Firstly, this post is slightly different from my usual ones and is just going to be talking about me and my experience with anxiety; it was one of the first blog posts I ever published on Kisses of Confidence and just gives you guys a better understanding of who I am as a person and also the writer behind the screen, and why I actually chose to start writing this blog.
Teen Talk is going to be a mini-series I’m doing in which I discuss issues that may be relevant and important for teenagers, and just to help people that might be struggling with a range of things. This one (focused on anxiety and mental health) is the first in the series but there will definitely be more as the year goes by.
So, into my story…
I suffer from anxiety and for a few years, this really controlled me and was a pretty big part of my life, almost every day. Even as a child, I hated long school holidays; sleeping at night was a trigger for me and during a few periods in which I was anxious throughout the entire day about sleeping that evening, I really thought that there was something wrong with me. This continued until I was around nine, with a few holidays being much worse than others – firstly, I remember one Easter where the death of an animal I had only had for a few hours after rescuing it started a bad episode. It resulted in a blow-up bed being constructed in my parents’ room, where I slept for the two-week break.
At the time, I was oblivious to the fact that several years later I would be sat at a counsellor’s office, talking over this specific event and mentioning how it was very likely due to anxiety, even though I was young at the time and definitely not thinking the extreme fear of sleeping was because of a mental health disorder. When I think about it now, there were lots of other seemingly random incidents in which I think a certain outcome happened due to anxiety; it can often start from a young age and isn’t uncommon in children.
Of course, I had other things that made me anxious too; these included being out in public alone, ordering at restaurants, being without my parents for a long time, thinking about the loss of a loved one, or even talking to people on the phone. The theme with these things is that people who don’t have anxiety can easily cope with doing all these things, even several at once – and of course, everyone sleeps without seconding it. People with anxiety commonly worry about things that others would regard as ‘insignificant’ or ‘stupid’ because of the way their brain has come to react to certain things, so if you do find yourself completely freaking out over something that your friends are able to do with very little worry, there’s a chance that’s down to anxiety.
Being an easily stressed person, I had been used to worrying slightly more than the average person, overthinking things, over-analysing, practising how to say hello to a stranger or a parent of a friend or even a neighbour, rehearsing orders in my head a hundred times and still not being prepared, trying out a phrase in another language almost as many times before I could say it out loud. Again, these are things people can often do without trouble. Many teenagers might not think twice about ordering a complicated drink at Starbucks, might be comfortable with offering answers in French class or a Spanish exam.
Another thing I experienced was days where I could see no positive. All my emotions would be overtaken by a feeling of intense dread, often for no apparent reason. Sometimes this feeling may be brought on by worrying about a specific thing, including the loss of my parents or sibling, close friends or boyfriend, or after an event such as terrorism attacks. Other times I would wake up with a heavy feeling of dread, sadness or anxiety and it would stay with me all day, affecting my attention at school or on homework as well as my mood. It would even spoil special days sometimes – the feeling happened once on Christmas Eve and it was only by Christmas morning itself that I was myself again.
As I said, at the age of around 7-9, I was definitely in need of help with the anxiety as due to my young age, I couldn’t self diagnose and get help for it. However, I was given a book titled What To Do When You Worry Too Much, written by Dawn Huebner. This book really helped me understand I was not made of my worry, it was only a small thing inside me. The book says to stop worrying, a good coping strategy is to imagine the fear as an insect. Whenever you think of the worry, imagine getting rid of the bug on your shoulder by flicking it away. The idea is that soon the worry will become as insignificant and as easy to shake off as a bug. Another key idea is to have an imaginary (or real) box that the worry and fear goes in to for the day, or maybe a few hours to start. Then, at a decided time during the day, talk to a parent or sibling or friend about the worry. You can only have 15 minutes to discuss it. Allow the worry to come out of the box for that time only, and then lock the box straight away afterwards. Whilst the worry is in the box, you can’t think about it, theoretically. The latter idea worked for me as a younger child, maybe because my fears were smaller and simpler than they are now. I managed to sleep by myself on holidays and try and work on my social skills and reduce the fear I associated with that. I still keep the book by my bed. However, a thing that couldn’t be dismissed using this trick were days that I felt anxious or on edge for the entire 12 hours.
When I was around 12, social things started getting harder. I felt more anxious out by myself, felt different to others, agonised over small and unimportant details such as pressing the button on a bus and alerting the driver that I wanted to get off, and worried people were watching me constantly. I have managed to get over little things like the stop buttons by making sure the buses I take are quiet and that I sit near a button. However, ordering at restaurants and attending things like assemblies at school and extra-curricular activities still cause anxiety and panic attacks. As soon as I figure out more ways to conquer these insecurities and stop panicking before entering a crowded hall or a club, I will definitely write about them!
