Monday, 15 August 2016

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Diagnosed With Anxiety

I’ve been living with anxiety for over ten years now and I’ve learnt a lot about it and myself along the way. When I was first diagnosed, I remember being very scared and was given very little information about what having this mental illness meant for me from health care professionals. Looking back there is so much that I wish somebody had told me when I was first diagnosed, so today I wanted to share with you the ten things I wish I knew when I was first diagnosed with anxiety.

Panic Attacks Can’t Kill You 
Even though it really feels like you’re dying sometimes, panic attacks can’t actually kill you. My first therapist told me that most panic attacks usually don’t last longer than 20 minutes. Knowing this made having a panic attack a slightly less terrifying prospect and made them lose some of the power they had over me.

Avoidance Makes Things Worse
When I first developed anxiety, I quickly learnt that a great way to not feel anxious was to completely avoid the things that made me scared which later developed into agoraphobia. Although it’s really tempting to hide away from the things that scare you so that you don’t have to deal with them, it usually just makes the anxiety surrounding the situation worse. Every time you avoid a situation that makes you anxious you are feeding that belief. In my treatment for anxiety, I have learnt that the only way to get over a fear is to become familiar with it and create positive associations and memories around it. It takes a lot of courage to take that first step, but every time you face a fear it loses some of its power and gets easier the next time around.

Medication/Therapy Won’t Change Who You Are 
I used to be so afraid of the idea of taking medication for my anxiety or telling a therapist my deepest darkest thoughts and feelings. I was worried that by treating the mental illness it would mean changing a part of me. I wish I knew how much taking medication and going to therapy would help me so that I would have done it sooner. Medication and therapy has not changed who I am, it hasn’t messed with my brain and made me into an unfeeling zombie. It’s simply made me a less anxious person who can better manage their mental illness.

Not Everyone Will Understand 
The biggest frustration for me when I was first diagnosed with anxiety was how little the people around me seemed to understand about it. For many years my family were at a loss for what to do to help me, they just couldn’t understand why I was terrified of such normal mundane things. Something that really helped things click into place for my family was when I explained mental health in metaphors and related it to the way we treat physical health. Give the people around you time, be as open and honest as you feel comfortable with, pull information from the internet and learn as much about your illness as you can so that you can better explain it. The people you love might not always understand, but them asking questions and wanting to know more shows good intentions and is a starting point so don’t lose heart.

Take Baby Steps
The best method in confronting anxiety for me has been to break things down into baby steps. Scared to walk down the street? Start by just opening your front door. Increase how long you can keep that door open for. When you start to feel more comfortable, take a step outside. Work up to taking three steps away from your house. When you’re ready, walk to the nearest lamppost. See what I’m getting at here?

When it comes to facing your fears you don’t have to dive in at the deep end. Start with the step that feels the most doable to you and work your way up to the bigger stuff at your own pace. It doesn’t matter if it takes a week or a month or even longer to achieve your goal, you’re still kicking anxiety’s butt. Make sure that you celebrate your successes no matter how small they may seem, they’re each a step in the right direction.

Bad Days Are Allowed 
I used to worry so much if I was having a bad day/week/month with my anxiety that it meant that I was going backward. Now I’ve learned that it is completely normal and okay to have a bad day. Even people who don’t have a mental illness have bad days. Life isn’t perfect and there will be ups and downs along the way. These days, if I’m hit with a bad bout of anxiety I try to ride it out like a wave and if I have to take things back a step because everything suddenly seems too hard that is okay. Go back to your easiest step and start building yourself back up again.

Put Yourself First 
Like any illness, when you are unwell it is important that you prioritise and put yourself first. I used to feel really terrible if I had to cancel plans or let somebody down because my mental health was bad but now I realise that on the grand scale of things your health is more important. Never push yourself to do something you don’t feel ready to do for somebody else. Respect yourself, your boundaries and your health and don’t be afraid to take time out to rest and look after yourself.

Mental Illness Does Not = Crazy/Dangerous 
Oh boy, when I was first diagnosed with a mental illness I was so afraid to tell anyone in case they thought that I was crazy and/or dangerous. There is a really negative belief out there about people with mental illnesses and that they might pose a threat or be a danger to society. I used to be really frightened of myself and what I might be capable of. Having a mental illness does not make you dangerous or crazy. You are not about to go on a murderous rampage just because you are ill. So many people are living and functioning in this world with a mental illness. If having a mental illness turned us all by default into the crazy killer stereotype that horror writers are so fond of portraying then the world would be apocalyptic right about now.

Living Life Trumps Fear
Something that I have learnt only recently is that fear is not a good enough reason for me to not live the life I want to, not anymore. Every time that I have felt like I was going to pass out from panic but carried on anyway it has been worth it.

Every. Single. Time.

When it comes to doing the things I want to and living my life, fear is not a good enough reason to hold me back. I would rather be terrified and get to do what I want to, than let anxiety dictate what I can and can’t do. My life is of more value to me than fear.

You Will Get Better 
You know, people used to say this to me and I never believed them. I couldn’t imagine ever getting rid of this albatross that I carry around with me everywhere. Here’s the secret, when people say you will get better they don’t mean that your anxiety will get better, they mean that YOU will get better at managing it.

Ten years on from my diagnosis and I am still living with anxiety, it hasn’t gone away completely and to be honest, I don’t think it ever will. But *I* have gotten better. I have gotten better at dealing with it, I have gotten better at putting myself first, I have gotten better at riding out a panic attack, and I have gotten better at facing my fears. It takes time, but you come to learn your illness and how it affects you and at first you begin to cope and then you begin to thrive. Anxiety doesn’t get better, but you do my friend, you do.

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