My experience of anxiety
Anxiety can be experienced differently by people. Eve shares her experience of dealing with it."One of my mistakes in dealing with it at first was that I tried to run before I could walk"
In my opinion, the number of people who view the term anxiety as an overused, substitutive word that people use to seek attention or as an excuse for certain behaviour or a certain occurrence, unfortunately, greatly outnumbers amount of people who view it as a very real and serious disorder.
In this post I aim to go through the in’s and out’s of anxiety in general, without going into too many specifics (as there are many different forms of the disorder) with the hope of educating anyone who does not fully understand it or know about it. My reason for doing this, is because unlike the common perception had by many, anxiety is a very real thing and is definitely something not to be overlooked.
I want people to be more aware of just what it is and how it can affect someone, for several reasons. 1: Like myself, you may not realise that you can suffer quite extensively from anxiety and may not realise there are many things you can do to help yourself fight through it. 2: To try and help decrease the ignorance and stigma around the topic which unfortunately very much still exists. 3: To make people more aware of anxiety, so that they can be more sensitive and understanding towards anyone they know that suffers from it, or to know how to help instead of making a situation worse if they are ever in a situation where someone is extremely anxious.
Anxiety is a funny thing. If I think too much into how to try and explain it to someone, I end up not being able to. If I don’t think in to it and just let the words flow and say exactly what it can feel like, then I can. However, the difficultly in explaining anxiety accurately is because it is more than just a feeling. It’s the body’s physical “fight or flight” reaction to a perceived threat (mostly irrational threats) or sudden feelings of unease and uncomfortableness so basically it consumes your mind and body. It’s not like a broken leg where you just have a pain in your leg. Because there are many different forms of anxiety, it can take shape through different symptoms and people with it experience different symptoms at different intensities and at different frequencies depending on how intense it is.
Keeping it general, the common symptoms of anxiety are: sudden rapid pounding of the heart, tightening of the chest and difficulty in breathing, sweating, trembling/feeling shakey, feeling nauseous, diarrhea, feeling weak and lightheaded, tensing up of the muscles, feeling headachy, having trouble focusing and concentrating, irritability, feelings of nervousness and uncomfortableness, inability to relax, a racing mind resulting in overwhelming fleeting, intrusive thoughts. For me when my anxiety tries to strike my symptoms generally range from: overthinking things to the point where I make myself extremely self-conscious and irritable, my mind racing causing intrusive fleeting thoughts, a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach that I would struggle to shake off and which can last for days, my heart pounding in my chest out of nowhere which could sometimes cause me to become shaky, agitated and scatty, chest pains and sometimes difficulty in breathing properly if it’s quite intense. I’ve decided to be extremely open here and say exactly what can happen me for the sake of trying to help people understand what can happen. However, some people with anxiety may have a lot of different symptoms, or may know exactly what I’m talking about.
For me my anxiety very much comes and goes in phases. I count myself very lucky in that it isn’t a daily battle for me and honestly the majority of the time it doesn’t affect me in the slightest - during these times I can easily forget I ever even had it. Before I realised there was more to my random overly panicky feelings than I had first thought, I used to think to myself the anxiety had gone away and used to be almost convinced that surely it wouldn’t come back again because of how positive and normal I was feeling. Only over time and as I began to track the times when it occurred quite strongly, did I realise that 1: it does not permanently go away and 2: it also seemed to have a bit of a pattern to it.
I found that it occurred every couple of months and the common themes behind it were; when I had a big decision ahead of me / if I felt I wasn’t doing good enough in something / if I felt under pressure or out of my depth. I want to reiterate that I have it very mildly, in that it comes and goes in phases and I am by no means an expert on this topic, I’m just someone trying to help drive education around it. I haven’t had a single anxious symptom, thought or feeling in over a month, and in that time I’ve embarked halfway across the world on a J1 to San Diego which would normally cause a bit of anxiety in anyone who hasn’t travelled away that long before, with anxiety or not.
So on the most part I am a fairly laid back person and the anxiety doesn’t affect me. Writing this now ironically I am really calm - I feel great, and looking back at times not too long ago when I was encapsulated by the anxious bubble, it feels weird and feels like that was a different person, that it wasn’t me, naturally, because I didn’t feel like myself during those times. I feel other people with similar anxiety will relate to me on this one.
