Anxiety doesn’t define me

Anxiety is not linear, nor one dimensional and it affects people in different ways. My experience with anxiety started when I was a child. I would not go to sleepovers as I was anxious that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I was also anxious in school and didn’t really mix with other kids particularly. I was bullied my whole school life. When I was a teenager I suffered very badly with anxiety, I would avoid situations I didn’t feel safe in and hide in my room a lot.

As an adult my anxiety has been up and down but it is more prevalent than when I was a teenager; but I can certainly manage it better now. I have been through things that have made it worse over the years and found ways to manage it and mask it when I need to. It can present as anything from hyperventilating, shaking, and crying to not being able to speak and internalising everything.

– Holly

Having a supportive workplace has been extremely helpful. I am so grateful that I have a supportive manager who is aware of the signs of anxiety and what helps me. It’s also reassuring to know that I am not going to be in trouble if I have a panic attack as this bizarrely enough was a real fear in my previous workplace.

It’s always surprising to me how many workplaces profess to be supportive of mental health but when it comes down to it they are far from it. I remember one workplace where I was told one morning I was being assessed that day – I had no prior knowledge and it was a learn on the job scenario. This made me very anxious, and I was not sure exactly what I was supposed to be doing and had no time to prepare. I tried my hardest and when I had to go out of the room to do something I found a quiet corner in the staff room and burst into tears. I went back to try to complete the assessment but the assessor lacked empathy. Afterwards, I got called to the manager’s office where I was told off for crying and getting upset. I left that day because I knew that the workplace I was in wasn’t supportive and my mental health comes first.

Anxiety and panic attacks can happen and it is important to understand that it is okay. As with physical ill health, workplaces should be accommodating and supportive of mental ill health.

My anxiety does still go up and down and there are some days where I cannot bring myself to do anything and just want to hide in bed and there are other times when I can mask it or ignore it to a degree.

– Holly

Personally, I have not ever been to talking therapies for my anxiety as I have huge past trauma around mental health professionals. I also don’t feel like I need to be on anti-anxiety medication. It’s all about what works for people on an individual basis. But it is important to make those decisions for yourself – it is all about choice and personal autonomy. I would encourage anyone who needs support to reach out because there is no shame in wanting or needing support. I have got my ‘safe’ people and places, who I can talk to or go to if I need to, and I do have a friend who I have been going to for years and I feel completely safe talking to her. It’s all about what works for people on an individual basis and what they feel safe with.

In my toughest moments with anxiety, I have found that diaphragmatic breathing helps a lot, also comforting things like lavender or frankincense oil are very soothing. A perhaps underrated way of helping is crying – this is both healthy and cathartic. For me, writing things down has been important – it has helped me make sense of my experiences and process things. I have written a book about my experiences and how I see the world and I found it a very challenging yet empowering experience. Aside from activities that help me understand and reduce my anxiety, there is one person who has helped in a big way. Criminal Psychologist, Emma Kenny, has a range of mental health videos and live clinics where she talks about the impact of anxiety and ways to manage it.

I do still struggle with anxiety, and it has always been in my life. I have learnt it’s okay to not do something or go somewhere if I don’t feel safe. My experience with anxiety won’t be the same as someone else’s. It’s a journey and it’s not all bad, as I have learnt a lot about myself and how to cope in my own way. I am still learning new and different things that may work for me. Sadly, there is still a lot of stigma around anxiety but it is nothing to be ashamed of. I am not ashamed to say I have anxiety, it’s part of me - but it doesn’t define me.

– Holly

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