Happy Mental Health Awareness Day!

Happy (slightly belated) World Mental Health Awareness Day. I understand this post is long but if you have time to read, please give it a shot, especially if you think you could be suffering from anxiety or panic attacks. This is aimed to hopefully motivate someone/anyone to come out about what they have been going through and get onto the road of recovery, just in case, someone looks at this and seeks help as a result. That would be awesome! 🙂

In the first photo I’ve posted, there is the sunset in Split on the first day we were there on holiday last year. I’m quite proud of this photo, really. It’s entirely full of natural beauty and relaxation and should represent a time that should be exactly those things. But it was on that holiday that my life entirely changed in so many ways. Something changed in me in those two weeks, even my Mum noticed I hadn’t cracked a single smile or laughed since being in Split. I believe this whole thing was a long time coming, but who would have thought that on a beautiful Croatian beach, you would find yourself feel a sudden feeling of complete dread. Your heart is palpitating so hard you think you’re having a heart attack. You can’t breathe properly, your chest feels like it’s being crushed and you don’t know what’s wrong with you and all that’s going through your mind is “what the hell is happening to me?!” and whether this is going to be the day you die. You can’t focus on anything at all, and by the time the feeling is over with you’re so exhausted that you can’t even walk to the bathroom and back without feeling entirely out of breath.

In the days to follow, my breathing remained shallow and things were not getting any better. I was ready for what was to become the first of too many doctors appointments just to get diagnosed with something that had already began restraining me from enjoying my family holiday and coping with regular activities. After getting home, the summer started with my first ECG and a doctor saying “there is nothing wrong with you, you’re completely healthy.” and that was to be my experience with doctors (including being told I could have asthma!?) until the September time when a new doctor seemed pretty certain of what I was experiencing. I had been suffering with panic attacks, which were a result of anxiety. Specifically, I suffer with panic disorder. Which means once I have a panic attack in a specific place, my brain associates that place with panic and I will usually have a panic attack in that same place whenever I’m there. But I specifically suffer with nocturnal panic attacks. This is where you find that you panic in the night, and wake up during the night due to a panic attack. Sometimes, I would even have panic dreams, where I would have the same recurring dream about a situation of panic and wake up from that. Usually, between 3-5 times a night. Almost every night.

I began sleeping a lot more in the day, not really doing anything with myself and failing to understand and cope with my lectures. Getting up for a 9am was always tough for me, because I can be a lazy sod! But I was exhausted to the point where I was watching my lecturers mouth move but I couldn’t understand nor focus on a single word she said. I went through insane moments of worrying I had upset people, by overthinking about something I’d said, to the point where I’d lock myself in my own room and not speak to anyone or eat for hours, crying and wanting all of it to go away. I’d have horrible dark thoughts which were uncontrollable. I’d lock myself in public bathrooms before or after lectures if I was having a panic attack and hope that it would end before the next lecture started, and otherwise I wouldn’t go. I was put onto some magical tablets by my rock of a doctor which somehow managed to help with my panic attacks, and although it took time I was finally getting some more sleep, and even some complete nights of sleep! I was referred to a counsellor too, who helped me somewhat, but the answer was always clear that if something was to change then I would need to push that change myself – nobody can ever do it for you.

On New Years Eve, I was sat with my beautiful Baba. And as we sat there and watched the entire thing on TV it occurred to me that the majority of 2014 was a nightmare, and that was an entire year of my life that I couldn’t ever bring back. I had to stop drinking, and going out was an uncomfortable situation for me. Being a student, it wasn’t a common thing to be spending nights home alone and avoiding the buzz of going out. I stopped being as sociable. I quit from being part of a band because I was too uncomfortable with the idea of performing in case I’d have a panic attack. I stopped going to belly dance as much for the same reason. I stopped doing too many things, I stopped standing up for myself, I stopped enjoying my life all because I was constantly cautious that I was going to have to go through 20 minutes of pain at a time. I wasted my time. So, I made my list, and things changed. I began meditating, exercising more, trying to socialise more, focus on positive things that I’ve felt/have happened in that specific day by logging it into a book etc. etc.