Every single person on this planet is wired differently. Different things affect different people and different things make people tick. For this reason I am not embarrassed or ashamed about what I have said and will say in this post. Nobody with any sort of mental disorder, be it depression, be it suffering with any sort of anxiety or anything, should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed by how they feel or what’s going on in their head.
I have only ever had two significant anxiety attacks to date and don’t intend on ever having another one. The first time I had an anxiety attack I didn’t know what was happening to me and it shook me to the core because it took me by absolute surprise. I have always been very much in control of myself and my life so when this happened it knocked me off my path completely. It happened one morning at the start of last summer - the minute I woke up I instantly felt something wasn’t right and it rapidly escalated from there. It was one of the scariest moments of my life and definitely the most distressing.
For anyone reading this that doesn’t quite understand the concept of an anxiety attack, the following is in a nutshell what happens; your body basically goes into fight mode as if you’re in a life or death situation. In fancy terms it’s a psychobiologic reaction manifested by intense anxiety and panic. Symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath resulting in hyperventilation, profuse sweating, racing of the mind with overwhelming negative thoughts, high temperature, extreme dizziness and faintness, intense nausea, paling of the face and body and in some cases an intense feeling of imminent doom or death.
A typical anxiety attack lasts between 5 – 20 minutes, this particular one I’m talking about lasted 15 minutes when it peaked so it was fairly significant. I had been on a night out the night before so my parents thought I had been spiked, or was having a bad reaction to something because I couldn’t breathe properly, let alone string a sentence together. The reason I had it however was due to a large build-up of internal stress due to a situation that had been going on in my life at the time and which I had underestimated its affect on me.
After that attack I was determined to direct all my energy and focus to the brilliant and super exciting opportunity I had coming up, which was an internship with LinkedIn - one of the most rapidly growing companies in the tech industry to date. It provided me with a new lease of life and acted as a distraction. I was determined to give this job everything I had. At this point I was not aware I had anxiety, I thought the occurrence above had been a once off meltdown which would have been normal anyway given the situation. I never thought I would ever experience any of those kind of thoughts and feelings connected to the anxiety attack again.
Sure enough, as I settled in and a couple of months into the internship I found that all of a sudden I was overly worrying and overly nervous about various upcoming challenges and tasks out of nowhere and these were very much things that normally would have made me ridiculously excited. These overly anxious thoughts and feelings only got worse as time went on and really started to affect my moods and behaviour and just take away from me as a person – I wasn’t able to just be me. At the time I was completely taken aback and very frustrated because I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me, as everything ahead of me was exciting and were all opportunities to learn and grow and I felt the random powerful feelings of anxiety I was experiencing were going to affect my performance in my internship.
During this time I knew these thoughts and feelings I was experiencing weren’t normal but because of the strong minded person I am, I kept saying to myself I would be able to shake it all off, I was just having a bad few days. This went on for a good few weeks and then eventually I knew I couldn’t continue on feeling how I did, so I decided to try and seek help, refusing to let the anxiety ruin things for me and make me feel the way I was any longer. I also had a feeling then that I may suffer from anxiety a lot more than I would have ever dreamt of or previously given thought to because now this wasn’t the first time that I had found myself caught up in a wave of it.
I eventually spoke to my mam and dad, who were so cool about the whole thing and I ended up doing several sessions with a councillor to go through some breathing techniques to do when I felt very anxious and also to try to hammer out what exactly was going on in my head and why it was occurring. From then on I started to really research into anxiety disorders and educate myself as much as I could in order to try and cope with it as effectively as I could and not let it takeover. Like I have said my anxiety comes and goes only when it’s triggered by something specific, so most of the time it doesn’t affect me in the slightest. So, shortly after this I was well and truly back on track and dying to fight it and overthrow it.
A couple of months later, one of the biggest milestones for me in terms of my anxiety shall we say, was the May Bank Holiday weekend just gone. It was coming up to the final two weeks of my internship which had been one of the biggest and best opportunities I could ever have asked for, yet my anxiety was back again, and this time very strongly. It was peaking in actual fact. This was extremely upsetting and frustrating for me. Why was it back again, affecting me all of a sudden, what exactly was there to be anxious about? Why wasn’t I happy? Feeling unhappy implied I was also feeling ungrateful and given my current situation (disregarding my anxious feelings for a minute) that was ludicrous.
