Anxiety is something that sadly I’ve become all too familiar with in the last year. After a turbulent time in our lives as a family: relocating and an accident involving one of the kids, I was left wrung out emotionally and trying to bounce back. But it was starting back in full time work in a new place that really took things to a new level. The constant juggling of motherhood and work, not to mention the demands, scrutiny and negativity in the workplace, ground me down to the point where I was having panic attacks at the weekend, dreading Monday coming round. I lived in constant fear and guilt and by the time January rolled around I was in need of help badly.
When I look back at the time since that day in fateful January when I had my ‘breakdown’ part of it feels surreal, like it didn’t happen. It was like I was present in body but not in mind. It took some months to recover but with the support of an amazing doctor and even more amazing family and friends I have got back to ‘normal’. In fact, probably better than normal because I have something else to be proud of: I beat my anxiety.
Sadly things didn’t stay running that smoothly, and it is normal to have ups and downs. At the start of summer I suffered a burst appendix that landed me in hospital. I was on the back foot getting ready for our holiday, getting behind with deadlines and felt like crap. There were some other issues with one of the children and suddenly I was spiralling back down. My thoughts developed voices again, loud voices, that repeated themselves over and over again, filling my head with frightening thoughts and reasons to feel guilty, grinding down every ounce of confidence I had just got back. I spent the first weekend of September going through wave after wave of panic attack and eventually took to my bed exhausted and emotional. But I’d been there before and I knew what I had to do: be brave, reach out and get help: beat back the monster.
This experience of the ups and downs of mental health has prompted me to write this post as a reminder to myself that I can beat back my anxiety every time it rears its ugly head. And if perhaps you are reading this because you’ve felt its grip too, I want you to know you are not alone. I get how you’re feeling. This is your reminder that you know what you have to do to turn the tide back in your favour.
Recognise that you are struggling and see your doctor
They will help you choose the right course of action whether that is tablets, CBT or something else. If you don’t feel the doctor has been helpful then see a different one. All doctors have their strengths and weaknesses, they are human after all. If you are already under your doctors care for anxiety then go back and see them and let them know it’s not working. They need you to feed back to them so that they can give you the best individual care.
Follow your doctor’s instructions
I found it hard starting on anti-depressants as it made me even more anxious for a week before I got used to them. It was worth persevering though because I could almost feel them working after that. The panic attacks subsided within a couple of weeks. If the doctor recommends CBT or counselling then do it. I was recommended a 6 week online course which I did diligently. Some of it was obvious and it would be easy to scorn such a thing, but buy into it, it will actually help.
Consider some private counselling
I saw someone a couple of times, a life coach in fact, and she made me see that this unfortunate episode was not something that was going to define me. I was fine before and I’ll be fine afterwards. She really empowered me to turn this situation into an opportunity. I found our sessions really uplifting and something I’d highly recommend.
Take some time out and do something for yourself
I ended up needing to take time off work when I was really ill but if that is not where you’re at just make sure to take sometime out, everyday if you can, to do things for yourself. I discovered that dog walking, doing puzzles, gardening and crafting brought me peace and helped me to feel a sense of accomplishment each day. I know people who swear by going out for runs as the adrenaline gives them a buzz and they can lose themselves in the run so not think about other things. Some form of exercise is good and stretch your brain as well as your body.
Get plenty of sleep
I know I am so much more anxious when I am tired and then being anxious makes me tireder. I had to find a way to break the cycle and tried a herbal sleep remedy, which helped, but it was a conversation with my sister in law that led me to listening to podcasts at night. There is no quicker way to drift off to sleep than listening to the latest Brexit update!
Give up alcohol
It is so so easy to reach for the wine to take the edge off a day spent on pins, I have done that on countless occasions too. But it doesn’t help the next day and it can become a vicious cycle of reaching for a drink again. Either cut it down dramatically or give it up for a while and see if it helps.
Talk to people
The best thing I did was speak out about how I was feeling. One wet morning on the school run I stood in the playground not talking to anyone (as usual) when another mum struck up a conversation with me. A few days later I spoke to the same mum again. She asked me what I did and I said, ashamedly, I was off work with anxiety and stress at the moment. Then she said the most amazing thing, “I’ve been there too. If you want a coffee and a chat just let me know.” I did and we’ve been great friends since and I’ve learned not to be ashamed. People being off with stress happens more commonly than I believed and the more I spoke out about my anxiety the more people told me their struggles too. From my nearest and dearest to the stranger in school yard, I talked to people honestly and in return I got so much support back.
Anxiety is not going to define me. It is just a little part of me. I will use it in its good forms to take extra care when necessary and to give me adrenaline to perform well when I need to. But apart from that it is not welcome here, there is too much living that needs doing first.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
– Maya Angelou