I am now a teenager and I think that right now has been one of the worst times in terms of how anxious I have been. As this has been my last week of school in the run-up to Christmas, there were festive shows and pantomimes at school, which I bought tickets for. I wanted to get over the anxiety behind being in a compact space with other people and with attending events I knew would be busy. Out of three, one I couldn’t go to as I started panicking so much before entering the hall they were held in, I went the wrong way and ended up crying in the toilets. But I told a close friend about how I was nervous about going and she ended up waiting for me after the lesson, walking with me to the hall and sitting with me. She was so supportive and honestly what I needed to prove that I could go without having a breakdown on the way.
People like her should be protected at all costs – if you have lovely supportive friends, treasure them and don’t let them go! She really helped, both in the moment and also after, as her words rebuilt a bit of my knocked confidence and she helped me realise that it wasn’t normal to feel so worried.
It was only a few months ago that I began to think that this persistent feeling of dread, nervousness around multiple everyday activities and episodes of unwanted stress and anxiousness could be more serious than I had thought prior to now. My mum was always the one I’d talk to. She understood a little more than my dad and I found it easier to explain how I was feeling. One night, after experiencing sleep paralysis and seeing a man at my window during the nightmare, I had a panic attack about sleeping, just as I had done years before. At that moment I said I wanted help because I needed it, my anxiety had a big impact on my life as well as on my mental health and general happiness. After calming down and sorting out the sleeping arrangements to one I was more comfortable with, deciding on contacting a counsellor was the best idea. Although I haven’t visited them just yet, I have had many online chats using websites including Childline, which have helped with everyday worries that you might also experience if you have GAD.
Whilst researching the signs, triggers, symptoms, and everything else I could ever need to know about anxiety and all its friends, I have realised it is actually much more common than I initially thought. For example, around 1 in 5 people living in the USA have GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) which is the most common type. However, SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder) is another common disorder and type of anxiety that a lot of people also suffer from. By finding out how many other people my age are experiencing the same or similar things, it means I know I am not the only one with this disorder struggling with these symptoms.
This was all written around a year ago (Christmas 2017). Looking back on what I’ve written, I want to add another section to just say how I’ve coped through this year, and how I’ve used the counselling to become stronger and deal with my anxiety better.
My story now…
A year on and anxiety is still a part of my life. A big part, actually. I had counselling up until May 2018, where I learnt a selection of coping mechanisms, strategies to avoid panic attacks and also what to do when having a panic attack, as well as learning more about anxiety in general.
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD – aptly named) and General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are both still a part of my life, and not a positive one. However, down to a mix of building my confidence and putting the strategies I picked up from counselling in place, I managed to alleviate the majority of my social anxiety and become a lot more confident in most social situations.
I’ve come to understand that anxiety, like most mental health disorders, will change and fluctuate frequently. Some days are great and I get by without even thinking about anxiety, and others are a struggle from start to end. But most are in between the two, a happy medium where I still find some small things very worrying and still feel down due to excessive nervousness and feelings of dread but can live my life the way I want.
The people I can talk to mean everything to me, as simply being able to talk to someone and just get things off your chest can be so useful. That’s the one thing that helps me the most – having people there who I know I can trust to be there when I need it, and who would give up an hour or two to sit and chat.
Long story short; I have found ways to reduce my anxiety, like getting a good night’s sleep and eating less sugar, and I know how to stop myself if I ever feel the sensation of a panic attack coming on. All the same, I still suffer from anxiety and it still controls a small portion of my life.
Enough about me!
This blog is designed to inform and help – both myself for writing it, and the readers if they need self-confidence or a person to talk to. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression or any other mental health problem or worrying about telling people about how you feel, I would love to help! If anyone wants to chat, I’m always here – and it doesn’t have to be limited strictly to just anxiety.
Feel free to email me here at email@example.com to catch up or to talk; I would be happy to listen to what you have to say and hopefully give you some friendly advice!
To any teens (or anyone, any age) out there who are thinking that they can relate to a lot of this and haven’t yet spoken out about it, I strongly advise you to do so! Talk about it, tell someone you trust, get a diagnosis as soon as possible and make sure you’re given some good ways to alleviate your anxiety and prevent it in the future. Having anxiety, in any of its forms, or any other mental health disorder, does not make you weak.