In the days following Mental Health Week on campus, Jacqueline Murphy writes about her own struggles and what we can all do tho make the world around us a healthier mental environment.
This post is something quite personal to me, that I hope will be relatable as well as informative. As all of you know, last week here in UCC we had Mental Health Week, which by all means was a great success, promoting positive mental health among students and staff and furthermore lifting the stigma surrounding mental health issues. For me, Mental Health Week was the reminder I needed in order to keep fighting my own demons, in particular, my anxiety. This may come as a surprise to many, even to some who know me quiet well, but anxiety is something that effects me every single day, in one way or another.
Not all anxiety-related issues are obvious, nor do they always prevent the sufferer from living their life, rather they make things a hell of a lot more difficult. The everyday ways in which anxiety effects me are things that may appear ridiculous to non-sufferers, things that are often taken for granted. Examples of every day situations that make me really anxious include; shopping in large, crowded, often untidy shops such as Penney’s and TK Maxx, deciding what to eat from a menu with lots of variety, giving my order in a busy coffee shop and putting my shopping through a self service checkout in Tesco. It might sound crazy, but there have been occasions when I’ve had a basket full of shopping, suddenly became overwhelmed with anxiety, and proceeded to put everything back and leave the shop empty handed, purely because the stress of decision making got too much to handle. Madness, right?
I wish the sentence above wasn’t so familiar to me. While the situations I touched on earlier are annoying and embarrassing, they’re manageable and over time, I’ve learned to deal with them. However, less frequently, my anxiety presents itself in much more difficult situations, which are much harder to deal with than having to make a Starbucks order or shop among a large crowd. These situations are what I call minor panic attacks. But then there are the major ones. I can go days, weeks, maybe even months, without having a major panic attack, but when I do experience one, it completely shakes my world. I’m not entirely sure what brings on these bad attacks, but I think it’s a combination of built up anxiety, stress and usually a distressing situation, which I guess you could refer to as the catalyst. Just as a catalyst in chemistry speeds up a chemical reaction, the anxiety catalyst puts my mind into overdrive, forcing me to overthink everything imaginable. Along with this, I’ve experienced physical symptoms. There have been occasions when my entire body has become numb, with a tingling sensation all over, my heart racing, struggling to breath. These physical symptoms can last for anything from 30 seconds to half an hour, but regardless of the time frame, it’s always a terrifying experience. I can recall numerous ‘major’ panic attacks I’ve experienced, but one in particular stands out vividly. In February of this year, on the morning that I sat the HPAT exam, I experienced a terrifying panic attack. My body was numb and tingling all over and my vision even became blurry. It was like my entire body and mind was paralysed with fear, it was almost like an ‘out of body’ experience. Almost a year on, that attack is still perfectly clear in my mind.
In a way I can understand why non-sufferers of anxiety find it so hard to help those who do suffer from anxiety, but that doesn’t make it any less infuriating when they tell you to “Cheer up!”, “Get over it! and “Calm down!”. It really isn’t that simple! The one thing I really hope people take from this post is to become more understanding of those who experience panic attacks. We aren’t being dramatic or attention seeking when we say it feels like our world is falling apart around us, believe me.
Over time, I’m learning to cope with my anxiety, even the major panic attacks that often knock me sideways. Anxiety is a very complex problem that can prove incredibly difficult to overcome, but I totally believe it’s achievable. If any of you who read this article relate to my experiences and feel alone and unable to seek help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m only delighted to help others in similar situations, if I can. Just remember, it does get better,and that’s coming from someone who DOES know what it’s like.