My Anxious Mind
Growing up I was a normal teenage girl. I had friend drama, fancied boys, spent hours on my hair and had spots. I occasionally bunked off school, went out whilst underage and tapped my parents for money. My point here is that anyone can have anxiety. It doesn't make you any less 'normal'.
At the tender age of 19, I found out I was pregnant. I have always been a worrier and this blow sent my mind into overdrive. How was I going to tell my dad? What would I do about my job? Can I afford a baby? But most of all, how can I be a mum when I am still a child myself?
This news scared the hell out of me, but I knew with my man by my side, we could do anything! And we would get through it together. When I was 6 months pregnant, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He collapsed on a number of occasions, and was unable to use his right leg for long periods of time. Thus meaning he could not work. He was signed off by the doctor and soon made redundant. I was now 8 and a half months pregnant, as big as a house in the height of summer, and providing for us on maternity pay. Any of you who have had a child will know this is not enough to provide for a household. I believe this is when my anxiety started. My worries later lead to depression. But I am writing this because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know it can not always be seen, and some days are darker, but hang in there. Better days are coming.
This hub is about my real life experiences. I am not a professional in any way. But I have real feelings, and I know there are others out there who feel that they are alone, and no one understands, I have been there.
It is now 7 years down the line, we are married, with a beautiful little boy. We have our own business, and I work full time. I have had various episodes of anxiety, and this time I have been having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I only have 2 sessions left and I am scared, but hopeful!
My First Experience
I went back to work full time when our son was only 4 months old. We were struggling financially and my way of dealing with my husband's illness was basically to ignore it and believe everything was going to be fine. I took the role as 'The Strong One'. Working full time, with a baby and a partner who was back and forth to hospital and struggling to find a treatment which didn't make him worse, proved harder than I thought. My anxiety and depression started then. I wouldn't socialise with anyone, sometimes not even my partner really. I often arrived home from work at 5.30pm, would make dinner for us all, bathed our son and put him to bed and then went to bed myself. I didn't have the energy or the want to talk, even to make small chit-chat, or discuss our days. I wanted to sleep (which mum doesn't) much more than usual. I hated leaving the house alone incase I bumped into....well anyone really.
It took me a very long time, and endless nights in tears, before I agreed to go to my GP. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't cope, that I needed help because all I could think was that I was a failure and I honestly believed everyone else thought the same.
My GP wanted to sign me off work first of all, give me some time to relax. But there was no way we could afford that. After speaking with my partner and going over and over the same worries in my head I decided to try dropping one day a week, it left us with enough money for the month (most of the time) and allowed me to spend more time with the two people I loved most. The people who were in the firing line of my mood swings and tearfulness. The people who were always there for me regardless of how hard I became to live with. My boys <3
I also started on anti depression pills. I forget now what they were called, but with a family who needed me back to my old self and not the quivering mess I had become, I needed a quick fix. They made me feel worse at first, which is often the case with this type of medication, I continued to go to bed at 8pm. I cut myself off from friends because I wouldn't go and visit them, and in turn they got sick of making the effort and stopped visiting me. I became an introvert and felt my days were routine, not an experience anymore. After a couple of weeks I started to notice an increase in my energy, and in turn, my mood.
I made more of an effort with my appearance again, I contacted my friends and made social commitments, I went for days out with the boys, I walked the dog. All things I was struggling with before the medicine. I continued taking it for a couple of months before waking up one day and thinking 'what do I actually have to be sad about?'. I had a healthy boy, a roof over our heads, food on the table and my partners health was improving daily. I was lucky, I shouldn't be down about any of it. So I stopped the pills. And I was just fine, for a little while.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is very hard to explain. There are many different types, and it effects everyone in slightly different ways.
Anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints, and rumination. It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events, such as the feeling of imminent death. Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat, whereas anxiety is the expectation of future threat. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, uneasiness, and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue and problems in concentration. Anxiety can be appropriate, but when experienced regularly the individual may suffer from an anxiety disorder.
