My Story: Living With Anxiety

This is probably the most personal piece I’ll ever write. Things are going to get deep. Before I begin, I need you all to know that what I’m about to share with you is not easy to talk about. It’s not easy to share. It’s hard to write this. But I want to share this with you because I want to be more open & honest, & I feel that there needs to be an increased awareness of sorts around mental health. So here goes.

For most of my life, I’ve lived relatively happily. I have had minimal stress, & I live out each day fairly smoothly & without issue. I have found happiness in many things; friends, family, music, writing, my dog, acting, & some fantastic people. But sometimes happiness doesn’t stick around. Sometimes it disappears, & you aren’t sure when it’s going to come back, if it’s going to come back. Let me give a bit of background first.

I have always been a shy person. For as long as I can remember, that has been one of my resounding qualities. It’s been a part of me my whole life. I have never really found it easy to approach people & talk to them. I get nervous, I try to find a way out, & I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s something I sometimes wish I didn’t have. Being shy makes things so much more difficult than they need to be. Many a time I have found myself wishing I was more brave, more courageous, more confident. But I lack that. I lack confidence. I lack courage. And that makes my life a lot harder. I find myself in situations where I struggle to get by. Which takes us to the anxiety.

I didn’t really experience much anxiety until 2012. Yes, that’s right, the year the then impending apocalypse was upon us. But never mind that. In early 2012, a few weeks before I began high school, I was out at a friend’s party, & whilst there, I began feeling off. I just didn’t feel right. I felt slightly sick, & I found it difficult to eat. I barely ate anything at the party, & I think the only thing I ate that night was a salad when I got home. That was likely the first time anxiety struck me. After that night, I didn’t experience that again for a number of weeks. I started Year 7, & everything was going relatively well. I was able to make new friends. I was a tad nervous about starting high school, but it was nothing major. However, a few weeks in, I began feeling sick again. I’m not entirely certain of what brought it on, but anxiety was upon me. There were many days when I woke up & did not feel like going to school. There were days when I threw up. I missed many days of school in those weeks because of the effects that anxiety had on me. I almost didn’t make it to the Year 7 camp. I remember that morning I was in pretty bad shape before I left to go to school. That camp was likely three of the worst days of my life. Whilst I was alright at camp, I still felt some anxiety, & it didn’t help that we all got food poisoning on the second night. I couldn’t wait to get back home. When I arrived back home that Friday, I remember breaking down. I was not in a good way at all. It almost got to the point where I had to go talk to a professional. But we didn’t get there. I remember I did end up having a conversation with my Year Adviser at school, & I think after that I woke up to myself, & I was able to kick the anxiety & take back control of my life & my body. I’m not sure how I did it really, but I think by the end of the term, I was ok again. I was living again. And I thought I had seen the last of my anxiety. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Throughout the years after that, I lived relatively well & peacefully. There were a few occasions where I did feel nervous, & a few times when I was feeling a bit anxious about things, such as times when I was going to go out with friends, or to parties, etc.. But they weren’t too bad. Apart from those minor attacks, I was perfectly fine. But I think what I was doing was suppressing things. I was suppressing emotions, feelings & a lot of other things, so that I could maintain a strong mentality. I think I knew I had to protect my mental health, & be strong. And so that is just what I did, for around seven years. I kept building up barriers around my mind, my mentality, all of it. And I kept suppressing things. I was able to maintain the suppression. I just needed to keep a strong mind. And above all of it, I thought I was going to be fine. I thought I could never be broken. I just didn’t realise that I would be.

Last year I decided to take a gap year. I needed a break from the education system. I needed to figure myself out, I needed time to write. I thought I would write at least one novel. I thought I would be able to write many a monologue & short story & play. I thought it would be a productive year. But then I began to lose sight. I put my novels on the backburner. I stopped writing for my blog. I stopped writing in general. And, looking at it realistically, my gap year ended up being a failure. In addition to that, I became conflicted. I had been telling people I was going to become a novelist, & people had told me that the market was volatile, that people don’t really read books anymore. And I took those comments to heart, & convinced myself I would never be a successful author. And I gave up on my dream. I tried to change my degree from creative writing to journalism. That failed.

