Most people who’ve known me well for a long time (mama, i’m looking at you ;P ) know that I have never been communicative or expressive in what I’m feeling or going through. I went far too many years not being able to tell anyone what I was struggling with, suffering internally and thinking I was the only person who went through certain things. We are never alone. I was always incredibly shy and didn't really like to speak much with people who weren’t my family, with whom I’m actually known as the one who doesn't stop talking, because I would just offload my repressed extroversion (not really) onto them. Yet I still didn't know how to communicate when I was feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed.
I would get so annoyed at people who did communicate their feelings, especially to large groups of people (like online, the irony!) and I think thats just because I didn’t have the capacity to do so at the time. But I would only get increasingly anxious and nervous. I couldn't be around large groups of people, I couldn't be in a hall full of people, I would start to feel suffocated, hot, dizzy and often very delirious. My main form of coping with it was just leaving, running away or fleeing whatever situation I was in, not to mention crying. A lot of tears have been shed, a lot of hyperventilation and countless panic attacks have been experienced over the years. The worst part of it all was not knowing where it was all coming from, not knowing what on earth was happening to me. Eventually it was explained to me that what I was going through on a regular basis were anxiety attacks. Something not uncommon, but not something we ever speak about.
I thought I had gotten past it, having the symptoms come back every now and again, and not thinking much of them when they did happen other than ‘this will pass’. Then out of the blue a couple of years later, when you think it’s a thing of the past, you get worked up, something is triggered and become a ball of anxiety, it's crippling. Your entire body starts ringing, your heart drumming, your head spinning, breathing uncontrollable, thoughts completely scattered, etc, etc. I don't think you need me to go on with the description, you understand what I’m getting at here. These are just some of the physical manifestations, to enter into what is happening in the mind would lead us into another realm.
As I write this, I am slightly calmed, after a few days of the above feelings, I can still feel my heart beating, my mind is not completely settled, and trying to structure this piece is the last thing i’m worrying about as I just want to express a state many of us find ourselves in (whilst fearing that i’m not doing it much justice). I thought it would be good to share something as I know, through speaking with friends, that I am certainly not the only person who goes through this.
As it’s now exam season, it’s particularly important to look after yourself. It’s taken me a lot of time to realize that a lot of my issues (we all have them, whatever they are) come from a fear of failing, amongst other things. I always want to do my best and don't want to disappoint myself. Pushing yourself is not healthy when it reaches a certain extent. The pressure you place on yourself often doesn't just manifest itself in only one part of your life, but spreads to others. It often damages relationships with people you love, it makes you miss great opportunities and it generally sets you back. Though you may be progressing in one part of your life, you are usually neglecting another more important part, usually that part is YOU. Neglecting yourself is all too common and all too dangerous. Nothing is worth the neglect of your mental health . Caring for YOU is not a selfish act.
Of course this is such a broad and deep rooted topic that I can’t express all too well, but if ever you’re feeling any of the above, there are a few things you can do that can help.
- Talk to someone - Trust me when I say that as difficult it is to open up to someone, for fear of being judged, it is such an effective relief. Of course it won't magically solve everything, but it will help to some extent. Even if you’re chatting what you believe is complete nonsense, it helps.
- Write it down- If you don’t feel you can talk to anyone, or there isn’t anyone you can talk to, grab a pen and paper and speak to yourself. I sometimes don't even write anything comprehensive but just write words and random sentences across the page. Even scribbling helps!
- Go outside - Breathing in fresh air (be it in the sun, under grey clouds or in the rain) really does help temporarily. Take your thoughts outside or on a walk until you can think a little more clearly.
I’m not a professional, clearly, and this is absolutely not a cry for pity, but I hope this helps even just a little. Even at this moment I can feel my cheeks burning and a little nauseousness. You’re not alone. You will get through whatever it is, and, as a friend reminded me recently, LOVE YOURSELF, meaning take care of yourself. You are so very important.