It is possible to only have one 'episode' of anxiety and never be effected again. Or, like myself, it can rear its ugly head at anytime. And it may take a while to figure out what has triggered it. It can often be linked to stressful experience, whether it be at home, school or work. It may only effect you during social situations, or your everyday life. Everyone is different. People with anxiety are often seen as 'over-reacting', however it is hard to stop the hypothetical worries that something is always going to go wrong. There is no minimum or maximum age, you don't have to be a certain gender. It can effect anyone. And can change you from an outgoing, in your face, socialite - into a complete hobbit who is scared to leave the house. It sucks. But it wont always be this way, promise. :)
What treatment have you received?
My second major episode came only 12 months after I came off the medication. I felt I was balancing my work and home life well. We had moved house and things were looking up. My partner was still not in paid work but was doing bits and bobs for family and friends when possible. However the move to a bigger town (albeit the town I worked in, had gone to school in and knew very well) set me off again. I started to despise my job, I wanted to look for a new one but the sheer thought of going somewhere new, meeting new people and starting all over again scared the hell out of me. And it wasn't just mental symptoms any more. I would get emotional over any little thing, whether that be teary and upset or irrational and aggressive. I could go from one extreme to the other in seconds - as if someone just flicked a switch. And it wasn't over anything I would usually react to, it could be a dirty cup left on the table, a job not being done on my day off. Anything that I would usually take into my stride and not have an issue with became a massive deal to me. It put a strain on my relationship and left us arguing a lot. I knew I had to seek help and quickly if I was going to save my family.
My GP referred me to a counsellor. I attended every couple of weeks and we talked about all sorts. This man only knew what I wanted to tell him. What I was ready to share. But he was a professional, and knew exactly what questions to ask to make me come to some realisations on my own. I noticed that I had began to feel tense and anxious again as things had settled in my life. I didn't understand why at first. I mean, surely if everything was going well, I should have been happier? But the more I went to counselling, the more I realised that I had put off dealing with everything that had been thrown at us - which had set me off in the first place. Taking the medication had provided a quick fix, but I hadn't actually dealt with any of the issues that had effected me.
Not only was I the main provider for my family, who I would work myself to the ground to provide for, I had a tough labour with our son. We were both lucky to be alive, and I was touch and go for the first 12 hours of his life. I had lost a lot of blood and passed out soon after he was born. I didn't remember much of that first 24 hours at all. Just wires, drips and voices. I hadn't had time to dwell on it or think about how it made me feel because that little boy needed me to survive. And like I do, I ignored it and kept going for him. Going to counselling and talking about what had happened, made me realise again how lucky I was to be here and to have my boys with me.
We then moved on to my partner and his illness. I had been so set on keeping him going, telling him it was going to be ok, that I had pushed the fact that one day it wont be ok to the back of my mind. I knew what MS did to people. I knew deep down that one day he was going to depend on me for everything. But I never really acknowledged the fact. I had suppressed it, and been strong and pushed myself for so long that when things started to calm, my body and mind obviously thought I was ready to deal with it. And it had tipped me again.
The counselling helped me come to terms with what had happened in the past, and what could happen in the future. I started to think more rationally again and instead of being panicked, I felt more calm. After 4 months I felt able to analyse things alone and was discharged from my counselling sessions. My anxiety had passed and I was looking forward to making the most of our future as a family.
My 5 Year Break
Everything soon went back to normal. I was happier in myself, we were happier as a family and my partner had found a steady treatment that was helping calm his symptoms. Financially we were good, we would go on family days out and were really enjoying being together. I found my confidence again and changed my job. I was promoted within the company after 10 months and my partner returned to work. Our son started school and we had a whole network of support to help us with child care, allowing us to both work full time.
My partner was happier because he was working towards something again. He thrived and I was so proud of how strong he was. Not only had he dealt with an illness himself, he had supported me through mine, and provided me with endless support. He was, and still is, my hero.
After many years of ups and downs, we finally felt we were in a good place, and set a date to get married. We gave ourselves just over a year and did little bits each month to spread the cost. After being engaged six and a half years, we were finally going to be wed. All the preparations kept me physically and mentally busy. In the time of planning our wedding, my sister and best friend also got married. I was bridesmaid for them, and they were my bridesmaids too. We did a lot together and it made the whole process so much easier because we could share ideas and suppliers. We helped each other out a lot. I was surprised with all the stress of THREE weddings, I was ok.
