i'm not mental part 1
Originally published by our good friend Wes over at I'm Not Mental.
Well, here it goes. Time to put my story out there! It’s scary, exciting and exposing all wrapped up together...knowing that I’m finally going to be putting myself in a very vulnerable and (metaphorically) naked position.
Let’s address the elephant in the room! Anxiety. The ‘A’ word that’s causing so many issues, yet so common and so often brushed off like it’s nothing.
I’ll get to my story in a minute, but first, I want to reassure anyone out there struggling with panic attacks, agoraphobia, derealisation and anything else related to anxiety that I’ve been there, taken the t-shirt home and worn it to death. I know how alone you feel, how no one understands and that there seems to be no way out.
So, my story. For about six years I lived with a chronic anxiety disorder. To put it bluntly, it was a shit time and incredibly dark during certain stages!
It was a condition I didn’t understand for a long time. There are so many opinions and diagnoses thrown around for anxiety and unfortunately, in my opinion, as someone who has recovered, most of them are wildly wrong. Many professional practitioners and therapists told me it would be something I’d have for my whole life and that I’d need to come to terms with it. Trust me, I tried them all: pills (all the pills), hypno, NLP, counseling, tapping, talking, and meditation. NONE of it worked. A few gave me short-lived relief, but nothing of real or long-lasting impact. Shockingly, most of the pills prescribed cause anxiety as a side effect...head scratcher!
Anxiety started flirting with me during a gap year, over the pond, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains while working as a ski instructor. Looking back now, I was clearly burning the candle at both ends too much. But hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing right?
My first bout of what I’d call “serious anxiety” was during the last run of the day mid-season, skiing off-piste with a buddy. The two of us headed down a tree run, after a few days of heavy snowfall, and within seconds of hitting the line (after watching my mate fly down unscathed) I sank up to my chest in snow. Being the last two on the mountain, thoughts quickly began to fly through my head and the flirting began. “What if I can’t get out? What if, no one finds me? What if a mountain lion turns up? What if, this is it?” The recurring theme, ‘what if’ thoughts. Thankfully I managed to crawl to a nearby groomed piste and ski to the bottom. I had shrugged off the anxious moment and didn’t think too deeply about it again.
A few weeks later, the first ‘proper’ panic attack I experienced is as vivid a memory as they come! Chilling with my housemates on a school night (the house we were living in was amazing, it had the most unbelievable views) after partying a little too hard, as per usual, I began to become very aware of my breathing, my heart rate and started to experience overwhelming thoughts of dying. My first bout of palpitations kicked in and that was it. I was convinced I was having a heart attack and it was my last night on earth! May sound silly to some, but it’s amazing how gripping and real it felt.
My relationship with anxiety quickly moved from occasional flirting to an unwanted shadow, becoming something I simply couldn’t shake off, not for the want of trying. It was becoming my nasty little habit.
Back in the UK and at university was supposed to be a fresh start, which to be fair, it was initially. However, joining the hockey team was not exactly the most relaxing sports club to get involved in. Drinking, drinking and more drinking seemed to be on the menu, which was a great laugh and all, but as my relationship with anxiety became more serious and debilitating, the hockey lifestyle started taking its toll on me. A lack of sleep, alcohol and a crappy diet mixed with hockey and anxiety was not ideal.
Panic attacks were becoming a weekly activity for me, almost pre-scheduled into my diary. I knew this was becoming a real issue when they started to become coupled with associated symptoms of chronic anxiety including early signs of agoraphobia and occasional flashes of derealisation. I was immensely scared of the palpitations I was experiencing and found myself constantly checking my pulse, especially during hockey practice and during matches. I was starting to identify that my behaviour was not normal and that I needed help.
I sank deeper into this crippling relationship with anxiety over the next few years, quickly becoming fully agoraphobic and battling with dark moments.
It took me a long time to realise the power to get better was in me and it had to come from me. I met an amazing person (who I’ll share with you in due course), who had been there and got the t-shirt too. they helped me get better and I’m forever grateful to them! They quite literally saved my life.
It’s so obvious now, looking back and knowing what I do now. That’s all for now, a quick intro to me. Feels quite nice to get this off my chest and out to the world. I hope this will resonate with others and give them hope there’s a way out. I’m looking forward to sharing more about my story with you all over the coming weeks ahead.
My name is Wes, I’m not embarrassed about my experiences. I’m proud to share my story and I hope as the community of I’m Not Mental grows more of you will feel inspired to share your story and take value from this.
What can you expect from the I’m Not Mental podcast and blog?
I’ll be interviewing guests on the podcast to share their story, bring value through education and insights around mental health topics, nutrition, exercise and relaxation tactics.