For me, this is how it is.

There are so many times that people with anxiety hear:

there’s nothing to be scared of

or

can’t you just keep doing it and eventually you won’t feel scared anymore?

And of course the ones saying these things are completely right: there is nothing to be scared of, and the more times I face my fears, the less I will fear them.

But unless you have an anxiety disorder yourself you have absolutely no idea how difficult it can be, and how little your rational thinking comes into play when panic strikes.

A panic attack is not the feeling of being nervous.

It’s not butterflies in your stomach and feeling a little bit sick – much like the average person before making a speech or going on a first date.

It’s so much more terrifying and crippling than that.

For me, this is how it is.

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At first I feel like the world is spinning, like you know those nights where you’ve had way too much to drink and you can’t focus; your head hits the pillow but everything keeps going round and round, making you feel unbelievably sick.

And then my heart starts beating like it’s trying to escape my chest. Over and over again, each beat harder and faster than the one before. And somehow my heart ends up in my head, beating its way through my skull as well.

It keeps going and going and going and everything is still spinning and spinning and spinning.

My mouth then goes dry to the point in which I can’t swallow. This is where I always lose it and feel an excruciating need to escape. My natural reflexes stop functioning and it feels as though I can’t breathe.

Feeling as though you can’t breathe isn’t one of those feelings you get used to. I know it’s a trick. I know I can breathe. But when you feel as though you can’t, it’s so difficult to ignore it and think rationally.

I know it can’t hurt me. I honestly do know that. But no matter how many times you have a panic attack, they all feel just as bad as the last, and they never become less scary.

The level of fear overcomes me so much that I feel like I’m floating. You know like in one of those films where someone dies and floats across the room to heaven – or wherever else they’re going.

My legs have just about as much feeling as a person with paralysis in that moment; I’m moving – or running – but I have no idea how. I can’t feel it.

All I can feel is the strongest urge I’ve ever felt, pulling me away from wherever I am. Wanting me to leave and not feel like I’m dying anymore.

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*The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Dating – Book Review

Yesterday I spent my entire day drinking tea, eating way too much chocolate, and reading through The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Dating – a new book written by Hattie C. Cooper.

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Hattie suffers with Generalised Anxiety Disorder  and having never been kissed until she was 22, she – like many others – was incredibly anxious when it came to dating. But now happily settled down with her someone special, she shares some insight into what she’s learnt over the years, through comical anecdotes from her life intertwined with practical advice and solutions for us to follow.

What I love most about this book is the author’s sheer talent for making me think she’s my friend. The witty language, embarrassing truths and comical denoting actions throughout made me smile, laugh and relate to everything she said *claps in awe*. There are also questions dotted throughout from readers (both men and women!) much like a magazine advice column and handy summarised bullet points at the end of each chapter which make for easy and simple reading.

As well as those of us with crippling anxiety disorders, I think The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Dating also works for those that are just naturally anxious when it comes to dating (I mean, who isn’t? – I’ve never understood those people who actually enjoy it non-ironically). In addition to that, it’s also for the people that have to deal with us anxiety-riddled people! The book does a great job and taking into account the other relationships in our lives – our friends and family – as well as a chapter fully dedicated to what the person on the other side of the relationship can do to make the anxiety easier (take note, Nathan).

Personally, my favourite part of the book is where Hattie discusses how we should be less negative and start replacing ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you’ more often in our relationships. Instead of ‘I’m sorry for crying too much’, we can easily say ‘thank you for being so understanding’. It’s something I’m guilty of, so this simple tip is something I’ll be carrying through into my own life amongst lots more of your suggestions – thank you for that!

By the way, I actually challenge you to read this book without once saying ‘stealing that!‘ or ‘ha! that’s so me‘ –  you’ll fail, it’s impossible.

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I think to write something that gives advice on dating alongside openly discussing disorders that can really limit a person’s life, and yet still keep it light-hearted and non-patronising is a tall order. Hattie fully admits that she doesn’t have the answers to everything and so it doesn’t feel like you’re reading one of those typical self-help books where someone with a million letters after their name (which make absolutely no sense to you) preaches the right and wrong ways to do things.

Instead, it’s like talking to your mate that just gets it.

The best way I can sum up The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Dating is this – it’s like serious girl power, but not just for girls. I know you’re probably reading this thinking ‘really, that was the best way you could have summed that up?’, but yes. It made me feel uplifted, stronger, and made me want to dance around my living room to the Spice Girls. But it’s just not just for us women, despite the title of the book.

Please purchase the book by clicking here if you have a Kindle, or by clicking here if you don’t.

http://www.hattiecooper.com/
https://twitter.com/CooperHattie

Feardom Fighters

Yesterday I met up with someone who is doing something pretty awesome for us anxiety sufferers in Leeds after having suffered with anxiety herself; and so I wanted to share with you all Kathryn’s project – Feardom Fighters.

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Feardom Fighters is of the firm belief that everyone suffering with anxiety should be able to access the support and services that they need. And what’s really cool, is on World Mental Health Day 2015 (October 10th), the Feardom Fighters are putting on an event to encourage you to become a Feardom Fighter yourself and grab the information they’re offering with both hands to help aid your recovery.

