Wednesday, 23 November 2016


I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, but wasn't sure how it would be received. I've come to the conclusion that this is something that's important, and something that needs to be talked about.
I have anxiety. It's not unusual, or serious, or something that marks me as ill even- it's a very very common thing to suffer from. It's worth saying here that mental illness in general is incredibly common- most people will suffer from it in some form during their lifetime.
For me, anxiety seems to manifest itself in the form of social situations. I would not call myself a shy person, but when it's a bad week, I struggle to talk to anyone for a long time; my breathing quickens, my heart starts pounding, my thoughts race and I become incredibly sensitive to loud noises. I can get paranoid that no one likes me, or everyone is looking at me, and it can me incredibly isolating and lonely. Some days I wake up and can tell that it's going to be likely that I'll have a particularly anxious day. On days like this, I try to avoid as much social contact as possible, like by sitting on my own in lectures, avoiding eye contact and making excuses for not seeing friends. I think this is probably the most difficult part.

Mental illness isn't something that's talked about very much, and is still stigmatised. For me at least, I find it really hard to explain to someone that I can't come on a night out because I'm feeling anxious in the same way that you'd explain if you had a cold. It's not that I don't think my friends would understand, it's just not something that is regarded as equal to a physical illness. Although anxiety isn't contagious - there are no physical symptoms that really prevent me from leaving the flat- I know that if I was to go, I would really not enjoy myself for being incredibly nervous and jumpy, and therefore could burden the people who I'm spending time with.
Since being at university I have started counselling, and I honestly cannot sing it's praises enough. Being able to talk to someone who doesn't dismiss my feelings as just being antisocial or unfriendly is so helpful, and it has made me realise how common my problems are.
Part of the reason I wanted to write this post was to talk about my experience, and in doing so to hopefully make other people going through a similar thing to realise that they're not weird, or unusual or 'damaged', but that they are completely and utterly normal.
My family and friends are probably incredibly bored of my endless moaning about it, but are also very understanding and loving people who are willing to take the time to let me calm down and help me to feel better.

If someone you know is going through a similar thing, here are a few thing that I think can really help:

1. Understand that the person is suffering from an illness.
It is so hard to try and explain to someone that when you don't feel like doing something because of your anxiety or something similar you really don't feel like doing it. In the same way that you wouldn't make someone with a tummy bug go on a roller coaster, don't make someone going through a period of anxiety take part in the thing that tends to trigger it if they're not feeling up to it.

2. Ask them what it is that triggers their anxiety.
If you know what sets them off, you can help them to avoid or combat it.

3. Reassure them
For me at least, my anxiety tends to be triggered by me thinking that I've done something embarrassing, and that everyone will be laughing at me for it. When this happens, the most helpful thing in the world is when someone dispels these thoughts, so if you know someone who suffers from something similar gently reassuring them that whatever they're worrying about isn't true is a good idea.

4. Be patient
When you're suffering from something like anxiety, feeling like no one understands how you feel can be the most lonely thing in the world. What might seem like someone being antisocial could actually be them struggling to leave the house. In this case, showing that you recognise how they are feeling and are willing to listen to their worries is really helpful. You don't necessarily have to understand why they think what they do, but being able to see that it's not something they're choosing to think or feel is the right way to be. Above all recognise that mental illness usually is not a permanent state, for a lot of people including myself there tend to be good and bad weeks, so being there for them while they ride out the wave as such is something that is so important.

I hope this post hasn't been too depressing, and that you've been able to take something useful away from it. If you're someone who struggles with mental illness, no matter whether it's relatively mild like mine or something much more serious remember that you are not alone. Talk about how you feel to your friends or family if you feel comfortable doing so, and let them know how they can best help you and most importantly seek help from counsellors- the first stage of getting better is recognising that you have a problem, and they are so helpful in helping you to do this as well as giving you help as to how you can go about helping yourself. The best way to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness is to talk about it more often, and I hope to some extend I've done that in this post.

I also just want to thank everyone who has been so supportive of this blog in the last month or so. It's helped immensely with my self confidence- I've gone from someone who has constantly doubted their abilities to feeling like something I'm doing is really worthwhile and appreciated, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Thank you.

E x


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