Anxiety and me
Michelle talks openly about her experience with anxiety and how it impacted her
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"I began to absolutely dread my friends wanting me to socialise after work, I wanted to see them, but I had no energy."
When I was 21 I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and my counsellor told me to go to group counselling sessions for low self-esteem. She felt the decisions I had made in my life were due to a lack of confidence, attracting a certain type of person to me, which in turn led to the traumatic event, etc.
This seemed to help me for a while, but three years later I realised that I wasn’t really okay and it wasn’t just self-esteem. So I did what I had always done – throw myself into study, and luckily I had a Masters degree to keep my brain occupied. That had always been my strategy when my mood started to drop; find something that takes up all my mental energy and throw myself into it.
That doesn’t work. It’s a head-in-sand situation and it’s simply just deflecting thoughts rather than actually dealing with them. Well, I mean it worked for me to an extent, but then, inevitably, reality hit.
In the middle of the summer when I was writing my thesis, I ended up in A&E with severe pains in my stomach. I was referred to a gastroenterologist and sent for ultrasounds, scopes and scans. The results of those and my blood tests came back normal. The consultant thought maybe I’d had a small ulcer in my stomach that had healed over in the waiting time between A&E and the tests. I was given some antibiotics and sent on my way.
I was fine, I graduated and started working soon after. Part-time at first, and then full time in a new job. A “normal” job; I had a desk and a computer and a swipe card to access the building. And then in November 2015 I started to notice that my stomach wasn’t great, I had nausea almost every time I ate, when I woke up and when I was going asleep. I knew I wasn’t pregnant and it couldn’t be morning sickness.
I put the exhaustion I was suffering down to the commute in and out of work, which takes anything between an hour and an hour and a half each way. I figured that the winter was taking a toll on me, that spending all the daylight hours inside under fluorescent lights was negatively affecting my mood. So I started to go for walks around St. Stephen’s Green during lunch, getting on the bus a stop farther away, and eating healthier.
None of those helped me. I began to absolutely dread my friends wanting me to socialise after work, I wanted to see them, but I had no energy, I felt like I would just drain them with my fatigue. I was sleeping from between 8 and 9 hours every week night, and for 10 to 12 hours on Friday and Saturday nights. I woke up exhausted.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came at the end of February this year. My mind was really just, I felt, uncontrollable. Anytime I had a drink, I would cry the next day. For anything. For nothing. I had been unable to concentrate on anything for months, and my short term memory was starting to slip. I used to be able to sit for 6 hours a day reading, and I couldn’t even make it to 6 minutes now without losing concentration. I made the decision that I needed help, so I decided to go to the GP. I didn’t tell anyone I was going, because I felt defeated.
I was called into the doctor’s surgery and when he asked me what he could do for me today, I started to cry. I told him about the lack of concentration, energy and memory. I told him about my stomach problems and the persistent pulsing in my ears, tinnitus deafeningly loud whenever I was lying in bed. He checked; there was no wax build up.
“You seem to be suffering from textbook anxiety and stress.”
I couldn’t run any more. I was prescribed a very mild dose of an SSRI recommended for sufferers of anxiety and asked if I would consider counselling. I agreed to give the medication a try, tentatively, in order to prepare myself for the counselling that I will start in a few months.
I still feel odd about being on medication, but I’ve already finished reading a novel for the first time in a year and I’ve met up with friends almost every evening after work. The medication for me is a short-term solution, to give me the energy to work on myself and reformat my thought process.
I know it’s working, because when I step on the overcrowded bus into work in the mornings now, I no longer imagine myself trapped on it forever. If I miss my stop, it doesn’t matter – I’ll get there in the end.