That weekend I pretty much hid under the comforts of my duvet in my room all day, underwent random outbursts of tears, was in and out of sleep, was barely texting any of my friends back and had no intention of getting dressed or showered. I had no motivation to leave the house. I was in an absolute daze and was unable to snap out of it. I felt detached from my whole brain and I could not for the life of me think straight or clearly.
I didn’t have an anxiety attack per say but the anxiety was taking over in a different way which resulted in the above behaviour. Naturally, this was not the first time I had experienced some of these feelings but I had never experienced them to the degree that they were at then. That weekend was the deciding factor for me to really do something about anxiety in terms of educating others and trying to help others and in doing so help myself.
I knew I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling. The idea that if I documented what I was going through and how I coped with it could help even one other person I would be happy. I know that I am definitely not alone in suffering from waves of severe anxiety and part of the reason I had learnt some techniques on trying to control it was down to other people’s advice and stories online, so when I was asked to write a post for Bressie’s blog, it made sense to me to publish this. I also thought it would be a good therapy kind of thing to just write down how I felt because bottling it up inside was evidently not working for me.
As that weekend came to an end I thought to myself: you seriously need to snap out of this right now, this is so ridiculous. Where’s the Eve that everyone knows and loves, the one who has always been very strong, who always fights through things as hard as she can and doesn’t give up - where has she gone? There are plenty of people in the world who are dying or starving right now, and you are not one of them I thought to myself. Stop being so ridiculous. You can of course counteract these stupid thoughts and feelings and show this anxiety who’s boss - you’ve done it before so many times, why the hell are you letting it take over all of a sudden?
After this, I went into the last week of my internship calm, energised and completely back to my normal self and it was one of the best weeks of my life. In that week I really saw just how much I had done throughout the year, fully realised the valuable relationships I had built up with wonderful people I got to meet and work with and just felt grateful, chilled out and 100% content.
Along with hoping to educate people and provide some insights on what it can be like dealing with anxiety I also wanted this post to be a support or a booster for anyone who is currently struggling with the fact they may have an anxiety disorder or feels like it is taking over their life. Anxiety can of course be counteracted/overthrown, it just takes a lot of practice, determination, mental strength and a good support system, be it from your friends or family etc.
One of my mistakes in dealing with it at first was that I tried to run before I could walk. I didn’t really know what exactly was wrong with me or why I was feeling these feelings. The frustration of this only added to the anxiety because I knew it was all so irrational and stupid, yet I couldn’t seem to prevent it. I didn’t know how to deal with it properly and my coping mechanism was simply to suppress/avoid the feelings in the hope that they would fade away and leave me alone - I thought I was in control that way.
I never in my wildest dreams thought it would be something I would ever have to deal with but it is a lot more common than most people think and a lot of people have it but hide it exceptionally well. Recent findings from research by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) showed one in five young Irish adults aged 19-24 and one in six young people aged 11-13 are experiencing mental disorders and the one topping those results was anxiety. Because of what I went through I am passionate about trying to improve the education and information surrounding anxiety amongst young people and get people talking about it to make it as manageable and easy for anyone suffering with it to talk about it and get some help in not letting it ruin an opportunity for them or in some cases take over their life.
Like Bressie constantly says, I want to normalise the whole conversation surrounding the topic. If I didn’t fight through and had given into it, it would have chipped away at my personality, my potential, my confidence, my enthusiasm for life in general and just not allowed me to be me. Everyone deserves to live the way they want and not let stupid irrational thoughts and feelings ruin things for them. Once you learn how to deal with it, fight it and then overthrow it your life will improve immensely.
Like all mental health issues, I think Ireland has a long way to go with the whole stigma thing but we are definitely improving so much and I want to help drive that improvement, to help people who may find themselves struggling from time to time with anxiety, because I know there are loads. I have a bone to pick with anxiety because it tries to knock people down. I want to fight it.
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Eve is soon to be a final year business studies student in DCU. She's a passionate mental health advocate specifically in relation to anxiety. She enjoys surrounding herself with many different types of people, however they must all have one thing in common - a positive outlook on life. Eve is all about trying new things and undergoing new experiences. I firmly believe life is not a destination, but a once off journey.
This article is part of the SpunOut Opinion section – a space for young people to share their experiences of tough times and encourage others to seek help.
This story is just one person's experience and it may be different for you. Remember that no matter what you are going through, there is help and support available.
See SpunOut.ie/help for more information.