Anxiety is a big, all-encompassing disorder whose symptoms can affect every single aspect of life.
I was not in a good way when I started my Undergraduate degree, and while I knew that this was the case I don’t think I actually knew how bad it was. I think a major reason I wasn’t able to pinpoint how bad it was was that I wasn’t allowing myself to. I was desperate to fit in, to be liked, to be able to start afresh, and I didn’t feel like I could do that if I owned up to having an anxiety disorder. Which sucks, but it’s kind of understandable.
On better days, the condition manifested itself as a quiet but consistent buzzing which was easy to hide but still made things difficult for me. These were days where I went through two or three t-shirts because my anxiety was causing me to sweat through them in the space of a few hours. Unsurprisingly, the embarrassment this caused did not help the situation.
Other days, the anxiety was still workable, but instead of a low constant buzz chose to exhibit itself in short, intense bursts of terror which took all of my concentration and made me shake violently. These days also brought long periods of sleeplessness, which caused an extreme tiredness which also made things much, much worse. Then there were the worst days, which saw me locked in my room for long hours throughout the day, because I was propped up against my bedroom wall crying.
There is a long list of anxiety symptoms. But because each body is somewhat chemically unique, anxiety affects each person differently. (AnxietyCentre.com)
I don’t get anxiety attacks like this so much anymore, but they were the bane of my life for the longest time. I had been a very nervous person for as long as I could remember, so I think in my brain my inability to function properly was just the next stage of a somewhat defective personality trait. Note to self: This was not a personality trait. This was a mental illness. It is something that could have been treated.
For me, during an anxiety attack, it feels like my head is full of bees (hence the title).
Of course, my symptoms tended to vary from attack to attack, but there were a few that were common to most instances. From the AnxietyCentre list, these included:
- A feeling of impending doom, that something horrible is about to happen, that you are in grave danger;
- An urge to escape, to get out, to run away from danger;
- Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing;
- Shooting pains in the chest, neck, shoulder, head, or face;
- Hot or cold chills;
- Burning skin;
- A strong feeling of fear, foreboding.
The fact that I can react this dramatically to things like crowds and loud noises, things that most young people revel in, makes me feel incredibly weak.
As someone who likes to know exactly what’s going on around me at all times, the confusion and inability to get my thoughts into a clear, understandable line were the most stressful parts of an anxiety attack. My head would turn into something like a ball pool in a kid’s jungle gym, all full of wriggling things and bouncy things and unpleasant things that shouldn’t really be there at all (nothing is so distressing as finding a ham sandwich in the bottom of a ball pool as a child).
These attacks are not something I would ever wish on someone else.
I got confused, and it terrified me. Without a clear understanding of what was going on, my head would go into overdrive and the rest of me would follow. It became difficult to breathe. It would feel like I wasn’t in control of my own body, and that’s why I locked myself in my room. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that, all shaky and nose-bleedy and sweaty.
By the time I have calmed down, I’m covered in bruises, my skin stings and burns and my fingernails are bloody.
The worst part was that in the middle of the panic, I’d start clawing at my neck and arms to give me some other sensation to focus on. This meant that the anxiety attacks were something I had to carry with me everywhere, as they left lasting marks on my skin. I took to wearing long sleeves, and bandaging my elbows so that I couldn’t get to them if I did have another attack. I felt deeply ashamed.
I didn’t let anyone see me have an anxiety attack like this – not my friends, not my family, nobody. I felt embarrassed that the things everyone else my age seemed to love the most – drinking, loud music, crowds – were things I couldn’t even try to enjoy. So rather than admitting to having these fears and anxieties, I hid them. Any time I felt overwhelmed or scared, I did my best to escape the situation swiftly and silently.
When I was having all of these issues (4 years ago now), I knew what an anxiety attack was but had no idea how to deal with them. I’d been in counselling once, in my teens, when a teacher recommended that I go. But the therapist I’d been assigned had been less than useless. Having determined that my parents were separated, she latched onto that fact and refused to acknowledge any other potential issue. Everything had to, somehow, come back to my parents.
In reality, I was meeting her every week while going through a very abusive relationship. This never came up, and I didn’t have it in my to do anything more than *hint* at what was going on. When she didn’t pick up on those hints, I gave up. That’s as much my failing as anything else, but I did as much as I felt safe doing.
Since first year, I’ve been through four therapists – one for a little over a year, one for a few months and one for a few weeks. One therapist I only met for one session, because the clinic I’d been referred to was weird and strict and made me feel deeply uncomfortable. When I returned to the therapist who’d referred me, she was disappointed but admitted that she had heard very mixed reports of that particular organisation.
I can now comfortably say that I am living with clinical depression and PTSD, and that I’m doing much better with them than I once was. I’m still a very anxious person, but I don’t think I *have* anxiety. I think that’s one diagnosis that doesn’t quite make the list.
I still have days where I don’t feel like I can leave the house, or even my bedroom. I still have to be woken from flashback nightmares when my sweating and crying wakes my partner up. I’m still coated with scar tissue from my less pleasant days. But goddamn, in first year I was happier than I had ever been before, despite all of the anxiety. And now, I am doing even better than that. And that’s pretty cool, really.