“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear and how to be free from it…” Veronica Roth
Today, I would like to to discuss how I overcame anxiety after battling it since I was a child. I don’t want to use the word cure in this post because I don’t believe anxiety can be cured 100% but it can be managed and recovery is absolutely possible. I also wish to impart some tips and advice which I hope have some value to those that are currently suffering or know of somebody else suffering. Just as a disclaimer, I am not a psychologist nor work in the medical profession but I can say, without a doubt, that I am (unfortunately) an expert on this subject. I haven’t just suffered from anxiety throughout my life, I have also been diagnosed twice with agoraphobia which is a fear of open spaces. This phobia typically develops after experiencing several intense panic attacks leaving the person terrified of going anywhere lest it happens again.
Before I continue, let me confirm one thing…
Nobody suffers from a nervous breakdown without a reason. For some it’s abuse, others due to a long history of drug-taking and for me, it was the extreme stress that came from living under the roof of a toxic, sociopathic father. When I was only 13 years old, I suffered my very first intense panic attack on holiday which traumatised me dramatically. Soon after, the thought of having to leave my house to go to high school every single day scarred me to the point of dry heaving several times in the morning out of sheer terror. By the age of 17, the source of my fear (my father) was out of my life for good and I had recovered from anxiety…or so I had thought!
When I was 21, I suffered my second (and hopefully final) nervous breakdown. Author Brenè Brown calls breakdowns ‘spiritual awakenings’ and that is honestly how I view them now. This time, I was incredibly unhappy, overweight (needless to say my diet contributed significantly) and in a very unhealthy, emotionally damaging relationship. This nervous breakdown (awakening) occurred at my University Graduation. I remember standing on the stage waiting to accept my diploma whilst sweating, shaking and trying not to be sick. As soon as I was handed my degree, I ran off and hid in the bathroom crying. I ended my awful relationship not long afterwards and moved back home where once again, I did not leave my house for several months and lost massive amounts of weight due to constant nausea and loss of appetite. The problem this time was…I wasn’t even safe in my own home. I would suffer from panic attacks all day in my bedroom which used to be my safe haven. I began to fear waking up knowing it would start all over again. On more than one occasion, I wanted to kill myself and would visualise how it could be done. The most common scenario was walking in front of a moving train. I didn’t want to live anymore if I couldn’t even move without losing control. I cried daily. Fear was my soul-sucking best friend. It didn’t matter to me that I had recovered once before as a teenager, this breakdown (awakening) felt one billion times worse.
However, no matter how bad things got, I didn’t give up or walk in front of that moving train. I persisted in the darkest of moments. I began to change my life, fix my diet, meditate more frequently and love myself so much I could never succumb to emotionally harmful situations again. I recovered more quickly and nearly six years on, I have never felt more in control and happy. So how does one recover from such a debilitating illness to begin with? Let me give you the secret, or rather…secrets!
- First of all, your recovery time actually depends on you. This may seem scary but particularly with agoraphobia, it’s undeniably true. One night, during my second breakdown (awakening), I attended a group for those with anxiety to give me hope. I remembered being the only person there that cared about getting better. Everybody else spoke of their mental illness as if it defined them but I knew since childhood that the phobia was not tied to my identity in any way. The real me was adventurous, cheeky, playful and light. The me under anxiety’s influence was a stranger and I refused to partner with it. The people in the support group seemed almost proud of their condition and bathed in the victimisation. I left more determined than ever to defeat my demon. Try not to connect with anxiety or link it to your personality. It does not define you and it’s important to view it as temporary not a permanent thing.
- Would you like to know the fastest way to recover? The answer is simple: exposure. As scary as it was at the time, the more I pushed myself to go to school everyday, the better it was. I would be sobbing and shaking in the car but the minute I arrived and saw my friends, distraction washed over me and I was calm for the rest of the day. The problem at 21 was I no longer had the comfort of school to assist me so I got my friends involved. Unless you’ve actually experienced a panic attack in your life, you will never understand how crippling anxiety can be. Bless my friends, they never really understood what I was telling them but they listened to my story and met my requirements. They would take me out for lunches, dinners, parties, sleepovers, to the cinemas, dancing and whenever I wanted to leave, we would leave. I had to be the driver so I could control my comings and goings which never bothered them and we worked together to create fun memories that didn’t scar me. I worked up to things that I feared the most. Early days, I could only handle having lunch for an hour. By the end of the year, I was organising parties myself and coming home until the wee hours of the morning. My friends never gave up on me and through exposure, I was confident enough to get a job which took me the rest of the way. Full-time work distracted me all day long and soon things that used to terrify me weren’t scary anymore. If I had stayed in bed, refusing to leave the house, who knows how long I would’ve been ill for. I could still be in that position now…
- Fix the reasons for your anxiety in the first place. If you don’t want this returning anytime soon then get off the drugs that give you heart palpitations, dump that abusive boyfriend/girlfriend & quit your insanely stressful job. You will never truly overcome this mental illness if you remain in the situations that started it. I have zero contact with my father, left my ex, changed my diet completely and began living in accordance with my two biggest values: peace & love. I began my journey of self-love which helped me create a happy, fulfilling life. I became a yoga teacher, practiced meditation daily, maintained positive friendships and detached myself from those that weren’t. My relationship with my husband to be is wonderful, calming and healthy. He enhances my life in the best ways possible and I do the same for him. My job is great and my passions are nurtured regularly. I haven’t had an ounce of caffeine or drop of alcohol in over 5 years and I exercise regularly. My diet consists of whole vegan foods & my energy levels are high. I don’t list these things to brag but rather motivate those reading to move away from an anxious-filled life and cultivate one of pure contentment.