What you need to know about me before I continue is that I care a lot about what other people think & say of me. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses. With every big decision I make, I take into consideration what other people, in particular my family & friends, will think of me. I don’t want them to see me as a failure. I don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t want to let them down.

Earlier this year, things occurred in my life. And they broke me. The last couple of months have been the hardest of my life. I’ve experienced things that I never want to experience again, & that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. My anxiety returned. And it came back worse than before. Whilst I haven’t been physically sick, I have felt really off many days. I’ve broken down many times. It’s even affecting me now just writing this. I’ve even found it difficult just to leave the house. It’s a challenge for me to even just get to work now. To be brutally honest, I really don’t like the way I’m living. I don’t like the person I’ve become, the person my anxiety turns me into. It’s hard to admit that. It’s genuinely one of the toughest things to live with. For me, I feel like I’ve lost control, & I’m fighting to get it back. I have times when I just feel so out of it, so off, almost sick. My mental health hasn’t been great. It’s been dreadful really. Thankfully, I was able to talk about things with a few of my family & friends. They know who they are. But it got to the point where I knew I needed to get help. And so I went to see a counsellor. He gave me some advice & tips/strategies, & I left feeling like things could get better now. But they didn’t. I had some really rough days. And so I went back. I talked with him again. And I will be maintaining regular contact with him.

Many of you wouldn’t have known it from looking at me or speaking with me that I wasn’t doing well. That’s because whenever I’m out in the open, I hide it. I try to suppress it for short period of time. Or if it is affecting me, I try to control it somewhat so that it doesn’t show. And I’ve been doing this for over two months now. But I think that’s making things worse in some sense. It hasn’t helped. So I made the decision to stop. Because to be honest, I’m sick of hiding now. I have to be honest, I was somewhat apprehensive to put this all out there, to put it out in the open. And whilst I know that many who read this will be very caring & all, I’d rather not discuss it openly just yet. It’s a lot for me to even share my story here. However, I need to do things on my own terms. I need to have control over my life & my journey. I need to forge my own path, & whilst currently I am not doing as much as I’d like to be doing, I will get there in time.

At the moment I’m taking things day by day, one step at a time. As you might already know, I’ve withdrawn from my University course at UTS, & I am enrolling in a Bachelor of Communications course offered by Griffith University through Open Universities Australia. The course will be completed over three years online. And I have also recently re-entered Special Religious Education (SRE) work as a helper in Catholic Scripture through my church, helping with a Year 5 class at my former primary school. I will be looking to get out more, to maybe participate in some volunteer work, get some work experience at either a radio station or publishing company or even both, & eventually get a second job. But it’s going to take time for me to get there. I’m still working to get things under control within my own mind & body, & in all honesty, I cannot really contemplate doing a lot of these things until I get it under control. It is a battle, & it’s not easy, but I’m not going to give up, I’m not going to stop fighting.

Anxiety affects so many people. It often goes unnoticed by others. It’s only noticed by the individual of whom it affects. They feel it, they experience it. It can manifest in a variety of ways, & can have different levels of intensity. And it can be hard to cope with. It can be even more difficult to talk about. Sometimes we think we can fight it alone, that we can deal with it on our own. We think we’re strong enough, we think we can handle it. And sometimes we can. But sometimes we can’t. We don’t have the strength to go it alone. We aren’t as strong as we thought we were. We didn’t realise it was ever going to be so hard. We come to a point where we can no longer suffer in silence. And that’s ok. That doesn’t make us any weaker. In fact, it takes a certain strength to admit that we can’t do it alone, that we need someone to help us along the way. So in some sense, we are still strong, just in a different way.