My parents moved 200 miles away 9 months before the wedding. I missed them a lot. I had gone to see my mum on most of my days off as they previously only lived 10 minutes down the road, and it was hard not seeing her. We skyped a lot and we visited each other a number of times before the wedding. My mother-in-law to be came to dress fittings with me as my mum couldn't make it. Neither of my parents saw me in my wedding dress until the day. Which was nice in a way, it made me much more emotional seeing their reactions though. But there were thoughts creeping back in. Me reading too far into little things. I was upset that they chose to move away after my sister was married, but in the lead up to mine, their first born. I was a daddy's girl, and just the thought of my leading man walking me down the isle brought tears of joy to my eyes. But I felt hard done by, I guess, my parents weren't there to share every aspect of my wedding like they had been with my sister. Were they not happy for me? Was I a disappointment because I'd had a baby at 19 and not married first? Looking back these things still worry me, but I would never voice them. Maybe I'm too scared of the answers.
During the lead up to the wedding, myself and one of my bridesmaids had a falling out. I had started off with 4. My sister, and my 3 closest fiends. One of which was planning her own wedding, another was having a baby due only 6 weeks before our big day, and one I had called my best friend for 8 years. She was the first to visit when I gave birth, she'd pop in almost every day to see us when no one else really made an effort. Through my depression she had been there, we had been so close, inseparable, until then. We drifted apart, she had gotten closer to others, and in turn I had grown closer to the other 3 bridesmaids. They all had their own things going on, but they managed to make time for me, and put just as much effort into helping me with everything. But she never. My mind was in overdrive. Asking myself stupid questions, hypothetical I am sure. But I could control it, it didn't stop me doing anything and I had so much on I could continue with the 'everyday'. When her dress had arrived she came to try it on, but stayed for all of 30 minutes. I just didn't feel like she cared anymore. And I felt unfair on the 3 girls that had helped plan every aspect of my perfect day, who had helped me make invitations, planned my hen party, been shopping with me. So I told her I thought it was best if she just came as a guest. She never turned up.
Our wedding day was amazing. I felt like the happiest girl in the world. I waited 8 years to marry this man, my best friend, my rock, my soul mate. I cried a stupid amount, out of sheer happiness. After everything that had been thrown our way, we were officially in it for life. He took me away to London for a couple of days after the wedding and it was just amazing, to spend time together as a couple and not just parents, and discover something new together.
We booked our official honeymoon for 3 months later. A week in Egypt. Any longer than that without my baby and I think I might have broken down. Two weeks after the wedding I was promoted at work again. I was in a position that I had worked towards for a year, the pay was better and I really thought married life was proving to be great for me! I worked none stop in the time between London and Egypt. I had four days off before we flew to spend with the little one, now 6 years old. Two days before we were due to leave, I ended up in hospital. I had extreme stomach pain, and had collapsed. At first the doctors suspected that I had appendicitis. They starved me incase I needed surgery and told me I wouldn't be able to fly if that was the case. Now considering I hadn't been abroad in 5 years, I was adamant I was going. Surgery or no surgery, nothing was stopping me from lying on a beach drinking cocktails for a week. After a night in the hospital, being poked and prodded, assessed by multiple doctors and surgeons, the pain killers obviously kicked in and I decided I was going home. I wasn't wasting any more time in there when I could have been at home with my little boy. And I discharged myself. I made sure I had plenty of pain killers at home to keep me going, and left. I had a few twinges whilst we were away but nothing major, and me and my husband had an amazing time. We did water sports, swam with wild dolphins, made new friends, got drunk and chilled on the beach. It was just perfect. But that's when it all started again. My worst episode to date.
How long have you gone between intense feelings of anxiety?
Upon our return from Egypt, I started with multiple physical symptoms of stress. I had spots that randomly appeared on my body. They were on my legs, arms and torso. I started having night sweats and found it increasingly difficult to get to and stay asleep. This in turn made me grumpy. We began the Christmas Season at work, by far our busiest time of year. I was working long days and didn't get a lot of quality time at home. I had a few visits to my GP again who knew about my background and my husband's illness and the effect it had all had on me. She again wanted to sign me off but the thought made me worse. I panicked about how we would afford the house and the bills, what would my boss think? Would I loose my job? Would they think I couldn't cope? I persevered and had monthly check ins with my doctor. When work settled after Christmas, I started falling back into my anxiety patterns. But worse than it had ever been before.
