Like most people, I find anxiety an uphill battle. I can feel it wanting to stop me, whispering in my ear all the awful things that will happen if I go ahead and do that one positive thing. Let me tell you my story of how it all began, and how it still affects me today.
University, round 1.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been to university. When I was 18 I went to the University of Brighton to study law with business. I actually really liked the course, the law side of it anyway. You see, originally I signed up for business with law (the bulk of my course would be business with just one module of law), but I switched because I loved studying law that much 🙂 I remember I did the thriller dance in public when they confirmed the change! Haha.
So yes, a normal 18 year old off to university. It was the first time living away from home, the same as most teens. I couldn’t tell you what started it, but it was too much. I started to lock myself in my room, I suffered from depression. I remember visiting the doctor for help and he turned me away because I smiled – I had this core belief that you must always smile or people wouldn’t like you. It stuck for a long time until I eventually went to CBT therapy. I tried exercising, including roller skating, to release endorphins. I don’t know what happened, I started skipping class in favour of staying in my room. I’d be terrified of going outside. The only place I would go would be my ex-boyfriend’s parents house or his flat, my safe zones.
My anxiety didn’t lessen until I went back home to Yorkshire. I dropped out of university after the first year – I’d missed too much and couldn’t face it again. Moving so far away from home was the wrong choice for me, maybe this was a trigger. I don’t remember being scared to go outside when I got home, I ate so much food though – this is because the student loan wasn’t enough to live on in Brighton. I ran out of money and couldn’t find a student job to supplement my income. I remember the last week before term broke off for Christmas, all I had in was a 7-inch frozen pizza, a can of spaghetti and a can of baked beans… That was meant to last me through Christmas. I’d been rationing before that. You see, Brighton had no cheap food shops and food wasn’t included with the university accommodation. It was literally like I was starving. It was a horrible time for me. I remember when my ex realised my situation (I was too proud to ask him for help, he was a student too!) he immediately skipped the last week of classes and took me to his parents. They gave me the biggest meals I’d seen in a long time! I ate so much. I was the same when I got back home. Before I went to university I was so picky about my food, there was so many things I wouldn’t eat… but when I got back I’d eat everything and I was grateful for it.
Not long after getting back I tried to get a job. I was lucky enough to get a full-time job as a croupier at a local casino. The important thing is that it was paid and full training was provided. I was young so I didn’t care about the night shifts or the effect they may have on me.
At first, I loved the casino. It was like a constant test of your skill and was an extremely social atmosphere. I think when you’re new to a job you don’t realise how depressing the atmosphere really is until you slow down a bit. It was so negative.
I remember being assaulted several times while working at the casino. To the company’s credit, they were 100% supportive the first time. Backed me up all the way when I got the police involved. I was outside smoking and a drunk customer wanted a kiss. He tried to force me, pulling my head towards his mouth with all his strength. To this day I don’t remember any smell of beer but my manager said he was definitely drinking that evening. His taxi arrived and he threw me, if I didn’t put my arms out I would have hit the wall… After this, I was terrified of going back to work. I was on anti-depressants, I was agoraphobic, I was terrified of going outside again or even to work. I started therapy but was too scared to talk about it, so after the first two sessions, I skipped it! This man is why I quit smoking.
Other scenarios were similar to the above, but the first was definitely the worse. A customer holding my arm in a vice grip and asking me why I never let him win. Another drunk walking over to me and trying to kiss me – I was in the middle of a conversation with somebody else and even they couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t a good place to be. I had some mega self-esteem issues after this and my limiting beliefs only got worse.
I was in a dark place. I believed nobody liked me. I was unlikable. It really upset me! Yes, I contemplated suicide. I spoke with the Samaritans whenever I had a particularly bad episode – I cannot state how much I appreciate them! They literally save lives. The anti-depressants made it so I basically had no emotions. I didn’t feel sadness or happiness. I wasn’t really living. I just want to state, not all of them make you feel this way, this was just the effect they had on me.
I had nothing to lose. I planned my first holiday – a solo trip to Rome. I was going to re-discover myself.