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The #FeardomFestival will feature workshops, speakers and lots more! There will be places to go and relax and also places to express yourself through various mediums. You will learn strategies on how to cope with anxiety, and learn different techniques of how to effectively manage it.

Most importantly though, you will be around other Feardom Fighters that have years of experience to share, tips to dish out and understanding of what you’re going through.

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It’s going to be a fantastic event and I would highly recommend you follow Feardom Fighters on twitter, whether you’re able to attend the event or not. Kathryn shares lots of tips and videos on the twitter page and so it’s well worth checking out regardless!

You can also sign up for email updates by clicking here.

I’ll be working alongside Kathryn on this event to try to make the event as accessible and comfortable for everyone as possible – being someone who finds a lot of different situations and venues difficult because of my anxiety.

It’s a really exciting thing to be apart of, and when a full itinerary of the day is available, I’ll make sure to let you guys know!

Conquering

So I’ve finally decided what to do with all my free time over the next few months. The summer holidays have largely consisted of boredom so far; watching film after film and series after series – which I’m sure it will continue to do in some part, but I’ve also decided to do something proactive.

It’s simple, really.

What can I do that makes me happy? 

Art – and I haven’t done any since I finished this year of uni. So that’s number one on my list.

And secondly, what would make me happy in the future?

Getting over all this rubbish. The anxiety that stops me from doing everything. So for this next few months, my main purpose is to conquer. For a very long time now I haven’t been able to go higher than one floor in a building for fear of being too far from the exit. I have panic attacks at even the thought of it. But today, that is about to change.

I am going to spend every single day this summer walking to uni. My campus is pretty flat – much to my relief, but we do have a building which is four floors and open 365 days of the year.

jgI am going to spend my summer holidays trying my hardest to reach the top of that building.

I am going to push – one fear at a time – until this life-destroying illness leaves my body.

I am so ready to be rid of it. I am so ready to lead a more relatively normal life. When my friend asks me to visit her for the weekend, I would like to be able to say yes because I can get on a train. I would like to be able to attend all my lessons and lectures next year at uni. I would like to be able to go on holiday with my boyfriend. I would like to be able to do a lot of things that right now are impossible to me, and this is my first step. Quite literally.

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Creativity and Mental Health

For me, creativity is a massive part of expressing my feelings when it comes to my mental health. Creating abstract representations of my disorders or how I feel allows me to release the negative thoughts and create something interesting in the process.

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Hope (2015) 

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Mental Health Awareness Designs (2014)

I draw, paint, write – anything and everything! It’s the most therapeutic thing in the world; I can sit in complete silence and not have one thought pass through my head for hours when I have a paintbrush in my hand.

Does anybody else have any methods to relieve stress and negative feelings?

Mental Health Art

Just under a year ago in June 2014, I created this series of art work. The six images were each designed to depict a different mental illness or the symptoms associated with it; and they also mock some of the negative stigma that go hand-in-hand with suffering from these disorders.

I designed the series in black and red because for me, they’re the two boldest colours that there are. The black represents the illness, isolation, secrets and negativity that we face from the rest of the world; whilst the areas of red represent the glimpse of hope, which no matter how small is brighter and more predominant than the illness.

We need to stop shaking our heads and silently being at war with the uneducated comments we hear; we need to stop making peace with the idea that mental health issues aren’t as high priority as physical illness, and instead – we need to actively stand strong and fight for better.

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I hope you like them, to view the rest of my art portfolio, click here.

Guest Post for Lifeofmiblog

Here is the guest post I wrote for Michael at Lifeofmiblog earlier this week. Michael suffers with Depression and talks about this as well as many other topics on his blog – It’s fantastic, so please check it out!


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I have Borderline Personality Disorder, Cyclothymia and severe anxiety. I have these things, but it’s important to remember that I am not these things.

You cannot allow the disorders that you have become you, because you undoubtedly lose enough of yourself due to them already. BPD makes me angry, touchy and sometimes aggressive with the people around me; Cyclothymia makes me manic, depressed and all things in between; and anxiety takes away my basic human rights, with crippling fear smothering me and therefore stopping me from doing anything with my life.

These could be (and sometimes are!) soul-destroying things to live with, and so if this is the only way we can identify ourselves, what’s left? What’s the point of being here? Instead, you have to think about the things that you are, instead of the things that you have.

I am motivated and ambitious, I’m sarcastic beyond belief, and I’m creative, artistic and I’m detail-orientated in everything I do. I fall in love easy, but I don’t make good friends often; those that are in my life will be forever. I’m stubborn – way too stubborn – and don’t let arguments go as quickly as I should. But everything I do I do whole-heartedly, putting all my effort into it; and yes – I’m one of those people that are crazy enough to think they can make a difference in the world.

So instead of becoming my disorders, I try to manage these things that I have so that they don’t become a part of my being. I try to control the obstacles and hurdles that my life is constantly throwing at me; it’s not a fair war if you don’t even try to defend and protect yourself. It’s not as easy as I’d like it to be (if it was, mental illness would cease to exist), and it feels like a never-ending battle, because just when I think I have something mastered, something else comes along.

