My past is far from squeaky clean.

In fact I’m amazed that I managed to survive some of the things I’ve done and the lifestyle choices I’ve made.

I grew up wild, with a driving force inside me to not automatically accept everything I was told.

My attitude began as early as primary school, so I leave it to your imagination the consequences I had to face! But this didn’t stop me. My drive to NOT conform was overwhelming, especially to rules that made no sense to me.

When my anxiety began

In my late teens and early 20’s, the struggle between this unknown force, societal norms and peer pressure sent me spinning out of control.

In my attempt to curb my behaviour, and somehow trying to find a place for myself I became more and more anxious and unhappy. For a number of years I fluctuated between attempted conforming and the absolute opposite.

Too much time spent in conforming territory left me confused and not knowing how to manage this roller coaster ride that had become my life.

How it began to affect my everyday

Sleep was scarce and I’d lie awake for hours at night thinking all sorts of things. I know now my brain was malfunctioning but at the time I had no idea what was happening.

My work was affected, my ability to connect with friends and family deteriorated because I feared everyone was judging me and would chastise me.

I knew something was not right but I couldn’t figure out how to get back to a safe place inside me.

Life seemed pretty hopeless and I recall, many times, wondering if my life was worthy of living in it. I felt so alone and lonely. I became desperate.

A cocktail of anxiety and depression

Hindsight is a wonderful gift and I now realise I was probably suffering from a combination of anxiety and depression. Inside me was a mixture of tension, so intense I thought I would die from the pain, or there was a fog so thick I could hardly move.

The sheer confusion, the pin-balling of emotions and sensations was terrifying. It’s here that many people fool themselves into thinking that drugs and alcohol will provide the fix. It’s true, they can feel as though they help for a short time but then they easily become the standard ‘go-to’ in order to simply get through a standard day.

Anxiety medication and a call for help

I finally reached my lowest point and realised I needed help.

Initially I was told I needed medicating and that I would probably be on medication for the rest of my life.

To me this gave the message that I was flawed and beyond redemption but I knew this wasn’t the truth. It may have been truth for the person delivering the prognosis but it certainly was not the truth for me.

I managed to find the advice I needed from someone who was willing to help me step through this darkness inside. He was a GP and he recommended I go on some medication – NOT forever, just for a short time while I got some sleep, began to settle and re-gather some sense of myself.

Mental health support group

He recommended I join a group of similar sufferers for support. My first thought was: there’s other people out there just like me? I’m not alone? Hallelujah!

This wasn’t an easy road but it was the one I had chosen. The road I wanted to take to get ‘me’ back. To this day I still attend self-development courses and spiritual retreats and continue to learn about how to open up to be a better me.

Symptoms of anxiety – how it felt for me

My experiences felt both the mild and extreme forms of anxiety and depression. The mild was where I could still function in my daily life and share some issues with people, and the extreme was where I couldn’t function, couldn’t go to work, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t talk to anyone and became more and more isolated.

Anxiety and depression can be present at any time in our lives and in my experience they can sometimes co-mingle.

Symptoms include changes in sleep patterns over time and feelings of anxiousness which are continuous after a stressor (or trigger) has passed. A tightening in the chest and throat, tummy aches, and inconsistent or erratic thought patterns are also signs. Keep in mind, however; that while these are symptoms in varying degrees, they are not conclusive of having anxiety.

Depression feels like a thick fog

Depression can sometimes present similarly to anxiety, although there is a more sense of living in a thick fog.

Some people describe the sensation as trying to drag their bodies through thick mud. A dullness that is so overwhelming the sense of wanting to sink into it and fully surrender can be overwhelming.

As with anxiety, our usual sleeping, eating and everyday living becomes affected. The more the impact on our lives and the lives of those around us, the deeper we may be heading into an unhealthy place.

Anxiety no longer gets the better of me

All those years ago I took the recommended medication and as I began to improve I was gradually weaned off it.

The stronger I became and the less reliant on external pick-me-ups, the more I realised that my feeling of aloneness and isolation was self-imposed because of the anxiety that was developing in my own mind.

My family and friends had always been there for me, unconditionally, and I found new connections with people who really understood where I was at without judging or chastising me.

I now understand that it is okay to be flawed. Flawed doesn’t mean beyond repair. It’s simply a rubbish patch in life that needs to be de-cluttered.

Ask for help

It’s really tough to take those first few steps to ask for help and support but when there’s someone there to catch you and pick you up, it begins to restore faith in yourself and then in others.

What can start off with fairly innocent anxiety and depression symptoms can quickly spin out of control. Not seeking support and remaining isolated can compound the problem. I know it did for me – the longer I put off asking for help the worse my symptoms became.

It took me years to realise that I had the strength and courage to reach out to get help. I’m glad I did.

This experience has helped shaped the person I am today and I know how hard the journey is. I also know it’s a mountain that’s not impossible to climb.

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