- Meditate. Meditation is a life-saver. Through a daily meditation practice, I was able to calm my breathing, relax my nervous system and function throughout the day. I still meditate regularly because I know it helps me be a better person all round. Giving yourself just 10-20 minutes of stillness can alter your state of mind and draw you back to the present moment which is all we really have. Anxiety is born when our minds live in past or the future so it’s important to return them to the here and now which is the goal of meditation. Body scans are probably the most effective for those that suffer with anxiety. You can find guided, soothing practices online that will ask you to focus on each part of your body whilst simultaneously relaxing it.
- I have to recommend an App that saved me during my second nervous breakdown (awakening). It’s called AnxietyNoMore by Paul David. It isn’t free but worth every cent! His entire book At Last A Life is on there as well as guided meditations, relaxing music and success stories. Paul’s no-nonsense approach helped me recover so quickly. He tells his readers that avoidance is the worst thing one could possibly do and that the key to overcoming anxiety is just to live normally. Anxiety is like a child throwing a tantrum. The more attention you give it, the more it screams. By just living your life (no matter how many unpleasant feelings arise), you can reclaim control and watch the defeated ‘kid’ retreat.
- Accept relapses and then let them go…immediately! You’re going to have relapses. We all do. I had one recently and as usual, I was a little shaken afterwards but the next day, I went right back to my routine and now I’m feeling myself again. The important thing is not to get too hung up on the story or obsessing if it means you’re going right back to rock bottom again. You aren’t! Relapses are necessary for recovery and whilst you may feel like you’re going backwards, you’re speeding forwards.
- Don’t be afraid to lean on people. See a psychologist, tell the people around you how you’re feeling & confide in your family. Not only will this make you feel better but you’ll be surrounded by understanding people that want to help. I told all of my close friends and family. I wasn’t ashamed of it and it helped them acknowledge why I had to leave their party early or not feel like talking that day. You’ll be surprised just how empathetic a lot of people are when you tell them you’re suffering with anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s a common thing and one most people have experienced at least once in their lifetime. You don’t have to go through this alone.
- If I could give you one piece of advice during anxiety it would be to simply eat. Don’t eat crap that will upset your stomach and most definitely stay away from caffeine! You are already incredibly stimulated by your nervous system, you don’t need the added jolt. When you’re feeling anxious, you naturally lose your appetite but what happens is that the longer you stay without food, the more nauseous you become and the panic attacks get stronger. I lost my appetite for months which drew me closer to a scary 39kg. I soon realised that eating actually helped calm me down and even if it took me an hour to eat a piece of bread (sometimes it did) it was worth the commitment. As I started to recover, I bought healthy snacks with me everywhere so I would never feel that sickening starvation again.
- The anticipation of the event is the scariest part. For me, the process was always the same. I knew an event was coming up so I would panic right up until the day before. When the day arrived, I would be absolutely fine and have the best night of my life. Anxiety is fear of the unknown. The only thing you fear is fear itself. Back in highschool, my debutante ball was absolutely terrifying to think about. I even told a close girlfriend not to mention it around me as the mere thought crippled me. On the day, I did not feel a shred of panic and I danced the night away with a permanent smile plastered on my face. One of the good things about anxiety (and there isn’t many!) is that once you start to recover, you appreciate life so much more than most people. I would beam in the cinemas because I could watch an entire movie without needing to leave. Travelling the world brings a euphoric feeling. It really teaches you to be resilient and grateful.
I hope this blog post helped anybody suffering with anxiety or just a particular hardship in general. I understand how debilitating and depressing it can be. You feel like you’re never going to get better and this is your life but trust me…it isn’t. Your wonderful life is waiting for you, you just have to be brave enough to fight for it. I’m here for you and will answer any questions you may have.
Peace & Love xoxo
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This is such a brave piece of writing, Bec. I am so proud of you for getting in control of your anxiety, coming a long way from a very dark place. Agree with you that distractions keep us going. It can be hard to get out of bed, but when we do it is such a rewarding feeling. It is amazing that you have a good group of friends who supported you along the way. Sometimes friends might not fully understand what you are going through, but the least they can do is a be a support and your cheerleader – and that can make all the difference.
Taking your time is also something I agree with. It could take a month to be more positive, or maybe even a year or two. We all have different mechanisms of coping, and so nice to see that you are so open-minded about this and the way to tackle anxiety. Very glad to know you as a person, and as a friend 🙂 x
Thank you Mabel, I really appreciate your kind words <3 it's a tough thing to go through but ultimately it can make us stronger and more resilient. Thank you again for the beautiful photos, I received all of them this morning and they are wonderful! I'm lucky to have you as a friend xx