone see me in the state that I was in. It's all a bit of blur but I felt like I was in my room for hours just trying to balance my breathing. I listened to the Harry Styles sleep story on the Calm App via Youtube over and over again until I felt better. I had no idea what my body was going through and in my head, all I could think of was that something was going to happen to me. 

I remember telling my mum that I came over feeling weird but I was too scared to say how I actually felt because the experience frightened me so much. 

The next day, Boxing day, the same feeling occurred in the evening after feeling so anxious all day that it was going to happen again. I completely lost my appetite for days and didn't feel right at all. I tried to put my emotions to the back of my head because, in all honesty, I didn't want to be reminded. On the outside, I acted like I felt completely fine. 

And then we were put in lockdown 3. 3 months of working at home. I was so gutted that I couldn't go to school because I genuinely do love most of it and I missed my friends terribly. But I think going back to school was the cause of recent events. 

In short, I didn't give myself a break. And I never really did before this anyway. I was working from the moment I woke up, to the moment I went to bed. But that was the only way I could cope with my emotions, to just occupy my mind with school work and never let myself relax, because for 1, I didn't know how to and 2, if I did, I would have to be with my own thoughts and that would induce anxiety feelings. I felt so stressed trying to deal with the work load so I didn't stop working to try and combat the stress. 

I was quite scared about going back to school, I thought I liked my life where I just worked every day in my own bubble and I was just anxious about life going back to normal again. 

It turns out that I loved going back in the first few weeks, it was so good to have face to face learning and to see my friends again. 

And then I had another panic attack nearly two weeks ago this Friday. In my mum's words, 'the straw that broke the camels back'. That whole week wasn't good for me anxiety-wise in the first place, my brain likes to bring up the past a lot and that then triggers anxiety as it's swamped with thoughts I don't want to be thinking. 

I was out on a walk with one of my friends and came over feeling ill and walked home straight away to then be stuck in my room for 3 hours trying to calm my breathing. I hate thinking back to it and it's still so raw in my mind. I hadn't experienced one that bad before, so bad I couldn't hold a conversation and felt like I didn't want anyone with me. I used the Harry Styles sleep story again and listened to it on repeat for hours. I'm not sure if that has done any good for my love for Harry but it got me through such a bad time. All I wanted to do was sit on the floor with my head on my bed and listen to calming music and a soothing voice. 

I woke up on Saturday with what only I can describe as the 'aftermath feeling'. My body was aching, I felt sick, I couldn't eat much and whenever I went to talk, I just cried. 

I took my weekend very slow to prepare for returning back to school on Monday and I was all ready in the morning with my bag on my back before I had another freakout and didn't end up going to school. 

(Before I carry on, I contacted all my teachers who were lovely about it and couldn't be more supportive! It was a struggle to email but I definitely did the right thing telling them.) 

I wasn't well enough to return and I ended up not going in all week, apart from my last lesson on a Tuesday before my mum insisted that I didn't go to school the next day. I think I was getting myself completely worked up over the fact I could have another panic attack at school and I was still going through the aftermath of the one I had on Friday. I needed time to heal without the pressure of school or work. 

And shocker, I actually relaxed! Maybe relaxed isn't the right word as I felt too ill on Wednesday to do any school work but I ended up colouring all day and I have been doing it on and off since. It was at this point that I realised that I never do anything to calm my mind to take me away from school work and I think I've learnt this week that my life is in need of time where I let myself relax. 

I spent a lot of time talking last week and really opening up, explaining how I feel on a daily basis surrounding my anxiety and saying things that I'd never said before. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders but also was equally as draining as I had to relive moments that I didn't want to and generally just talking about your emotions is tiring! 

One of the hardest things for me was thinking about my panic attack and how badly it had affected me, so much so that I was too ill to go to school. I was so upset about it but as I felt better in myself later on that week, I started to see it as a positive. I knew I needed to do this to move on from it but if that hadn't happened, I would have carried on struggling in silence which could have led to a worse reaction. 

It was a build-up of everything; the stress of school, my anxiety at school where I feel like I need to leave the room and just run as far as I can, in and out of lockdowns and adjusting to normal life again. And the sad thing is, how I feel at the moment is 'normal'. 

I've learnt that I need to take life a lot slower and know that I don't have to do everything. I make myself multiple to-do lists every day with the stress and pressure that I need to get everything done, but in actual fact; I don't. And I need to make more time for myself and do things completely unrelated to school. 

With the help of my school, I'm making my return back to school tomorrow but easing myself in and I don't have to do anything I don't want to. I'm very anxious about going back into a classroom but there will be changes made so I feel safer and I can recognise when I feel anxious so I can do something about it. 

In terms of outside of school, I'm going to be getting therapy which is a whole other thing I could spend hours writing about but it has been in discussion for quite a few months now however, last week showed me that the quicker I can get help, the better. I've always been terrified of the idea but spending last week being open about how I feel also showed me that I can see a bit of light in the future and it is a step towards my recovery. 

I want to be a lot more open about my anxiety and start a conversation about it for more people to share their experiences. The truth is almost everybody experiences anxiety or a mental health issue in their life and the more people that talk about it, the more we can take away the stigma. Especially with the year we've just had! 

I could type so much more and I'm worried that I've forgotten something but I will be speaking about this more in future posts. 

I'm going to leave it here with a quote from Matt Haig:

'Anxiety doesn't mean you aren't brave. Anxiety helps you become brave. Anxiety is a daily lesson in bravery. Anxiety is the courage of being scared of things and still doing them. You become great at fighting fire when you are standing amid the flames.'

Sending so much love to you all. 

Bethan xx

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