Another fear, another episode, another month where everything becomes too much.

But I keep trying, and that’s the main thing. I keep striving and pushing, waiting for the world to reward me and give me a break. I study as much as I can about my disorders, I research, read and I study for a mindfulness diploma. I learn to meditate, source remedies and techniques to practise, and I write almost every day on my blog relaying my thoughts and letting them all out of my already-cluttered-brain. I paint, I draw, I exercise, I cut out caffeine, and I make an extra effort with those I love.

Researching my disorders has given me an understanding of what’s going on in my mind which is absolutely priceless to me and mindfulness teaches me to think in the moment, not allowing the past or future to influence where I am right now. Meditation slows my breathing down alongside the absence of caffeine, helping my anxiety beyond belief. Creativity and writing makes my mind joyous, exercise makes my body joyous, and people – well they’re a support system that I wouldn’t want to do without. The biggest mistake too many of us make is pushing those that love us out of our lives.

But most of all, regardless of all these things, I remember who I am and what I am. I remind myself of all the things that make me, me. And my somewhat poor mental health definitely isn’t even a small part of that. That’s all I can do. Some may say that it’s all a distraction, but I believe it’s just a part of the journey to recovery. Like with any other illness, we’re all just looking for a cure.

Reality

Tonight I watched the film, Still Alice. I don’t wish to spoil the plot for those of you that would like to see it, but the basic premise is about a woman who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, and it’s a realistic and harrowing portrayal of what it’s like to live with the disease. As you all know, I don’t suffer from Alzheimer’s myself – and I’m under no illusions that I have any idea what it’s like to live with it – but somehow this film struck a chord with me.

It was the lack of control the character had over her brain. The way in which she so desperately wanted things to be better and normal but her mind wouldn’t allow those desires to become a reality.The constant and every day struggle and fight that was happening in her head. The helpless looks on everybody’s faces around her as they had no concept of what to do to help. The way it consumed her and stopped her from doing the things she loved the most.

And so now I lie here, in complete darkness, trying so hard to get to sleep and stop these thoughts racing through my mind. I can close my eyes for a matter of seconds before they’re wide open again, thinking about my own life and the similarities we all have to each other no matter our condition.

At one point in the film, the character bluntly states, ‘I wish I had cancer’ – a difficult sentence to comprehend to the average person. I actually watched the film with my mum, and at this point she almost laughed. I don’t know if it was shock or a nervous reflex, I didn’t ask, but I’m sure most people’s first reaction would be: how could somebody say that? How could somebody say that they want a disease that kills millions? How can somebody be that lost within themselves that that’s a thought that even passes through them?

But right now I’m not going to sit here and edit my thoughts before I write them down. I’m not going to lie or say what I’m supposed to say. Instead I’m going to say that I get it. I didn’t feel shocked or nervous when this line was read out. I felt understanding and almost comforted by the commonality between us. I know it’s a controversial thing to say; I’ve lost and am currently losing family members at the moment to the disease, and one of my best friends lost her mum to cancer just last year. It’s an awful, agonising, painful and traumatic thing to have, or to watch someone else have. I am in no way trying to belittle that and I do not at all wish that I had cancer. But I do get it. I get what she meant.

I understand what it’s like to have your illness belittled over and over again. I understand what it’s like to be made to feel ashamed of it because it’s an illness of the brain and not something ‘real’ like what cancer is. I understand what it’s like to want to die; to end it all because being here is just too damn hard, and surely cancer would just be quicker and less painful – because nothing can be as painful as this.

I can’t watch suicides/attempted suicides in films or TV programmes, and I don’t like talking about them fiction or otherwise. Everyone knows that I’m unbearably squeamish and so most of the time people assume this is why. But that’s not really it. Suicide scares me to watch or hear about or think about in any real capacity because it’s a reality for me. It’s something that I can sympathise with and although have never got to the point where I have ever carried out any suicidal thoughts, I do understand what it’s like to be in that head space. I feel it. It’s hard to explain in words but it makes me panic and my heart beats at a million miles per hour. It’s like watching someone else die a painful death due to a disease that you have yourself.

Still Alice may be about a person living with Alzheimer’s and the harsh reality that that brings, but I think that anybody suffering with any type of mental illness would find similarities between the character and themselves. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Hopefully now that these thoughts are laid out here, I can finally get some sleep! Have a great day/night – depending where you are in the world!

Home

Just a quick little update!

Today I can officially say that my second year of uni is complete – no more exams and no more reports. Which means it’s time to go home!

I’m really excited to get back and see my mum and the rest of my family and friends. My dad is actually picking me up today. Obviously as you know, transport is not my favourite thing in the world. It triggers my anxiety more than anything else.

My dad and I aren’t particularly close, and so today’s going to be a bit of a struggle. Firstly, because of just trying to fill awkward silences with meaningless conversation, but secondly because I’m less anxious around people I feel comfortable with, and sadly he is not one of those people.

It’s going to be a loooong and anxiety-riddled four hours! It’ll be worth it though I’m sure, because at the end of that four hours, I get to have cuddles with this guy!

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