Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase at no additional cost. All opinions remain my own. For more information, please refer to my disclosure policy. Finally, I want to thank the blogger behind Mommy Conquering Anxiety for sharing this personal story on anxiety and her experience dealing with it.
The stigma surrounding mental illness in the UK is still prevalent.
If someone had a broken leg, you wouldn’t ask them to prove the level of pain they were in or justify they were telling the truth. But, arguably, when your mind malfunctions, everything is affected. So indeed, it’s the one thing we need to look after, and we should listen to anyone who says they are suffering mentally.
Unfortunately, from what I see across social media and my own experience over the last four months, there is still work to be done in this area. Mentally unwell people shouldn’t face judgment, on top of battling some pretty dark times. But it seems even the people who should be helping us are sometimes judging us. So, where do we go from here?
I hope we can collectively make a difference. Then, in time, people with mental illness will feel supported and openly talk about their struggles without fear or judgment.
My Anxiety Condition Over The Last 15 Years
I’ve suffered from anxiety issues for at least 15 years. Looking back, it’s like my brain ignored it was even happening. The only way I could function in life was to put on a mask every day and work through it. I was sticking a plaster on the wound and using medication to get through the day.
I now know this isn’t the only way to deal with a mental health problem following my breakdown. There are other more productive ways to acknowledge what’s happening.
I hid the full extent of my panic attacks, depression, and general daily anxiety from family, friends, and even boyfriends. Everyone just thought I was a fierce and unstable young woman that I had some growing up to do.
Even I put it down to being headstrong, career-driven, and motivated. At this point, I think that’s who I still am, but this was a front to hide the pain and the constant battle going on inside my head.
Until now, I didn’t realize there is a fine line between being superwoman 24/07 and this quickly leading to unhealthy habits, which cause abnormal anxiety levels. Constantly putting on a brave face is exhausting in itself and will eat away at you over a prolonged period. This is because you are essentially telling yourself and everyone around you lies.
Normal Anxiety Levels VS. Out Of Control Anxiety
Inevitably, we will all experience some level of anxiety. However, this life-saving mechanism is there for a reason—a primal instinct designed to protect us.
When you live with out-of-control anxiety issues for 15 years, that’s a whole different ball game. One I don’t want to play anymore.
The Signs I Ignored
When I failed miserably at university interviews, I put it down to being nervous. I was a shy person, is what I told myself. This was not the opportunity for me. Looking back, maybe it was, perhaps it wasn’t. I will never know whether my anxiety stopped me from taking chances, but it doesn’t matter now.
My driving instructor advised me to get beta-blockers from the doctor because I was “making silly mistakes and panicking” during my driving test. As soon as I took the beta-blockers, I passed the third time. A considerable confidence knock, not to mention the money wasted.
This was a pattern I saw throughout my period of denial.
When I was younger, I was labeled the party animal of the group. I would drink alcohol and take recreational drugs to fit in, reduce the panic, blur the background noise, or the impact of being around too many people would have on me.
I loved going out with friends, but doing it zapped my energy, and I became frustrated.
Fast forward to the height of my career, and the physical manifestations were unbearable.
I would fall apart in meetings. I know I’m capable of speaking and knew to do so, but I would overthink so much that sometimes I couldn’t string a sentence together.
The physical manifestations were sweating, mumbling, a rash would rise my chest, and it was visible to everyone in the room. Finally, I would leave the meeting feeling ashamed and inadequate and sit in the toilet for 20 minutes, trying to calm myself down.
I googled techniques to bring myself back, including running cold water on my wrists to eradicate the rash. The whole time I was locked in the toilet, I was worried about what other people thought or if anyone would think I’d been gone for too long. I am surprised I even managed to calm myself down at all. I felt like running out of the door and all the way home.
I would walk back to my desk, thinking everyone was staring at me. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and worn out. I needed a lie-down, not another five hours at work wondering what everyone thought about me.
When my anxiety was terrible, this would happen at least three times a week. It became the norm for me. I asked the doctor for beta-blockers to help, but the issue then became a lack of communication from management about when the meeting would take place. Then the anxious voice in my head started asking when was the right time to take the tablet, now, later, and the worry about lack of routine or direction in the workplace set in. I was out of control but pretending to be in control.
Some people reading this might ask why I didn’t leave the meeting room or tell someone I was suffering. The answer is because my anxiety told me I was a failure, a quitter, I had a point to prove, and leaving the room would mean telling people the truth. If I did that, they would know I wasn’t capable of doing my job, there was something wrong with me, and they would find out.
