Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
It all started when I was seven. The shakes, the feeling that I would never be normal again, the feelings of panic for no valid reason all started abruptly when I was merely seven years old. The worst feeling of all though, was one that I don't even recall experiencing. It still brings my mother to tears whenever she talks about it but I still have only a vague recollection of the feeling. It was the feeling that, at only seven years old, that I wanted to die. Maybe I blocked out the fact that I felt this way, I don't know, but what I do know is that my family still tells me to this day I would say all too often, "I would rather die than feel like this all the time."
Although the severe symptoms of my anxiety only started at this point in my life, the root of my severe anxiety was an event that took place long before that. I was only three when that event took place: It was my parents’ divorce. In the end, my dad, for reasons I did not understand at the time but do now, left the country for eight years and that left me broken. I felt like it was my fault that he had left. I felt like I was the reason he had decided to leave my mom and the reason he left my little brother and I behind. It was all my fault, and I hated myself for it.
My self-loathing only grew from there. The normally happy go lucky child I had been was replaced by a quiet child who was angry at the world. I didn't have many friends in my first years of elementary school due to this, in fact I was extensively bullied, but I never blamed the people that hurt me. I only blamed myself because my rationale was that if my father could leave me, if my father couldn't even love me, then why would anyone else care for me? It was all my fault. Everything that occurred that was negative in my life was always all my fault.
I guess all of this came to a breaking point when I was seven and lost control in a way. I would shake uncontrollably and not understand why. I would run into my mom’s room screaming and holding my head in my hands and not know how to end the panic. For a while I was even scared of my dog. That was when my mom and dad knew I needed help and I was taken to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with anxiety and put on medication that I still take today.
I was put in therapy after this and partook in tool box building sessions for kids with anxiety. In the end they did help and I was able to live a relatively normal life afterwards. However, my habits of blaming myself for everything and habits of perfectionist thinking only intensified over the years to my detriment. I was always dealing with the symptoms of my anxiety, but never the root, and all of this mental stress culminated in a massive breakdown that took place when I was 14 years old.
It was exam time during my grade nine year before summer began. I was beginning to feel the pressure to perform, as in grade nine anything below a 95 grade wise was unacceptable to me and I believed those were the only grades my dad would accept. A few weeks prior I had witnessed something on television that I did not think much of at the time, but it started replaying over and over again one day in my head to the point where I honestly believed I was never going to get it out of my head. It was a terrifying image to me as it was quite gory and I just broke down.
For the following three days all I did was shake to the point where it was incredibly painful and felt intense paranoia regarding the image. I was not eating either, as that would only intensify my anxiety and within the week I had lost 25 pounds. In the end, I was admitted to the hospital and stayed there for three weeks to give my mind a rest. That was a turning point in my life as I realized that things needed to change from the way I thought about myself to especially my relationship with my father as at this point, I still felt like I couldn’t talk to him. He had been back for quite a few years but I had never dared bring up why he left or show my bitterness and resentment regarding it, as I was always somewhat afraid he would leave again if I defied him in any way. What I believed could not have been further from the truth, but that belief had been ingrained into me since I was three.
Over the subsequent three years I found an amazing therapist who worked with me weekly, almost daily in the beginning, to first teach me how to cope with the horrible symptoms of my anxiety and then on to how to be kind to myself. It was incredibly difficult to do, and I had many setbacks. There were many days where I would just sit on the couch and not say a word because I was so overwhelmed by my own thoughts. There were days when my mom would have to coax me out of bed in the morning because I was so terrified of waking up enough to think. There were days when my thoughts would be so terrifying to me I would break into shakes and panic attacks again. But as I worked harder to love myself and deal with my underlying issues regarding my dad and my parents’ divorce, I got better step by step.
Going to university is when I would say I really had the biggest turn around and actually started getting better in large steps. For the past few years I've been at university and I've been the happiest I can ever recall and barely ever feel anxiety anymore. I even have an amazing relationship with my dad now. In fact as I sit here and write this on a hill in Prague, as I have been backpacking alone for the past two weeks, I can only sit and marvel at how far I have come. From the girl who couldn’t even leave the house or have her parents gone for more than a few hours out of a fear of having panic attacks, I cannot believe that I am actually here and happy. I don't even take my anxiety into much consideration before I act now and it feels just absolutely amazing to be able to write that.
So if you take anything from my story please know that even if you may be struggling now, things do get better in time. If you are willing to really work with yourself to learn to cope, it does get better. It took me 13 years to really learn to cope and live comfortably with my anxiety, but it was worth it just to feel this happy again. I would not trade this feeling for the world. Please know that someday you will be able to do everything you dreamed you would never be able to do again if you just give it time. Please never give up on yourself because you are amazing in every way. Love yourself because loving yourself truly does make a world of difference, you truly are never alone, and please honestly know that it does get better. It all just comes in time.
Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.