I’m not quite sure how to start this post, mainly because it’s going to be extremely personal, and also because it’s regarding the ~taboo~ subject of mental health. I would like to state now that I am in no way a mental health professional and I never ended up going to see anyone regarding my own anxiety, this is just an account of my own personal experience with mental health issues.
I would also like to mention a trigger warning of anxiety, death and panic attacks.
Mental health is an extremely important issue. It’s something that has started to be talked about publicly, but still not enough.
The recent deaths of Avicii, Dale Winton and Verne Troyer have all heavily suggested that it was a result of suicide due to depression and other mental health issues. It was after I heard about their passing that I began think more about my own experience and how I could help to break the taboo by simply talking about my experiences and being open and honest about them.
So, here we go.
As long as I can remember, there’s always been one thing that scares me. Death. The idea of death and dying literally makes me freeze. When I was younger I remember thinking about what it’s like to be dead, a big black hole of nothingness. Trying to imagine blackness forever is the most terrifying thing to me. I don’t know where this started from or why, it’s just always been something that has really, really got to me. Now, of course, when I was younger I didn’t think about death a lot and therefore it wasn’t really a huge issue for me.
Everything changed when a close family friend died in October 2015. She had been ill for a number of years after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
When she became really ill, I got the chance to visit her in a hospice and say goodbye. That night, I was at work when I found out that sadly, she had passed away. I immediately burst into tears and obviously left to join my family at home.
The funeral was good, as good as a funeral could be. It was a celebration of her life and afterwards everyone crowded into the local community centre that she was involved in and got the chance to have a bit of a ‘party’.
Although this isn’t the first death I had experienced, it was the first time I really felt it and had something missing from my life.
At the time, I was working at a hotel in the town centre. Everyday my bus would drive past the bottom of her street, and I would think about her. This would then get me thinking about death. A lot. I started noticing that every time I got on that bus my heart would start to race, my hands would get sweaty and I’d feel lightheaded.
The more I paid attention to this feeling, the more overwhelming it would become. It got so bad that for about six months I would get a panic attack every time I got on any type of transport – bus, car or train. My fear wasn’t based on me thinking that I was going to die right there on that bus or whatever. It was purely based on the fact that I will die one day and that thought would often spiral into a panic attack. It’s really hard to describe it, but it was kind of like I’d taken of the rose-tinted glasses and realised my own mortality. I guess I was experiencing an existential crisis.
If you’ve never had a panic attack before, it’s extremely hard to explain and everyone experiences it differently. For me, it felt like I had left my body and I couldn’t feel anything. Ironically, it kind of felt like I was dying, like I was leaving my body behind. It was like I wasn’t there anymore and I had to bring myself back to reality, I think this is why a lot of people suggest that you should distract yourself with your own senses. One tip I’ve read about is listing 5 things you can see, 5 you can hear, 5 you can feel etc. I think this is meant to distract you but also ground you too, if that makes sense.
Another thing that I experienced was the impulse to run. I don’t know why. But every time I was sat on that damn bus I had the urge to get off before my stop and just run and run. I never did, maybe because I’m lazy, but there was something in me that made me want to just fucking sprint. I’m no psychologist or anything, but I wonder if that’s to do with the flight or fight concept.
So here I was, coming home from work everyday after experiencing a panic attack on the bus. I would hide in my room every night. I didn’t eat, purely because the anxiety would build up in me so much that I would physically feel sick at the thought of food. In a couple of months I lost about a stone in weight without trying. I remember my mum literally making me eat a piece of toast in front of her once because I refused to eat dinner, because I physically couldn’t.
My thoughts spiralled out of control. I would think about things that would only make it worse. I would think about my parents dying and them not being around. I remember thinking to myself, right I’ve probably lived a quarter of my life already, it’s gone so fast, the next thing you know, you’ll be old and then dead and that’s it.
At this point I hadn’t really told anyone what was going on in my head. It wasn’t until one day after work, after having a panic attack on the bus of course, I came into the house and burst into tears because I literally just couldn’t deal with feeling like this anymore. Imagine being scared to leave the house because you don’t know what will spin your brain out of control.
Luckily my mum works with kids with mental health conditions so she at least had some idea what to do. We talked about it and I tried to explain how I was feeling, which resulted in me having another panic attack.
Things became really shit. I didn’t want to go to work or see my family or see my friends or do anything to be honest. I also didn’t want to go to a doctor because I was convinced that I could overcome it myself.
The point that I truly remember thinking that things had to change, was very random. I was out for dinner with my boyfriend at a pretty fancy restaurant. We had to get the train there so I was feeling extremely anxious. So anxious in fact, that of course, I didn’t want to eat anything. I sat there, feeling miserable, not being able to hold a conversation because I was so distracted by my shitty thoughts. We ended up arguing because we just didn’t understand each other, my boyfriend sat there not knowing what to do or say to help and I just wanted him to understand what I was going through. It was that point where I thought to myself, I am literally ruining my relationships because of this.
Now, this wasn’t like a eureka moment where everything was suddenly clear and happy and fine. It just meant that I stopped avoiding it. I stopped avoiding my thoughts, I stopped cancelling plans and forced myself to do things even if I felt like shit. I also downloaded an app called Headspace, which is actually amazing, and I highly recommend.
I slowly started feeling better and the panic attacks became less frequent. It was at this point that me and my boyfriend decided to go travelling.
Travelling was the best thing I ever did. I started to appreciate things again, I fell in love with adventures and exploring new places. I’m not going to pretend it magically ~cured~ me. But it has been nearly two years since my last panic attack.
As I mentioned in my last post, sadly, the day after I returned home from travelling my uncle suddenly passed away. It was fucking horrible to be honest and I haven’t really accepted it yet. However, from a selfish point, I was worried that this would bring me right back to rock bottom. Luckily, I haven’t experienced the same reaction as last time. I even made the last minute decision on the day of his funeral to see his body. I chose to do this for a number of reasons, the main was to say goodbye and also convince myself that it was real. I also did it to face my fear, for now, it’s the closest I’ll get to death.
I do still get panicky, but not very often and not to that extent. I’m still absolutely terrified of death, but, I’ve started to very slowly accept it and to be honest I just try not to think about it.
There is one positive thing to come from it, I think that I appreciate life so much more. I want to see the world and live my life to the fullest- cliched but true. Which I guess is why I am now randomly living in Iceland. So that’s something!
Now, this is just my story. I’m not suggesting in any way that this is how everyone will experience anxiety. I also do highly encourage people to talk to their family/friends or whoever. Talking about it is scary, but it also gets some of those thoughts out of your head.
I’m very lucky that I never got to the point of feeling suicidal or wanting to hurt myself, but please, if you or anyone you know does feel like that, talk to a professional, a friend or call someone like the Samaritans – but whatever you do, don’t just keep it to yourself because it will manifest and grow and take over your life.
I hope this has helped you understand one small aspect of my mental health, and if you are experiencing something similar, just know you are not alone.
Thank you for reading.