“When you love yourself, you don’t even have to think about how to be yourself –
it just happens. “
Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying… These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life.¹
Sounds about right. I still remember the first time I heard the word, instantly associating it with weakness and fragility. A flaw. There are many misconceptions associated with the term ‘anxiety’ and understandably so, considering the word is so broad and broadly used in society. I also believe it’s used too loosely in day to day life, contributing to a lack of understanding. Despite coming so far as a race, we’ve become stuck in a place where we cannot manifest the ability to treat people equally based on their mental state, which is undeniably a shocking position for us, as humans.
The first time I told someone outside of my family about suffering from anxiety, I was terrified and lost in a world where toxic thoughts were swimming around in my head and I genuinely believed they would save me from drowning. Initially, telling someone else about this was an instant relief. I felt a little lighter knowing I’d shared something so destructive in my life with someone else who’d perhaps be able to help me through it, providing support where possible. Sadly, I was wrong. I’ve since learnt that people will certainly provide a supportive front but that’s all it is – a facade. Some of us are designed to deal with heavy emotional distress and some of us simply are not: and that’s okay.
Coming to terms with anxiety meant having to re-evaluate my relationships and friendships; it meant taking a step back and assessing what/where the foundation of my anxiety attacks were. I soon came to realise that a significant amount of stress I put myself under was based on being treated a certain way by people I believed I was close to. Without going into too much detail, I wasn’t treated very well by the people I held dearest to me, and I deserved much better. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t see it at the time, so it was a vicious cycle of feeling second best, then apologising for feeling this way only to be treated poorly a few weeks later. I believed that was okay, too, which is the saddest thing. My anxiety attacks were set off by feeling like I wasn’t good enough, which escalated until I reached breaking point. This was a continuous pattern throughout most of 2014 and early 2015.
I only really noticed an improvement in my mental health when I surrounded myself with positive influences and strong, healthy friendships. People who loved me unconditionally, who picked me up when I was down and never treated me differently based on my anxiety disorder. Cutting toxic relationships out of my life has massively transformed it. I’ve also found that keeping myself busy has helped immensely; the panic attacks come less often now, and I have less time to overanalyse every aspect of my life. It could be inferred that overanalysing has its perks (kind of) – I am an perfectionist and if something isn’t done to my standards, I’ll continue to work at it until I’m happy. As long as my mind is preoccupied, my anxiety levels remain steady.
Naturally, there are those days where I feel incredibly low and for no apparent reason. This is what I feel is imperative to underline and draw attention to; we have anxiety attacks, panic attacks and feel low for sometimes no reason at all. It just happens and there’s nothing we can do about it; no matter how much someone offers to comfort me, I cannot escape the prison walls of my brain, with voices telling me a thousand negative things all at once. And occasionally, the only thing I can do is cry about it and move on from there. Everyone reacts differently to anxiety and it’s formidable attacks: from crying to remaining silent for long periods of time, sometimes it’s best to leave someone be if they cannot comprehend what’s going on in their head. The same applies to social anxiety – I can’t control the panic attacks every time I enter a room or a bus full of people. Regardless of whether you’re my friend, relative or a stranger, I will panic when entering a confined space containing a number of people. That’s just the way it is for me, and no amount of therapy has managed to change that. (yet)
But if I’ve learnt anything over these two years, it’s to embrace life and all it’s got to offer us. I spent disgustingly too long distressing myself over whether or not I was a good person, if I was good enough. Surrounding myself with good people was what helped me through my darkest hours. People who inspired me, motivated me. Finally, writing has been the most effective form of therapy for me. It’s not even the factor of others going through similar experiences, it’s just ten times easier to deal with when I’m not holding it inside, when it’s on paper. Getting over the physical health stuff was tough enough, but coping with the trauma of a mental health disorder is something else entirely.
My anxiety hasn’t gone away but it’s most definitely become easier to live with. The good days almost always counterbalance the bad, and that’s what I’m focussing on.
“If you walk up to a man on the street and punch him in the face, you go to prison for assault. Do the same thing to a man in prison and you get demoted.” (Echols, 244)
“Time is marked with an hourglass filled with snow instead of sand.” (331)
“I am excited today, and happy. Not for any particular reason, other than the fact that good things are coming. Good things are always coming; sometimes we just forget it.” (340)
All my life I’ve heard people say “Why would God allow this to happen?” I think it’s because while we can see only the tragedy, God sees only the beauty. While we see misery, Divinity sees us lurching and shambling one step closer to the light. I truly do believe that one day we’ll shine as brightly as the archangels themselves.” (342)
I’m writing an open letter to Echols in my next post, but I couldn’t leave this one open ended without a little explanation. The quotes above are too breathtakingly beautiful for that.
I’ve just finished reading Echols’ biography Life After Death (2012) and despite the strong probability of me saying this about other books, I feel this one has somehow managed to simultaneously take my breath away and change my outlook on life. These quotes referenced above made me stop in my tracks simply at the sheer beauty of Echols’ mind, and his ability to open up after the ordeal he endured for nearly two decades. His view of the world, which I expected to be so tarnished by his 18 years locked in a cell and awaiting execution on Death Row, is utterly perfect in its simplicity and naivety.
We all have role models and inspirations in our life. Damien Echols: you are mine. You are the epitome of strength and resilience, and I wish you could see for yourself the effect your words have had on me, and my life.
Thank you for sharing your experience with the world, and with me.
2015 has been the toughest hurdle to jump over; everything was thrown at me with so little time to prepare for it and I can’t bring myself to accept that I’ve survived it. (Just about)
The year began with hospitalisation and a new health condition: pancreatitis. Over the course of 7 months this developed into Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction. (SOD) Now, my doctors are so baffled by my health conditions, they’ve put me under the care of another surgeon. So that’s put me under the care of two surgeons, a gastroenterologist, a pancreatic specialist and a laparoscopic surgeon over three years. I really do get around. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I am pain free and have been since being discharged from hospital at the end of November. I’m hoping it’ll stay that way, too.
I also said goodbye to people I thought I couldn’t live without. I embraced new friendships and was reminded what love felt like. Ultimately, I loved and I lost. 87% sure that’s a song lyric.
I exceeded every expectation I, and many others, had of my success both academically and personally. I was nominated for four blog awards in the space of one year, with 12,600 views and 7,200 people clicking onto my blog around the globe. Oh, and now 2 blogs to my name. I managed to bag myself a 2:1 in my first year at university despite being hospitalised 11 times during the year. Flippin’ crazy.
Finally, I am blissfully and disgustingly happy. Being surrounded by wonderful parents who’ve supported me since forever has been the only thing to keep me going: their invaluable advice and commitment to my happiness has been something I’ll never take for granted. For the rest of my time on this planet, I’ll never be able to thank them enough for everything they’ve sacrificed and done for me. I love you both incomprehensible amounts and hope I’ve done you proud so far. The friends who’ve stuck by me during my best and worst hours are all godsends I’ll be forever grateful for, too. I stumbled across a job which I’ve fallen utterly in love with: my manager is the nicest (and sassiest) human being I’ve ever had the pleasure of working for and the people I work with give me nothing but joy every day. Everything has fallen into place.
I’m incredibly lucky to be alive, as healthy as I can be and to have everyone I love around me. Thank you to everyone who joined me on the journey I took this year and to everyone who stuck by me. I’ve learnt the hard way that those who are destined to be in your life will always be a part of it, and you, and will find a way back to you no matter what. Those who never had the intention of sticking around, or who walked away – well, they’re a lesson learnt for the future.
Here’s to a great 2016. And never looking back.