#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek: Life, Anxiety and Moving Forward

I enjoy life. In fact, I love life, and do not think for one second that this piece makes you think otherwise. Life is all we have and all that we know, so why shouldn’t we love it?

However, it isn’t always that easy. For a lot of people, life can be a struggle to say the least and to me, that’s enough to make mental health a ‘real’ problem.

I emphasise on the word ‘real’ because it needs to be said: Mental health is real, and as it stands, is very much a modern-day concern that seemingly, is finally getting talked about after many years of being stigmatised.

Not only that but I know mental health is real — because it affects myself. Now, this isn’t a chance for me to romanticise mental health, that is the last thing I am looking to achieve here. But this is to simply give me a chance to reflect, and if it can, potentially help others feel more comfortable with how mental health affects their lives.

A Little Bit of Backstory

For me, I was entering the supposed ‘best years of my life’ — I was going off to the University of Southampton and my future was set. Sure, I was nervous, but I was more excited to finally see what all the fuss was about.

The first 3/4 months consciously were great — I had met great people, the uni was nice, my room was nice. I couldn’t really have been more settled.

Now, it’s important to say I loved my home life; I always enjoyed school, had a settled group of friends and have always been close with my family. Personally, at that point, there wasn’t an obvious trigger for what I now know was my first panic attack.

It occurred as I came home for Christmas, and I’m am very lucky to say I haven’t had another like it since. It was horrible. The initial panic that causes you to go blurry, and then the feeling from head to toe that all the energy has just suddenly been zapped from your body is honestly, one of the scariest sensations I have felt to date.

Then, follows the hyperventilating and that’s when you begin to realise that you might in fact not be dying — and try your best to calm down.

From that point onwards, honestly, for the next 7/8 months I suffered with anxiety (especially health anxiety). I still have no real clue as to why my subconscious mind fixated on the concept of my health, but it did.

From me thinking I was having a heart attack, which was the vaguest it would be, to me thinking my cholesterol levels were too high, being one of the more detailed of the health worries.

I wouldn’t exactly say it stopped me doing things, but at times it seriously hindered my enjoyment of things and I knew that it wasn’t healthy constantly worrying that death was possibly right around the corner.

But you know, that’s the thing with mental health. It doesn’t come with a premeditated warning. It hits you, and hits hard, which is why so many people suffer and don’t quite understand how to go about helping it.

Anxiety and Realisation

For me, and I believe this is the best thing anyone suffering with a mental illness can do, I came to terms very early on that my thoughts were irrational and I knew that I was suffering with anxiety. It is easy to say that, the idea of coming to terms with it, because for some people they can’t and I know that.

But I was able to control it because I recognised it. This was arguably the most significant part in terms of my mental health not collapsing altogether as it kept a realism to things, and it kept a balance.

Although, that doesn’t mean I didn’t experience some tough times.

When you’re eating specific foods, when you are doing exercise, or even more frightening — when you’re sitting in silence, listening to the sound of your own heartbeat, that’s when things begin to tick over. That is when for me, my mind began to focus on rhythms and the sensations going on in and around my body.

It did take a lot of restrain from myself to overcome this constant focalisation on pains and sensations. My health became everything to me and funnily enough, despite not worrying about it in a negative way today, health still is constantly on my mind.

However now, I use my thoughts a lot more productively. I don’t fixate on the negatives, I contemplate facts and use it to better my health.

But that’s when I knew things needed fixing — when my mental thoughts were beginning to turn into physical sensations. While I was fully aware of the fact that the pain in my left arm could be a figment of my imagination, at the time, it felt very real. And it felt very much like a symptom of a heart problem.

Now, I don’t have a heart problem. Even as I am writing that sentence I am thinking in my head “Don’t say that. Don’t tempt fate” and that is how I know my anxieties, while albeit not on display, are still there.

But as far as I am aware, I do not have any health concerns or any reason to believe that I do.

However, that’s the thing with mental health: things that aren’t necessarily physically there, for that period of time, feel very scary and dangerous.

But it takes time to almost retrain your brain that these worries are superficial, and believe me, that’s a hard f*****g thing to do.

However, once I had recognised it, I decided to seek advice. I had 4 short counselling sessions (it doesn’t seem a lot) but it’s really all I needed.

The best part about it was just explaining to someone what was on my mind, and not being concerned at how ridiculous it sounds. There were many times where she took the words right out of my mouth — and that felt comforting more than anything.

I am not writing all of this to boast that I am aware of my mental health or that I enjoy life as I said at the beginning of this piece. It is an illness that can affect anyone, and everyone. And it comes in all different ways, whether you are happy or not.

I don’t know the answers. It is a subjective illness to everyone involved with it, and one that I simply have found myself embroiled in.

It will always be an uphill struggle, but one that I’ll always be willing to be challenged by.

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