I started to close myself off from people again. I would sit in my own little bubble and often not realise when my husband or son were talking to me. I hated leaving the house, my chest would tighten and I felt like I couldn't breathe. It would take me hours to build up the courage to walk to the shop for bread. The simplest of tasks became so difficult. I would experience tunnel vision, I barely slept. Sometimes I wouldn't even open the back door if our neighbour was outside because I simply didn't want to talk. I would sit in silence watching box sets on my days off. I didn't have the energy to tidy the house, I almost ran back from the school run because I couldn't stand to be outside. My husband was having a tough time at work and decided to set up on his own. Him and his dad set up a sister company to the garage his dad already owned and he handed in his notice. As he was home a bit more he started to notice the change in me. When I didn't leave the house alone, except for work, for over two weeks he persuaded me to go back to my doctor.
She believed it was all linked. That perhaps the stress of a wedding and my new role at work had effected me and now I had nothing to focus on, my adrenaline wasn't carrying me though anymore. Everything had crashed down and I was physically and mentally drained. My constant fighting with myself had left me exhausted. I wanted to be the happy, outgoing 26 year old I used to be. Not the shy, quiet, nervous girl who longed for the comfort and security of her pyjamas. The doctor sent me back to the counselling support and I agreed to try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
As my symptoms were far worse this time I tried to explain how I was feeling to my husband. But it was hard for him to understand. To him it was easy, just open the door and leave. Just get up and get dressed. Just call them and meet up. He didn't get the inner turmoil I had. It was exhausting, constantly fighting with yourself. I wanted to be the strong, independent woman I once was. But I couldn't do it. My mood swings became worse, possibly because I was mad at myself for letting this happen again. I started my therapy, my first telephone assessment and face to face consultation involved a number of tears, tissues and questions I couldn't answer.
Each session would start with a questionnaire on how I had been feeling over the previous two weeks. I had to rate how often I had certain thoughts or feelings, how likely it was that I would avoid situations, and how often it would effect my family, home and work life. The one place I could hide underneath a smile, and pretend all was right with the world was work. They didn't need to know, mainly because I was petrified of what that may entail. It all boiled down to me loosing my job because they thought I couldn't cope, then I wouldn't be able to support my family and we would have to move and I liked it here....and my mind wondered onto the endless possibilities of what, would probably never happen. I would prattle on inside my head like an American teenager in one of those sitcoms that talks at 50mph and shortens everything to OMG, Totes, Jell-Y or DTF. And somehow loose my breath and become tight chested and panicky.
It is only when you really look into what you haven't been doing that you realise it. I would waste my entire time off in front of the TV, watching box sets on Entourage, Son's of Anarchy and New Girl. I let myself think about what it would be like to live in a world like those, and not in the black hole I was stuck in. I wouldn't eat but not notice until I went to bed. The house was a mess and I just did not have the energy to do anything about it. I didn't go out, and dreaded people popping in. I had literally become someone who went to work, and went home. Not talking, seeing or socialising with anyone. And I didn't care. I was quite happy doing that. I liked my time alone wo not really think about everything, but when I did, I would get so upset. I would long for our son to finish school, or my husband to finish work. I needed comforting, no words, just a cuddle. A validation that I meant something to someone, but as soon as they were back, I'd wish I was alone again. I'd get aggravated and annoyed at nothing. Spend hours in the shower just for the peace and quiet. And I hated it. I loved these boys more than anything in the world and I hated the person I was becoming. The person I was forcing them to live with. I hated my weak mind, that just couldn't think about things logically. I hated me.
I lived in my pyjamas or sweat pants, didn't make much effort to look nice. Some days I didn't brush my hair. I barely spoke, when I did I was probably twinging about something. Speaking to my counsellor I knew I had to be honest. I let it all spill out and I sounded like a cow. I wouldn't have wanted to be around me. I was a horrible person. And I knew right then that any advice this woman could give me I was going to take and I was going to get 'better'.