Whilst anxiety can take its toll, both mentally & physically, it can also be something that helps us to understand ourselves better. It can shine a light on our true selves, it can help us to see who we truly are. And after being at an all time low, you can come to appreciate the smallest things that create joy & happiness. It could be as simple as seeing someone’s face light up with joy when they see your loyal pet dog. For me, having an adorable pup has made my life better, and has brought me the slightest shred of happiness in my darkest times. Ellie has truly been my best friend through all of this, & I honestly don’t know how I would have been without her. She is truly a blessing.

Through all the hard times, I’ve also had my faith to guide me. There have been times in the last couple of months that I have questioned my faith. I’m not afraid to admit that, although it isn’t something I find easy to admit to. There were times when it seemed I was just losing everything, like I was just taking blow after blow. There were times when I felt like the universe was against me. There were times when I just started asking God one question over and over; ‘Why?’ I kept asking for guidance, for help, for the strength to get through this. And I felt like I wasn’t being heard. However, I’ve now come to see that God has provided me with help, with support. I’ve come to see that He had been listening. I still often wonder why certain things have occurred in my life. I guess I’m yet to discover the answer to that question. But I am glad I have my faith in my life. And I guess there are times when we are in a dark place, or when we endure something, & it makes us question a lot of things. I still ask myself questions, I still think about things often. But I’m happy to have my faith to help me along in my life.

I know that ultimately, my life is not going to be an easy one. And I know that I’ve still got things to sort out. I’ve still got to get things under control. However, in order to do that, I realise that I need to be more open. This is a step in that direction. And hopefully it will help me to get this out & get things back under control. I haven’t felt so strong mentally lately. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve been there. But I’m hoping I can get back there soon. I know it will take time, & it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get back to that point. But I want to get back there. This time however, it’s going to be different. This time I’m not going to hide. This time I’m going to be more true to myself. I guess in some sense I’ve been living a bit of a lie. But I’m going to change that. I’m no longer going to hide behind a façade. I’m going to be my true self. And I’m going to take back control of my own mind & body. Anxiety may take the reins throughout my life, but I’m not going to let it stay that way. I’m going to take them back. And I’m going to live my life.

I want to finish by saying this. I know anxiety is never easy to deal with. My experience over the last couple of months in particular has really challenged me, & it’s really stripped me down to my core. If anyone is ever going through something & they need someone to talk to, I’m always more than happy to be that person. I’m always happy to chat. I know it can be difficult to get through on your own. And I know from personal experience that it can be a challenge in itself to talk to someone about it. But it can make a world of difference if you get it off your chest, if you talk to someone about it. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide how they deal with it, but sometimes talking to someone can make things that little bit easier. While it can feel like anxiety is beating us at times, like it is winning, like it’s taking over us, it’s important to fight back, to regain some degree of control. And while sometimes it seems like it will be impossible to feel good again, to feel happy again, it will come. I hope that by sharing my own experience, my own journey, others that might be going through similar times in their own lives will be able to feel like it’s worth fighting, & those that might be suffering in silence may feel that they can talk to someone about what they’re going through. It’s never an easy journey, but sometimes it can make us who we are, & it can help us to become even stronger than we were before.

Take care everyone, & look after yourselves.

J

One thought on “My Story: Living With Anxiety

  1. Hello Joel, I read your post as I often do but I can’t not reply this time. I understand how crippling anxiety can be and you have captured that in such a raw and affective way. I do love that you are fighting it and acknowledging the struggle because as you say building a façade just intensifies the battle. Don’t let people discourage you from writing because you can write with absolute clarity. We need strong voices. Students today read as much (and as little) as they ever have. Book shops are becoming more popular again. So people do read. Write for them and write for yourself because that is also great therapy. As you face your battle don’t forget the gifts you have left for others as well. I still have the copy of The Great Gatsby that you gave to me. It is on my special table in my living room and I often pick it up and read your note/s inside. And it always brings with it a lovely sense of satisfaction into my world.
    Take care Joel. A lot of us care about you.

    Liked by 1 person

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