I've had depression for around 10 years and I started experiencing anxiety around 19 years-old when I started university. I experienced my first full-blown panic attack on the first night alone in my dorm room which lasted about an hour. It was very scary as I didn’t know what was going on, but eventually it finished and I went to sleep, but I was still very confused about what happened. The combination of moving to a new city, moving out of home and starting university at the same time, then to have this new mental health issue put on top was incredibly overwhelming.
I felt isolated in that I didn’t really know anyone at the time, but talking about it now everyone in my life has experienced anxiety and you find there a lot of other people who are in the same boat as you.
I was able to learn a bit more about anxiety through doing my own research and talking to my doctor, which helped me understand how to manage what I was dealing with. After I reflected upon things, I realised what I was going through was huge. These were massive life changes, which of course was going to make me feel overwhelmed and that it was normal.
My GP also referred me to a psychologist and I spoke to her about some different strategies of how to manage anxiety. I have also spoken to other friends about understanding your senses and mindfulness, where you think about the things that you can hear or see – doing something that makes you feel grounded. Being able to breathe deeply and focus on the breath is good. However, everyone is very different. I like a hug when I’m feeling anxious or having an anxiety attack – but not everyone does and that’s OK.
I have always been someone who is quite open about my feelings. I don’t think I am a particularly private person, but I did have an experience where I sent an email to one of my lecturers because I had missed a few classes. He read the email then came up to me after a class I had attended and said: ‘Don’t play the mental health card.’ That was really difficult to hear and it felt like a real setback, because I had always felt pretty positive being able to talk about mental health and it’s something I encourage people to do now. It made me feel like my feelings were totally invalid, that mental health issues are not real and not important and not a valid reason to miss class or have any part of my life interrupted. I did have another lecturer who was really supportive and he really cared about me getting the support I needed, which was really valuable.
Sometimes the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling a bit low or anxious is talk about it. You don’t want to make it worse or inflate your own issues and if you’ve had an experience where someone has made you feel your feelings are invalid, you put yourself in a position of risking that again if you do talk about what you’re going through. But it’s important to find people in your life that are not going to invalidate your feelings. Now that I know who those people are for me, it’s been a really great way to help with my anxiety.
There are people out there who do have a greater understanding of mental health issues, there are support services. And if you’ve got a GP who isn’t able to help, try another one or find a service that is right for you.
Thanks for reading,
Published 10 November 2016