LIFE: “You’re just like both your grandmothers…”

Before I was even legally allowed to drive, I panicked I would fail my test. I panicked before I knew what sexuality was, that I wouldn’t be what I was ‘meant’ to be. I panicked before I’d even kissed a boy, that I was pregnant (..yep). I panicked when I did kiss a boy, I’d let someone down. And amazingly, none of these worries changed the course of anything.

I passed my test. I was straight. I wasn’t pregnant, and I let no one down (unfortunate choice as it was).

In between such panics, I was happy, at peace and as quickly as my battles came, they left. I was just ‘a worrier’.

Earlier this summer, my friends came over, we drank well, enjoyed a night dancing, and I arrived home in one piece. My good old dad found me opposite the front door at 3am (definitely a lie to make me seem cooler- let’s go for 1am), on the grass patch (perhaps not hugely dignified), but innocent. Then, I woke up, and I was forced to understand 19 years of ‘worrying’.

It’s like you’re being told news you really didn’t want to hear, repeatedly, relentlessly, for days on end. Plus, you have the guilt of a murderer, when in fact, all you did was have a chat with someone of the same sex as your boyfriend. Suddenly, you stop even having the courage to shower until absolutely necessary in the fear of being left alone with your own thoughts, and going to bed isn’t even an option until you’re sure once your head hits the pillow you’ll be asleep.

“This is the last time you bother yourself with this, Ella, when you get out the shower, force the thoughts away as soon as they start- you’ve conquered this battle and resolved the issue. Done.”

Then, if my Harry Potter audiobook allowed, my mind would rest, I could doze for an hour or two, before the bad news came back. But there was no bad news, only the possibility there could have been bad news. But that, in itself, is bad enough. How do you justify something that didn’t happen? You can’t. Obviously. Ah but the old brainy-o hasn’t grasped such concept yet, so on we go.

Williams and Penman’s ‘Mindfulness’ explains that in such situations we are trying to solve a ‘problem’. But the issue is there is no problem, only emotion, which cannot be ‘solved’, only felt. They suggest we trawl through memories of the past to try and remember how we ‘solved’ them then, so we can do the same now. At the same time, alarm bells are triggered and the fear of what will happen in the future, if it isn’t resolved now, flood in.

It’s literally a flood. My head feels like feathers in a hurricane and I try to focus on one individual feather that will fall from the cloud and hopefully settle below. Perhaps it’ll stay. If not, for the time being my heart will race and shoulders will cramp, my jaw will ache and my leg will shake.

“What if I never resolve this? Then I’ll be riddled by it forever and will never be happy or have a mind at peace. Bloody hell, what if I have more worries in the future I can’t solve. They’ll build up and I won’t be able to think of anything else bar them and that’ll be horrific.”

Bit dramatic, considering all that happened was I thought about possibly fancying someone other than my old boyfriend.

So, I have been living and learning and have come up with a few little tips that I have found useful in conquering my anxiety.

1. Acceptance. You’re not a freak, you’re not damaged goods, you won’t be ruined by this. Its common, its normal, and its manageable. I was so worried people would only see me as the girl with anxiety but honestly, it isn’t a defining factor in your character, only an emotion you’re susceptible to. Walking down the street no one will know, and more than that, at a birthday party or dinner with friends, no one will know; unless you want them to.

2. Tell people. It’s amazing how many people confess their struggles once you let them in on yours. I have not told one person about my anxiety without either them telling me of their own similar experiences, or someone’s close to them. Be the person that shares, and in doing so you’re making it better for others, and yourself. Its not embarrassing. You didn’t ask for it ordeserve it, but you can be the one others see strength and encouragement in.

3. Monitor. I used to ignore it until it hit so hard I couldn’t control its progression, which, although natural, isn’t a good technique. I was given advice to be aware of it all the time, even when you feel its not there. In doing so, you’re able to shut down things before they get too heavy. For me, a few times a day i’ll remind myself to relax my shoulders, take a few deep breaths, exhale the tension, and understand what i’m feeling.

4. Cut out the stimulating factors. Personally, alcohol and caffeine only heighten my tendency to become anxious, so I stay away. Its simple enough to drink decaf tea and coffee, and for me, alcohol is bearable without. However, if you do like to drink, there’s no reason not to, but drink moderately, more regularly; and avoid binging.

5. Take someone who is supportive, and go to the GP. If you had broken your leg, you wouldn’t carry on just attempting to walk on it; you’d seek help and recovery. It’s the same thing. You will be taken seriously, they know as well as you do it’s not just a case of attention. You’re ill! They’re a doctor, it’s their job. Ask for what you want, be it medication to take the edge off your churning stomach, or a number to call for a chat- don’t walk out not feeling better.

6. Get yourself a copy of ‘Mindfulness’ By Williams and Penman. I genuinely wept every page I read- these guys get it. And nothing is more comforting than someone that manages to put into words what you’ve been struggling to do.

7. Keep going! Don’t strive to be ‘cured’; learn how to lessen its effect on your life.

I hope some of these tips work, and if not, at least you now know one other person is with you.

Oxford: http://www.talkingspaceoxfordshire.org/contact-us/

Nightline: http://nightline.ac.uk

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