Going to Rome, doing group tours, it made me realise that people did like me. I was likable. These people owed me nothing. It was my birthday, and I had my birthday meal with two New Yorkers while the Italian waiters sang happy birthday to me, gave me free champagne and offered me a cupcake with a candle in it. I understand this is a drastic way to combat limiting beliefs, but I needed it badly! When I came back, my anxiety was gone! I had confidence. I was liked. For some reason, this was important to me. I highly valued what other people thought of me, so much in fact, that it affected my mental health.
Time for change.
I plodded along through my casino work for 8 years until I decided enough was enough and it was time to move on. I’d had enough of the night shifts. We had 20-minute breaks in that job, but if I worked on the cash desk usually would usually only be one of those in a 10-hour shift… I’d frequently be called back early, or sometimes have no break all day – which meant no food.
I began work as a trainee travel agent. It was my first office job, and my first job working in a small team. It had regular hours and fixed days. The people I worked with were incredible, their kindness had no limits… this was a problem. For 8 years, I’d unconsciously been in ‘defense mode’. I wasn’t used to people being kind for no other reason than because that’s who they are, in my experience kindness always had a price – like them wanting you to work a double shift when you’ve already worked 10 hours with no food.
My body reacted badly to this new environment. It was trying to protect itself. I was only a trainee and I was terrified of being sacked, having to go back to the casino. My anxiety started again. I started to have anxiety attacks which stopped me going to work. I was so worried I’d make a mistake. I’d convince myself that if I made a mistake, I’d have to go back to the casino. I believed I was a failure.
So here we are again, battling anxiety in a new way! These were the strongest and most debilitating anxiety attacks I’ve ever had. I went back on medication – the maximum dosage I could be on for this particular brand. I was in therapy. I was at the gym. I was meditating. I was trying anything, literally anything. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to fit in.
This time, I wasn’t scared of therapy. It was a mixture of CBT and normal therapy with a local charity organisation called Lets Talk. I owe a lot to them, they’re amazing. It’s because of them I changed my beliefs, started my life on the right track, and most importantly – started to believe in myself. It changed my life.
University, round 2.
It was time to change. I was going back to university – this time in my home town, surrounded by family and loved ones. I’d stay at home with my parents too. I’d learn from my mistakes.
I was very worried that going for such a drastic change would re-trigger my anxiety just as I got it under control, that I would start to have panic attacks. This never happened. In fact, I made my first friend as I was walking to freshers fair! A beautiful woman called Jasmine.
I think university was easy for me to adapt to because everyone was anxious. I remember being away from home, alone, lost, and now they were in that place too. I wanted to help them! They shouldn’t go through what I experienced, and if I can help them I sure as hell will! I think this caused some fire in me and it’s exactly what I needed.
Seizures, anxiety, and withdrawals.
At the end of November 2018, I started to have night-time seizures. They started to get more frequent over Christmas. It could be because of my medication, they don’t know. Long story short, they’ve taken me off my medication cold-turkey as a precaution. I’ve been an emotional wreck, I’ve been angry, dizzy, nauseous, stuttering, weak, blah blah. You get the point. It’s been awful.
Between the seizures, my anxiety, and the withdrawals, it’s been near impossible to study – never mind write essays. I can’t focus, I can only type. Type and keep typing. Am I answering the question? I don’t know. Does it make sense? I don’t know. I have to keep walking away because of the dizziness, the frustration it causes me! I can’t focus! Sometimes I’ll read my essays and I’ve written a totally different thing to what I thought I wrote, the same thing is happening with my speech. I’m finding it so hard to understand simple things at the moment too, I need it spelling out word for word because my brain is trying to take out and include extra words.
Luckily the university has steps in place for this. I’ve applied for mitigating circumstances so I’ll be able to re-take my essays later in the year. I’ll be able to do them when I’m back to fighting strength rather than giving myself anxiety attacks because I can’t plan and organise my essays properly. On the 25th Jan, I find out if my application was successful.
Don’t give in, don’t let it overwhelm you. Fight. Find your fire! I believe in you 🙂
What’s your story and how do you manage your anxiety?
I’d love to hear from you 🙂