My anxiety journey isn’t over. It still comes back to haunt me, but I’m hope if anything, I’m more than the quivering wreck I was a year ago who had no control over her life and stopped enjoying life. My life isn’t defined by the fact I have a mental illness, and I want to be able to live my life exactly the way I want to, and enjoy it no matter if I suddenly start feeling it knocking on my chest to try and stop me.

The second photo is one I’ve posted here before, of my sleep tracker I was using to monitor my sleep during these panic attacks. It isn’t normal to wake up more than twice in a single night, and feel the things I have experienced with them. If this is something that is happening to you, do whatever you can to fight it and don’t let it dictate your life. I know it’s hard, I know that not even words can tell you how to feel and what to do when fighting something that feels so difficult to control. But please, although the diagnosis could take a while, things can be patchy and results won’t come in an instant – doing something, anything will change your life.

Life is never easy, but that doesn’t mean it needs to feel like a nightmare. You can enjoy your life if you choose to fight for your enjoyment, and stop letting certain things get in the way. But the one consistent beauty in my life is the people around me. I have the best friends in the world. So, I may have a mental illness. And it’s not fun. But I’m more than happy to take this pinch of salt, if it means having the most wonderful, understanding and kind people who have been a consistent rock through all of my lows and highs. Like I said, I have the best friends. And I love each and every one of them with every inch of me, because without them who knows what my life would be. I also have a beautiful family that make me smile on a day to day basis, whether I’m with or without them.

The message here is simple, despite being an essay. But it’s important. If any of you feel any of the things described here, please, seek help. Don’t lock yourself away, or let the feelings completely destroy who you are and the life you lead. I can’t promise you that these feelings will go away, and that you will never have a panic attack ever again. But I can promise that you’ll smile a lot more if you try doing something about it, and try living your life without letting it hold you back. Don’t let mental illness take over everything you have. And don’t let it make you believe that you’re overreacting and that you should recluse to save everyone around you.

The last photo is of Sveti Sava, Belgrade. Because if you do feel any of the things I’ve mentioned – I promise you that if you speak out about your mental illness, things will look up and you’ll find yourself experiencing life in a more positive way. Speaking out is scary. Warning new people is scary. But not telling anyone is only even scarier for yourself and the people around you. Don’t let stigmas dictate what you should and shouldn’t do about your mental illness. Go and see a doctor, and talk to someone about what you’re going through. Things can only look up from feeling rock bottom. I was lucky in that my first panic attack was in front of my family who were there to support me. But if your panic attacks are something you hide from the world around you, then try and urge yourself to just open up a little more. I just wanted to take this last note to say, I’m so so proud of the people who looked at my last post about anxiety and spoke up about their own experiences and had themselves diagnosed and on the road to feeling happier. You should be proud of yourselves, and so should the people around you! I’m also proud of the people I know, who were not inspired by my post necessarily but opened more up about their mental illness – go live your lives, and don’t let it stop you from anything any more! I’m also proud of he people I know who haven’t. The fact that you go through this pain every day, shows just how strong you are, but don’t let it stop you from feeling wonderful about life, when you deserve to be happy. I’m sending you all of the virtual hugs!
Like I said, if this is something you’ve experienced, refer to the following links for some help and guidance which have helped me on the way:

http://www.getconnected.org.uk/ – an amazing helpline service that gives you someone to talk to that can help with whatever you’re going through, they are so so comfortable to talk to and are perfect for if you feel anxious about talking to someone face to face about the situation.

http://www.mind.org.uk/ – for info on how to help others with a mental illness, the types of mental illness, an understanding of mental illness for both the person experiencing it and for those intrigued.

http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/black_dog – a campaign led by sane to prevent the stigma behind mental illness which is part of the reason many people suffering with mental illness don’t open up and have their diagnosis sooner.

if anyone fancies dropping me a message regarding my experiences with anxiety, feel entirely free to drop me a message. I know I’m useless when it comes to replies but I will do what I can to reply as soon as I can for if you’re intrigued on the diagnosis process, certain emotions or feelings or methods on controlling a panic attack (p.s. I am not an expert! and everyone is different! what works for me might not work for you!)

I really really hope this has helped someone out there who could be reading this. Even if only one person feels inspired to go and open up their lives – it’s entirely worth the shot. Don’t battle in silence. More people are here for you than your mental illness wants you to believe.

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