Time to Talk - Anxiety

Today is Time to Talk day. 

Time to talk about mental illness. I have wanted to do a post on anxiety for a while now but have just never known where to start.
I was first diagnosed with anxiety around 4 years ago. I want to say 2012. However I believe I have battled with anxiety since before I can remember…I just didn't know my behaviour had a name or that it was even a thing. 

Looking back over my childhood, I can remember incidents like my mum saying if I would like an ice-cream from Macdonalds, I had to be grown up and order it myself whilst she waited at the table for me. My brother who is younger than me, would do it without batting an eyelid but I just couldn't bring myself to walk over to the other side of the room alone and talk to a complete stranger. I hated speaking out in my class, despite knowing the answer and I hated sharing my work for the fear that it wasn't good enough, despite being a bright kid with a brilliant imagination. I've always hated being centre of attention and have constantly put up with anxious insecurities, that most of the time just aren't true.

I think university was the breaking point for me. I never actually wanted to go to university, but my parents expected it and I honestly had no idea what the next step was for my life after Sixth Form. I studied Art, Graphics and Photography during Sixth Form and although it was extremely hard work and I stayed up late into the nights drawing and painting, I loved every second of it. University was very different and I was often put down about my style of drawing and was often forced into presenting work to other students which is something that has always made me crumble. I became very depressed about even turning up to my tiny bay where 10 students had to share a small area to work in, I dreaded socialising with people I didn't know and I never had any intentions of trying to fit into the uni lifestyle. I became more anxious about walking though the city on my own to get to a place I really didn't want to be and it all spiralled from there. I hated it and after 9 months, decided to bail on the degree. Even though technically I was a university drop out, I have never regretted that move. 

Going to my GP for the first time about mental illness was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. One thing I can recommend, is taking a pair of sunglasses with you. I'm a big emotional wreck when I open up to people and the last thing you want is to leave your GP's room looking a right mess. Hats off to you if this wouldn't phase you one bit, but I find a pair of sunnies does wonders for your confidence. 
University had gotten me in such a state that I decided I needed to regain control and going to my doctor was the second move. The first was understanding no one can help you if you can't or won't help yourself. 

After all of this, I gained some strength and walked out of my awful shitty job as a park ranger and was unemployed for 3 months before getting myself a job looking after dogs. The role wasn't secure or permanent, but after gaining some experience and confidence I applied for a better secure job at the same place, this time training the dogs as well as caring for them. 
I have found animals to be one of the best things to help with illnesses. The unconditional love and slobbery kisses from a dog has been one of the best medications I've ever had. 

Like all illnesses, some days are absolutely fine; others aren't so good. What I have learnt though, is identifying your triggers and having a solution will help. Watching YouTube videos and other methods of research can be a big step in the right direction as they can help you realise that something you may never consider to be a trigger, actually is one. Google will often try and tell you that you're dying, pregnant  and about to have a heart attack so try and research managing techniques rather than symptoms. I came to realise big spaces was one of my triggers, or when others talk about their parents being together, as one of my biggest insecurities stems from my parents divorce when I was 9 years old. Once you understand your triggers, you can train yourself to see them coming and manage your mind easier and better. Some of the things I find really help me are:

1: Going for a walk
2. Listening to music in a quiet space
3. Cleaning the house or tidying
4. Reading a book 
5. Baking and cooking
6. Creative projects - if you don't have one, start one!
7. Planning a spontaneous outing
8. Looking at photographs
9. Cuddling my dog
10. Breathing exercises

Something else I find really helps is reminding myself we're only here once and to appreciate and value every single day. Each day has elements of happiness and sadness, inevitably some days are worse than others. I am trying to teach my mind that it is all experience and that my anxiety doesn't rule me. Understandably, its much easier to say than to put into practice but there is nothing wrong with taking baby steps. Its also okay to remind your family and friends that you may need to slow things down and there is absolutely nothing wrong with going as slow as you need. A tiny bit of progress is better than deciding you're not going to do anything at all. 

I'm a firm believer in looking after yourself as well and that doesn't just go for keeping fit and eating healthily. Every so often, maybe even once a week or so, arrange with yourself or even a best friend to have a pamper evening. Really indulge; paint your nails, whack on a hair mask, get a film in with some naughty sweet treats and enjoy looking after who you are. Also, don't be ashamed to cry. Sometimes we all need a good cry to release stress and all the other crap that has been building up. I'm terrible at bottling things up and sometimes my fiancé James has to really push quite hard to get me to let it go and just start roaring, but the relief afterwards is surprisingly lovely. Exhausting and not the most flattering of looks, but it really does feel like you've just sobbed out all of that horrible negativity.

Life throws a lot of rocks, poo and other nasties at us but that doesn't mean its not also lobbing a few amazing gifts in the mix too. Sometimes they're just harder to see through all of the dust and grime. I hate the phrase 'there is always someone worse off' because 

a) it makes you feel terrible and guilty for being so 'selfish'
b) it doesn't change anything!

Every so often, imagine yourself to be in a big bubble floating above your life and point a couple of things out to yourself that you're grateful for. These may be as simple as realising you've got that huge bar of chocolate in the fridge with your name on it, or the fact your car got you to and from work today with no problems. It could be that you actually have a job - something a lot of people struggle to find. My personal favourite is sitting in the quiet at home with a cup of tea and taking that time to look at how wonderful my home is that James and I have built together. It really is the little things in life that make all the difference. 

Darkness will not last forever and there is always help.

Ellis x

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