I know it sounds crazy, but I was in the habit of thinking like this to survive the workplace. The worst thing in the world would have been to tell a management team I felt didn’t support me anyway.
What Oher People Thought Of My Erratic Behavior
I tried not to care what people at work thought too much. I did the job and came home. The daily struggle I dealt with in my head was exhausting enough.
Family & friends
When it came to my family and friends, I think they knew I suffered from over-thinking. I was a sensitive person. They thought I was introverted, maybe. They probably thought these personality traits were what caused my erratic behavior.
When I had a panic attack on a plane journey home from Lanzarote, my mum and dad sat behind me. I think they were shocked. I was shocked. It creeps upon you, and you feel like you’re dying and will never catch your breath again. Not only do you feel like this, but it’s happening in an enclosed space, in front of hundreds of judgemental strangers.
I recently shared the full extent of the impact I’ve suffered over the years and my mum, who I’m very close to, and see 2-3 times a week. She responded that she didn’t know the extent of the problem. She wouldn’t guess I’ve been feeling like this from the way I behaved.
In this respect, it’s easy to see why nobody at work thought to ask how I was.
The Rationale Behind Hiding My Anxiety
While my symptoms would have probably eased by letting people in, I also wouldn’t let the anxiety win, admit defeat, let it impact my job.
Because I am strong-minded, a massive part of me wanted to get on with my job and not give in to this negative voice in my head.
What I’ve Learned During My Recovery
I have mixed emotions on whether this is a good strategy or not. I don’t regret the path I’ve taken up to now, but at the same time, I see a better, more honest way of living moving forward. No more masks. It’s too exhausting. What do I have to lose by being honest with those around me? This is my life. It’s the truth to say I struggle. Why hide it?
You can only wear the mask for so long anyway. Everyone has a breaking point, and I genuinely think everyone reaches a point where honesty prevails, whatever it is in life you’re hiding from.
I now ask myself if hiding it for so many years has contributed to my recent breakdown. I wonder what factors caused this to happen to me. But questioning past decisions is feeding into unhealthy levels of anxiety, and it gets you nowhere. So I refuse to entertain the negative thoughts in my head or dwell on things outside of my control.
It doesn’t matter what got me to this place. What matters the most now is the tools I put in place to prevent this from happening again.
Who Am I Now
This is a question I haven’t yet fully answered. I am only just starting to ask myself it after four months of being unable to function correctly in daily life.
I know I will never be the same person I was before this breakdown, and I think that’s a good thing. So I am hoping I will be a more honest, open, happy person.
I wonder whether my personality traits are genuine or whether some of them were a defense mechanism. Don’t get wrong, I AM strong-minded (god knows where I would be without that trait!), but where do my personality stop and my defensiveness take over. This is what I need to figure out.
How many people have I pushed away over the years, and how many people would I have outgrown anyway? Unfortunately, Unfortunately, I will never know the answer to this. Luckily, I didn’t find my Mr. Right or my happy ever after (sarcasm – I don’t think there is such a thing. There is such a thing as two people working hard to stay together) until I was in my 30’s. After that, I needed time to figure out who I was, and I’m still doing that now.
We are all a work in progress, and that is how it should be. We need to learn to be kinder to ourselves and less critical.
How This Journey Helped Me
Being honest about my mental health struggles has set me free – a weight lifted, and I feel better knowing my friends and family can now understand where I’m coming from, a bit more than they did before.
They may never understand what it physically feels like to have a panic attack. Still, I hope if I’m angry or short with them, they might realize there is a lot more going on in my head, and sometimes I can’t communicate effectively because of it. And that’s just who I am.
Hopefully, they will understand I may have to cancel plans last minute to preserve my energy and protect my mental health.
It’s now time to put the tools in place to avoid this in the future, hopefully. And if it does happen again, I know I can survive and what action to take to get through a down period.
I never want to feel like I do right now, ever again. So I aim to look after my mental health daily, whether I feel well or not.
If you are suffering and feel able to, please be honest with family and friends about your feelings. I understand it isn’t easy to do, but opening up to the right people has helped me.
Mommy Conquering Anxiety
Mommy & Blogger
I am mummy to one feisty toddler and wife to a wonderful man, living in the North of England, UK and making it a priority to enjoy life every second we get to spend together as a family.
You will usually find me writing, anything from lists to blog posts, and excited by stationery – show me your post-its!
Following my recent breakdown, I believe talking about our struggles is the key to recovery. I started the blog because I felt compelled to share my story & my main goal is to help other people.
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