As you hit your twenties, it’s pretty much waaaay more than likely that you know someone that suffers from anxiety. It could be social, medical, situational – the list goes on, but you’re probably not the only one.
When I first felt the ramifications of my anxiety there was not even a space in my brain that would accept that that’s what it was, and I’m pretty sure this probably happens with everyone who first experiences it. Even now I’m not 100% sure that’s what it is, but that’s anxiety for you – see it’s a vicious cycle (cue eye roll emoji). When something physically happens in your body, your brain is like “well this is obviously not me, this is obviously something wrong with something else inside you, you’re ill or having a heart attack or something,” but the power of the brain to actually affect your body is stronger than even your brain can know.
It really can cause your chest to ache, your breathing to go short, your entire body to break out in pins and needles and I think it’s so hard to actually understand it fully until you’ve been through it, and experienced the fear. A lot of my friends who haven’t, completely sympathise and try their best, which I am ever grateful for, but they definitely get tired of what they see as a word, not an experience. Anxiety is completely an experience.
So, for this reason there was no part of me that believed that this experience was some effect of my stress, something triggered by a certain situation, or even something as tiny as acid reflux, which would cause me to think I couldn’t breathe, which would cause me to think I was dying. And because so many people throw around the world ‘death’ so light-heartedly – to those of you who haven’t had the experience – you literally feel like you are going to die. It’s so hard to explain this to someone without them thinking you’re over exaggerating. You haven’t died, so that can’t possibly be what you were feeling, right? Wrong. The fear of not knowing what’s going on with your body is the same in any case. And when you get an excruciating chest pain, how are you supposed to distinguish this from something else?
The only thing that made me really accept that it was anxiety (and this took me three months, so don’t feel disheartened if it’s taking a while, you WILL improve), was by talking to people who had been through it too, and had improved. I mentioned it to a friend in passing when it all first started, as an excuse as to why I couldn’t come to an event. Little did I know, she had already been through it all and had come out stronger, even though it’s something she will (and I will) always deal with. People who have been through it, know how scary it is, and have a certain pension and desire to help those who they know are suffering through the same thing, and she helped me through the process probably more than she knows. Don’t be afraid to tell people. It sounds like such odd advice to ‘surround yourself with anxious people,’ but there really is more of them than you think, and you can work as a network to help each other, to let them know when you have a panic attack so they can calm you down, or someone you can feel in the back of your mind, that you are safe with, because they won’t judge you or think you’re being ridiculous when you feel like you need to run away, or go to hospital.
The people we surround ourselves with in times where we are really struggling, end up to be the most important people in our lives, because we know they will always be there. Anxiety is sometimes a struggle of losing friends you thought you had, but also an opportunity to get to know people you thought you already knew.
We are all together, and can make such a big impact on the people around us, if we just look for them, notice them, and try our best to understand as well as help them understand. Even if you don’t know anyone and you read this, I am 100% happy to help, partially because I know how you feel, and partially because I hope you will pay it forward to someone else going through the same thing, some time in your future.