When you think of the word ‘anxiety’ what image fills your mind? Those ‘butterflies’ fluttering around in your stomach before you take your driving test? That dry mouth and stutter you get before a class presentation? How about sweaty palms on your first day in school or a new job? So what happens when anxiety becomes a life – limiting disorder? Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Social Phobia, Depersonalisation, the list seems endless.
I do believe that non – sufferers will never fully understand the level of strength and courage it takes for a person to live with an anxiety disorder. Since experiencing those first few panic attacks I have become scared of, well, everything. I was always a strong person with a stiff upper lip. I had spent my childhood and teen years grieving for my mother, something which no child should ever have to go through, and yet here I am now a prisoner of my own mind, powerless to release its grasp. I bear no visible scars, no rash or foaming at the mouth. To an outsider I am simply pale and shaking through my inability to catch my breath – something that should come so naturally. Deep breaths, they say. Pfft. Like it is that easy.
This may be the reason as to why those little ‘share this and you will have….’ posts you see being shared so freely on Facebook infuriate me so much. Anything to do with money and luck will accumulate numerous likes and shares, but throw a mental health awareness ribbon into the mix and it is a totally different story. I have used Facebook as a platform of understanding on numerous occasions, to no avail. Sadly, many just do not want to know. Maybe they would if they were made to spend a day walking in the shoes of a mental health sufferer.
I have come to fear people, the outdoors and the unknown. I fear failure, passing out, and losing my mind indefinitely, to name but a few. Almost overnight I went from being a bright and confident twenty year old with a close circle of friends to a shell of my former self, a recluse. Once an outgoing 19/20 year old, I was working (well, more skiving) part – time at McDonalds while studying for my degree. I would happily attend work nights out and have my work friends round mine on a Friday/Saturday night for pre – drinks and an after party following a night in town. Heck, I was unbeatable when it came to drinking games as I managed to knock back a pint of some lethal concoction in six seconds and still go back for more. I was never the most popular person but I was never lonely either. I had friends to go to the cinema and bowling with, friends to get tattooed with, and friends to turn to when I needed cheering up. I had rebuilt a life for myself in Manchester following our move here a few months before and I was genuinely happy.
As the saying goes ‘things were on the up’, or so I thought as, following that initial taste of panic, I lost all of my friends and soon came to fear alcohol and leaving the safety of my home. That feeling of not being in control, that I had to put all of my trust in the bartender to pour me out a ‘safe’ measure and in those surrounding me to not hurt me. What if I passed out? People would laugh at me, and point and stare. I am not the skinniest nor am I the prettiest so people would be bound to comment on my appearance. What if I ended up being taken to hospital? I would have to stay away from home. Plus, I am totally crackers so they would definitely have me sectioned for the foreseeable.
I do believe that this is one of the most difficult parts of my illness to live with as I am surrounded by pictures of people my age (24) and older living their lives, going on holiday and nights out. It sounds so simple, does it not? “You only get one life so you should live it”. I am sure said people would not be saying this if they were made to face their greatest fears on a daily basis. Having a tarantula constantly perched on their shoulder, or spending their time confined to a lift. I am not bitter, but I will admit that there are days in which I cannot breathe through sheer jealousy. That should be me. I am a good person. What did I do to deserve this? It becomes all too easy for others to tell us to ‘stay positive’, that ‘we will get there’. I have become a professional at putting on a front. I wear a smile everyday because I do not not want people to know that inside I am dying, but there are days in which I struggle to believe that I will ever overcome this. Anxiety has sunk its claws in far too deep and with each panic attack and worsening of my Depersonalisation comes a greater distance between ‘the old Krista and me’. I cannot spend the rest of my life like this.