Happy First Anniversary To The End Of My Anxiety… Or Is It?
I think it is safe to say that for anyone reading this, reflecting on what we were doing this time last year must be a dumb-founding and bittersweet experience. After all, for most people living in Europe, February 2020 was the last ‘normal’ month we had before Covid-19 decided to rear its cruel, devastating and killer head. If you haven’t already and fancy feeling a mixture of nostalgia and resentment, I dare you to look back at your calendar from last year and recall all the exciting things you got up to in the month of St. Valentine’s. Some of my highlights include: going on a boozy weekend to Bristol, whisking myself off to Paris and my favourite – attending a dentist’s and optician’s appointment both on the same day! But while everyone can relate to February 2020 being an end to one chapter of their lives due to the pandemic, I have recently realised that this month holds another special anniversary for me. This is because a year ago today, I took my last ever dose of anti-depressants, meaning it has officially been a year since I have had any treatment for a mental health illness.
Now, anyone who has been following my blog since it started in 2017 will know how big and debilitating a role anxiety once used to play in my life. Looking back on it all, it is now obvious to me that it has almost been a decade-long struggle. After all, starting with the normal self-doubt one gets in puberty, my anxiety disorder seemed to have entered the picture at 15, settled comfortably within me at 18 and got close to destroying me between the ages of 21 to 23. However, 2017 was also the year that I started therapy (you can find my thoughts and advice documented here, here and here). And honestly? I am so proud to see how much progress I have made since then using talking therapies, CBT, mindfulness and medication. But if you think I am about to tell you a “recovery” story, you are sorely mistaken. Although this has been the most stable year I have had in a long time (only in terms of not having as many panic attacks etc., because hello, Covid-19!), I am here to dispel the myth that you can “cure” anxiety.
That is right. You heard me. And before anyone who is struggling right now starts despairing, let me tell you why accepting that fact has helped me so much throughout this year. It is because when I finally realised that my anxiety would never truly go away, that is only when I started really learning how to manage my condition and how to maintain stability. It may seem slightly paradoxical to say that in only fully embracing your anxiety can you set it free, but I promise you, it works and I am living proof!
For example, I am the type of person who experiences negative automatic thoughts from the moment I wake up. Now, before I did therapy, I did not really understand what these were. So, when I would sometimes drift into consciousness thinking “I hate myself”, I would often just carry on insulting myself so that it could ruin my whole day. However, even though “I hate myself” is still one of my brain’s favourite catchphrases, I know not to give it power anymore. When it finally clicked that I could never get rid of these thoughts entirely, I first practised positive self-talk (even though it seemed strange) and now, I am pleased to say that sassy self-love comes naturally to me too. It’s a hilarious dialogue, but who am I to argue with: “Why do you say that you hate yourself? You’re trying your best and that’s all you can ever do!”.
Over the past year, there have been some days or weeks that have been worse than others. Living through a pandemic has naturally bought its own new challenges too. Despite this, the perfectionist in me still sometimes has felt frustrated when I have had another anxiety attack, thinking “I swear I had conquered this already!”. But then I remind myself, the only reason why I don’t struggle with anxiety as much anymore is because I have learnt to accept it. God knows why, but the metaphor that helps me explain it best at the moment is a handyman one. A plumber, for instance, never gets to a water leak and attempts to will it out of existence. No, he brings his tool box and tries different things until the leak is fixed. Nor does he fret when sometime later down the line, he is called to deal with another problem – for that is the nature of water pipes and his job.
Therefore, it’s just about owning who you are and “always being prepared” like the scouts say! Though I haven’t needed therapy and anti-depressants this year, I would go back to them in a heartbeat if I was really struggling again. Luckily, however, with a combination of CBT techniques, self-love, meditation, exercise and support from family and friends, I am currently doing okay and the fact that I can say that during a pandemic means a lot. So, rather than wishing a happy first anniversary to the end of my anxiety, I am here to urge anyone currently struggling to get help. That way, like me, one day you too will be able to celebrate just how far you have come!
Resources for Mental Health Support in the UK
https://www.mind.org.uk/ – A website with a lot of information and resources about mental health, including how to access help during Covid-19 pandemic.
https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/ – A list of the different ways to talk to the Samaritans when you’re struggling. Their lines are open 24/7.
https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/adults/iapt/ – How to get mental health support through the NHS.
https://www.bacp.co.uk/ – How to find BACP-approved counsellors in the UK.