Over my 6 sessions of behavioural therapy so far, we have looked at a number of different things. We started with depression, how it effects your mood, thinking, physical symptoms and the effects on interacting with other people. I am pretty sure if I hadn't have got the support when I did, depression was my next step, lets face it I was well on my way. We looked at thought processes and how this could effect your mood. The more you had on, and the more stress you are under can often mean the more snappy you become. We looked at ways to change your thought process though a worry tree. Was it a worry I could control? How could I change this worry, what was my action plan? If I couldn't do anything about it I had to just let it go.
I kept a worry diary. I would write down what I had found myself worrying about and when, and rate my anxiety and mood out of 10. I felt this helped a lot. Writing down why I was getting worked up and then looking back on it and thinking, well it wasn't so bad. Or I got though it made me feel like I was making progress. We started working on postponing your worry. Setting an hour aside a day to go through what had been worrying you, you worry about it and at the end of the hour you just stop. I found this difficult with shift work, family life and general fatigue, and I found it hard to switch off. I wrote it all down still, but somethings you cant put off until 7pm, I wanted to worry about it there and then!
I had a blip. I freaked out in the middle of a food shop on my own and had to leave my trolley and shopping in the middle of the store. I ran to the car and cried. I felt pathetic. What sort of person cant walk around a shop and put things in a trolley on their own without constant thinking that people are looking at you? They are noticing your knuckles turning white because you're gripping the handle so hard! Your breathing becomes shorter, sharper, and you start to get light headed. I felt like a failure. A few days later, at work, my operations manager called and said I sounded really chirpy. She told me I had been a little snappy the week before and asked if everything was ok. I was feeling really emotional. I was teary, I felt down. And it all came flooding out. I needed it, to speak to someone who was a working mum, who understood the pressures I felt, who didn't make me feel like I was a hopeless mess. Instead she said she admired me. When I told her it had been 6 months and I was getting help and I could cope with my job I was just having some personal issues, she couldn't believe that I hadn't told her, but also that I had managed to hide it and not let it effect my performance. I walked away from our chat feeling like a massive weight had been lifted. We sat down the next day and told my Head of Department, so that I had some support should I feel myself wobbling at all. I didn't feel I would need it because I had managed to do every task at work without my anxiety effecting me, but it was nice to know it was there.
I then started on increasing my social activities. I had to plan in some routine, pleasurable and necessary activities. And try to even the balance, instead of me now making my husband take our son to school, so that I could stay in bed, and then cleaning the house in every spare waking minute I had. Some activities were nice to put in, things I enjoyed, but I still only went when I was with someone else. Going it alone was too much at this point.
I found this helped me a lot. To look back over the change in six weeks, the amount of things I was going out and doing. I started the school run again. and eventually I asked a work collegue that I hadn't seen in a while to coffee, and I walked to meet them. This was so unheard of because of my wild imagination, I had to take the car, it was close, I could escape and I could pretend I was looking for my car keys in my bag if I saw someone I didn't want to speak to. Plus it got me home and safe quicker. When they asked where I was parked and I said 'oh no, I walked down', I couldn't stop a proud smile when I saw the shock in their face. I was moving forward. One step at a time.
My counsellor seamed to think so too. She saw activities on my diary that I hadn't done in the three months I had been seeing her. I still worried over things but not to the extent I used to, because I had learnt to change the way I think. Getting out more and seeing more people had left me feeling happier. My time off work seamed longer each week because I was packing more in and not just sitting on my bum, contemplating life.
My sleep pattern has not really improved so we have started to work on that. Re-training my body and mind to go to sleep and not lie awake, clock watching and then shouting at myself because its late and I should be asleep!! I only have 2 sessions left. I am scared, and not 100% sure I am ready, but I want to try. I have come so far and I wont stop until I have this thing under control.
- Self Help for Anxiety
Self Help for Anxiety using CBT
- Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) - Psychotherapy, Research, Training
This link has a number of the info sheets I have used within my treatment. I felt writing things down, it like recording your feelings. You can look back later and think 'but I feel better than that now'.