Everyone has their own story. I believe that listening and reading other peoples stories can really help you not only to move forward, but to realise you’re not on your own.
This is the story of how my anxiety disorder began, how I lived with it and how I learned to overcome it.
I had generalised anxiety disorder for longer than I can remember. I’m 28 now but my story starts around the age of six or seven.
Please don’t see this as a sob story. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed since coming into the anxiety space online, it’s people feeling like every story they read is a sob story. Never be ashamed of where you came from.
When I was a young child I had anxiety over almost everything. Of course at that age, I just thought I was shy and worried too much. I didn’t know anxiety even had a name.
My first day at school was the start of a long journey of not just suffering, but learning how to deal with my anxiety when it came up to the surface.
I can remember feeling anxious about going to school, not knowing whether I’d fit in and generally dreading being in social engagements.
From having my own son, I know now that this is a common occurrence for most children. The issue was, this feeling never really subsided.
As I progressed towards high school, this feeling of uncertainty followed me. I never really gained the confidence I thought I might have by then.
High school wasn’t much different
High school soon came and I was thrust again into situations where I felt consistently on edge like something bad was about to happen.
Through pre-school to this point, I had kept how I felt to myself because I didn’t see anyone else my age talking about how they felt and so to fit in better, I just carried on hoping that one day I’d feel comfortable in my mind and skin.
High school being what it is, I took a lot of flack like many do. This contributed to my anxiety hugely. Needless to say, this time of my life was tough because as I said, I didn’t see anyone else like me and I could tell that no one else felt like me.
It wasn’t all tears and anxiety though. If I’m honest with you, I did have a lot of fun at school going to parties and seeing friends. However, there was always a sort of grey cloud over me that I just couldn’t put my finger on.
I think that’s what bothered me the most, the fact that I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to just let go and relax without worrying. I had no idea what or if there was something wrong with me.
College wasn’t what i thought it was
When it was finally time for me to head to college, I had assumed it was going to be all parties and gelling with everyone on-site.
Although it was more relaxed than school, it was worse for my anxious mind. Without the safety of my school uniform, I felt more exposed and more conscious of myself.
The idea of going to college became all too much to bare in the end. The people there were nice but I never felt like I fit in there either.
The problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to study and so I ended up settling for sport. I liked sport but I was the only person in my class who didn’t play a sport religiously and so I stuck out, at least in my mind.
Feeling anxious that I had no idea what I was doing and where I was heading, I had my first anxiety attack. It felt like it was 10 years in the making.
All the anxious feeling rushed to my mind one morning on the walk to the train station.
Long story short, I ran home to my mum and told her I thought I was going crazy. It was scary because I had no idea what was happening to me.
I remembered all the times I’d grazed my knee and how she’d put a plaster on for me. If I was hurting in my mind, how could she help me this time?
It was the first time I’d told anyone about how I felt in my mind.
The secret was finally out.
This was the tipping point that changed everything.
Let’s go to the doctor
Being the loving mum she’d always been, she took me to the doctor. I think I freaked her out when I told her I thought I was going crazy.
The date was in the diary and I was just trying to think how I was going to tell the doctor how I felt. After all, how could I explain ten years of emotions in fifteen minutes?
I went to the doctor with my mum. I started telling him how I felt in my day to day life and he told me that I needed to be on anti-depressants.
He reacted very quickly as if he’d done this performance many times before. He wasn’t surprised by the way I was talking and I soon realised I was talking to someone who patches people up, not someone who was going to get to the root cause of my disorder.
Although heavily anxious all the time, I suffered with low mood.
The low mood in my eyes was brought on from the mental toll of always being on edge.
I never thought I’d be given anti-depressants though. I didn’t think I was depressed, I just knew that I couldn’t stop worrying all the time.
It didn’t sit well with me but I took the prescription and ran with it. I was given a low dose and so after collecting my meds, I began two years of medication.
What an interesting experience…
I was instructed to take one tablet once a day. At first, nothing happened, then after about two weeks I started to feel more calm mentally. It was as if everything inside my anxious mind subsided.
I was happy with how I felt at the time. As weeks turned into months I started to feel more and more numb. I wasn’t any less anxious and I wasn’t any happier either.
In fact, I felt it hard to become enthusiastic about anything. I was like a zombie. I soon noticed that if I missed a dose I became angry and grumpy.
Heck, was this how my life was going to be from now on? It felt like I was constantly fighting against my anxiety disorder and having to focus on it with the meds.
I was patching over the problem without focusing on it and understanding it.
I knew that if I wanted to live the life I considered ‘normal’, I’d have to take things into my own hands. My mindset was; your mind is the number one thing to keep healthy, everything else is secondary. It’s your filter to the world.
These meds were causing me to go down another path that I was sure wasn’t going to do me any good in the long run.
I wanted to be in control and not rely on an outside force to help me.
There were only two choices
There were only two choices I had at this cross road:
Feel sorry for myself and continue to act like I was okay;
Give myself permission to change and allow myself to grow and gain more self awareness.
I chose self awareness. No, it wasn’t a magic bullet but it was the start of everything. Making that one decision is the first step.
I started looking into personal development and how to become better all around. My anxious mind was something that no longer scared me because I embraced it and used it. How did I use it?
The thought of living that way for the rest of my life scared the hell out of me. I used that fear to grow and it motivated me more than everything. If I didn’t do anything, I’d be in the same position I was in now in ten years time.
This idea gave me a sense of the bigger picture. I realised I wasn’t scared of any one thing in my day to day. It was a constant feeling that followed me. It had no basis. So I could live with it and allow it to take over my actions or live with it but keep it to the side and try.
Mindfulness came in
I’m a regular guy. I’m not religious or what you’d call spiritual. However, I became obsessed with the power of mindfulness. Mindful meditations allows me slow down my racing mind and focus in on the here and now.
Something I’d always struggled with was being in the present. I was always concerned about the past or what might happen in the future. Because of this I couldn’t appreciate the here and now.
Checking in with myself when I started to feel anxious meant I was able to enjoy being here whatever I was doing. I learned that the only important time is now, right this second. Everything you do right now is going to shape your tomorrow. It was a real eye opener.
My scattered, foggy mind became a lot clearer and this too allowed me to see the bigger picture as if I was looking in on my life from a new perspective.
Harnessing what I love
What are you passionate about? Don’t let that thing go to waste. By now I was in my early twenties and was ready to take on the world. I was feeling less anxious now that I had my ‘awakening’ and so this allowed me to reconnect with my passions.
My passions have always been drawing and writing. I decided to start my own fitness website and start drawing again on YouTube to connect with others.
I’m a creative person and I think we suffer the most when we can’t scratch our creative itch!
I decided to take advantage of my passions and hobbies and have something for myself. I set goals for myself which gave me things to look forward to and aim for.
When we have anxiety disorders we get so wrapped up in short term thoughts of worry we don’t allow ourselves goals because we feel so down on ourselves.
I learned that this is an important part of staying on the right level. When we feel like we’re going through the motions with nothing to look forward to, we become stuck in our own minds.
Embracing these new ideals, I can now say that I am recovered. I believe you have to go through the dirt first, decide you want to allow yourself to live peacefully and then invest in yourself and in what you enjoy.
It’s not a short road but it all starts with allowing yourself to change. At the end of the day, only you have the power to change. After almost twenty years of constant worrying, feeling like I wasn’t worth anything and feeling down, I now want to keep growing to better myself.
I hope this short story of my anxiety journey gives you some hope.
Here’s to your success
Image credit: calibra
Sean Clarke is the author of http://www.projectenergise.com where he talks about his recovery from generalised anxiety and self improvement.