Anxiety. We’ve all experienced it – even if we don’t think we have. Got nervous before a test? Check. Had that feeling of panic when you thought you were in danger? Tick that box too. Anxiety is all part of our body’s natural response to feeling threatened, with the correct medical terminology (check me, getting all med savvy with my words) being the ‘flight or fight response’. My CBT therapist once said to me “Imagine there is a lion in the room” which was pretty hard given 1. The room was the size of a shoebox 2. You don’t get many lions on the loose in Glasgow and 3. Give me a break woman, I’m very cynical about all this palava anyway so please, get to the point. The whole purpose was that we would have to make a decision – to either run from the lion or try to fight it. No matter what our decision is, although internally I was like obvs I’d run, our body begins to prepare by sending messages to our brain to pump adrenaline into our bloodstream so we can either run like Forrest Gump or try to fight it. This scenario is so far fetched but it’s basically what happens when we have constant anxiety. Even though our body naturally produces adrenaline when we are in fear, in anxiety sufferers cases it can be over something so small, like having to call and make an appointment, leave the house or get on a train. It’s debilitating, it’s exhausting and it’s something I’ve battled with for too long.
You think to yourself that this is one helluva deep post with some super cheery pictures of me smiling from ear to ear and that might seem a mismatch but I’m writing this post and sharing these images because, for the first time in months, I’m able to plaster a genuine, happy smile on my face. I’m actually OUTSIDE. I’ve met a friend and gone for a coffee. I’ve slept a full 8 hours per night. I’ve not had an anxiety attack in 5 days. I’m starting to get to the other side. That other side everyone speaks of that when your suffering and feel like you can’t go on anymore, feels like it’s a complete fabrication – something people talk about as a way to make you feel better. But it DOES EXIST. The good days begin to outweigh the bad, the little tasks you’ve set yourself get that little more manageable and once you experience this, you start to get this drive. This drive that makes you think “I’ve got this far and I can keep going”. Sure, there will be bad days on the horizon, like any other condition, but you start to celebrate the little victories and want more than ever, to capitalise on how good you’ve felt. If you’d of told me I’d be beaming ear to ear in the middle of a street while getting photographed just a mere three weeks ago, I’d of laughed in your face. SOZ. But I would have. I can’t help but feel so proud looking at these images and seeing the growth and genuine happiness on my coupon.
If there is one thing I have learned about myself since I started my journey into adulthood, it’s that I’m not someone who gives myself a pat on the back. Instead, I am always thinking of ways I can do things better, rarely allowing myself to feel proud of my achievements and always striving to be bigger and better than ever which has been incredibly damaging to both my self-esteem and my mental health. In May 2017, during Mental Health Awareness week, I faced my biggest fear: opening up about my battle with anxiety. To say it was one of the most daunting experiences of my life sounds far-fetched but it’s honestly true – it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. The minute I clicked publish, I knew one of the most personal and raw things I had ever written would be in public domain. I wasn’t sure how it would be received. If I’d managed to articulate my feelings properly. If people would “get it”. If I would grow to regret it. All I knew was that I needed to face my fear. I needed to talk, be open and learn to accept my condition. Seeing my post live in black and white made it all feel incredibly real. No more concealing a major element of my life.
It’s been two and a half months since I shared my post and I’ve been keen to follow up on it, to reflect back on taking that giant plunge and if I felt like it was the right thing to do. I used to see people I knew on social media and other bloggers discuss their mental health so openly and deep down, wish I was brave enough to be so open about it too. I never thought I’d be in a position where my anxiety wasn’t a secret. Of course, my closest family, friends and work colleagues knew given that my condition has had a severely debilitating effect on my life but I’m glad it is no longer something I feel the need to hide. I thought I’d summarise what I’ve learned, how it’s made me feel and why I have not an ounce of regret. Zero. Nada.
The first thing I learned is that despite it being such an incredibly intimidating thing to do, opening up about my anxiety has been one of the most liberating things I have ever done. I no longer have to hide a part of who I am, put on this face that quite frankly I was exhausted from doing and no longer need to lie or make excuses for not being able to do certain things or go to certain places. The weight this lifted off my shoulders was beyond what I imagined it would ever feel like. Your health is incredibly private. With mental health, there is so much stigma attached that people do not want to open up but this needs to change and the only way to achieve it, is to normalise speaking out.
Next up, I did not anticipate how rewarding an experience it would be. When I hit publish and shared the link on my social media accounts, I remember physically shaking and glancing at my blog home page and my heart thumping as I watched the post view count start to jump up. As the little globe on Facebook started to have a red circle of 4 notifications on it, I felt sick as I clicked on them only to see how encouraging and kind everyone was. I couldn’t believe what a positive reception my post had got, how many people openly spoke about how it resonated with them and that they commended me for having the guts to do it. That in itself, made me feel something I don’t often let myself feel – proud. Since sharing my post, I have had social media messages and e-mails from fellow bloggers and individuals who have stumbled across my story, get in touch to tell me how it’s provided them with comfort, knowing they aren’t alone and that it’s helped them. That was all I ever wanted. Someone who was struggling to read it and know someone, somewhere, is going through the exact same thing and that it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It felt like I’d achieved exactly what I set out to do; spark conversation and provide solace for the people who needed it.
Of course, when you speak out about something so personal, it’s not always going to be plain sailing. Despite having such an overwhelmingly positive reaction from most people, there were one or two people I’m close to, who didn’t think it was a good idea to have put something so personal out there. “What if you go for a job in years to come and employers can find your blog?” and “why let people know your business?” where two of the most common questions that cropped up. I totally respected their opinion and knew it came from a place of love. It did make me wonder if I’d maybe jumped the gun and impulsively wrote my post and shared it without thinking of the consequences but the more I dwelled on it, I knew I had done the right thing. I’m lucky to have a good employer who supports me who I don’t see myself ever moving from but if I ever did, if a company wanted to hold talking about my mental health online to raise awareness against me, then they’re not a company I’d want to work for anyway.
The biggest lesson out of it all was allowing myself to feel like I’d turned a massive negative into a positive. Allowing myself to feel proud and know that I’ve made an impact on someone who read my post and managed to click with it. Although I love fashion and beauty, they are superficial subjects to talk about but when you share something so vulnerable, there is nothing to hide behind. It’s just you and your words. It’s something so raw that it connects with people on a much deeper level and the thank you messages I’ve received from people who are in the same boat, make me feel so relieved and reaffirm that opening up was the right thing to do. I’m a big believer that we all go through things for a reason. Life presents us with challenges and it’s entirely up to us how we tackle these. I wanted to share my experience to feel free, to encourage others that talking about your mental health condition should be just the same as talking about your physical health and hopefully be able to comfort others and you know what? I’d say it’s been a job well done – now finally, there’s that pat on the back to myself!
Would I do anything differently if I could go back in time? Yes – only that I spoke out sooner. But we all move at our own paces, we all have our own levels of what we feel comfortable sharing and on that rainy day on the 12th of May, I just remember sitting down and thinking “I’m ready to talk about this now”. I hope this post has made anyone considering speaking out their mental health to have encouragement to do so whether that be to a friend, your doctor or who knows, your own blog. I’ve kept my lessons learned quite simple and stripped back all my usual sass when I write because I want this post to just speak for itself. Have you opened up about your mental health online or do you have your reservations? If you have, I’d love to know what you learned from it. You can comment below or tweet/IG me at @whatamydid. Thanks for reading!