Generalised Anxiety Disorder
I started having problems with anxiety in March 2016 and opted to ignore it instead of addressing my problems which lead to me not attending college despite only having 2 months left. These problems continued but I still tried to just ignore it and not talk about it; the anxiety just got worse as I carried on using avoidance as a coping mechanism.
The problems were exacerbated following the Manchester Arena bombing. I had passed through Victoria station not long before the bomb went off. In the following weeks a man got on the tram I was on with a huge coat on and began pointing and mumbling at people. Due to my heightened state I couldn’t help but think he was going to do something awful and that thought began to ruminate me, making it very hard to cope with crowds and public transport, something which had never been an issue before. I started to avoid anything that made me feel this fear such as football matches, concerts and just doing things generally. This made my world very small, missing out on the things that I loved and it even started to make daily life a real struggle. I wouldn’t even go in supermarkets as this progressively got worse.
By September 2017 I had become very depressed through not leaving the house as the anxiety was just so bad - nowhere really felt safe. October 6th is still a date that sticks in my mind as it was the first time I had what I would describe as a 'full blown' panic attack. I was just sat at home on my PlayStation when I just felt an overwhelming sense of fear and I instantly went to speak to my girlfriend and my voice was trembling, my hands were shaky, and my heart felt as though it was going to come through my chest. At the time it seemed so out of the blue.
The following month and half was the worst of my life by far. Throughout the rest of October and start of November I just couldn’t comprehend what was happening with both my mind and body. I thought I was losing my mind, I started to experience derealisation and depersonalisation. The things around me didn’t feel real and I didn’t feel myself at the same time. It's very distressing and what's hard to comprehend is that it is an anxiety symptom and by worrying about it you are just adding more fuel to the fire.
I started having flashbacks, for example if I was in a certain place I began to feel confused and got mixed up with times I had been there in the past; for example, I left college in 2016 but when I went to the building in October 2017, in my mind it very much felt like it was still 2015 and I was still going to college. I was getting two hours sleep a night (this was classed as my good night) which lead to me feeling very agitated and out of control.
During this time I began thinking that the hospital was my only option and I went in desperation. My experience at the hospital was quite distressing because nothing was physically wrong with me and the doctors and nurses were very dismissive of me, with one nurse actually telling me 'you need to stop doing this it isn't fair on your Mum & Dad'. I felt completely rejected and unheard and began to feel quite stupid for something that was very real for me. After numerous visits and persistence, I finally got to see two mental health professionals who were very caring and considerate of what I had to say; after an hour or so speaking they diagnosed me with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder).
The following week I started therapy with Dr Sandi Mann at The MindTraining Clinic in Manchester and from the first session I could tell it was going to be beneficial. I started telling her all the symptoms which I felt ridiculous saying, but she made it feel very normal. I saw therapy as a learning process in which I began to better understand both this condition and myself and how I react to it.
I started to understand 'full blown' panic attacks and how the body can't keep up that response and you will eventually calm down. It is important not to reinforce avoidance and either stay or revisit places that make you experience those feelings and you will calm down.
Another big part of recovery was acceptance, I think that most people's initial reaction to having these feelings is to fight them, but once you do that its likely you will spiral into a bit of a panic. The best thing to do is to accept whatever makes you feel uncomfortable and let it be in your mind but not pay it too much attention despite how uncomfortable it makes you feel. At first this is hard to do but once you get the hang of it you can identify thoughts that are anxiety and almost dismiss them quite easily.
I think it is also important to find healthy coping mechanisms in aid of recovery, so for me it's been finding comfort in things like chamomile tea and exercise. Both of which are beneficial for feelings of anxiety and depression, although this is subjective; it is important to find something what you can immerse yourself in, in your downtime such as art or music or drama or whatever you find helps.
Recovery is about investment and it does take time, I know how much I wanted it to be overnight but that actually didn’t help me recover thinking that was possible. You will have good days and bad days - you can have an amazing day and then the next day could be awful but it's also important to know you are moving forward even on those days and you aren't going back to the start.
At the time of writing this, I am five months on from that first 'full blown' panic attack on October 6th. I've been discharged by Dr Sandi Mann, I go to football and get public transport again, I've received an unconditional offer from a university to study psychology (a subject I failed at A-level), I see my friends, I go out and exercise. Five months ago, I was a directionless shut-in and now I know what I want to do and how to get there and therapy was crucial in giving me this direction and drive to get to where I want to be. The anxiety is still there I just know what to do with it now and how to help myself.
Matt, age 20, March 2018
If you are suffering from anxiety and would like to contact Matt, you can contact him via The MindTraining Clinic.