Mental Health Spotlight: Generalised Anxiety Disorder & Panic Attacks
Hello friends! I thought to quickly introduce myself before I delve deep into this post. My name is Alexandra, but I go by Allie here or the internet and I run the blog www.allieereads.com. I am 24 years old, from Australia, and I just finished my Masters of Teaching degree and I will be beginning my research into the construction of masculinities in all-boy Catholic schools in Australia next year. I am super excited to delve into education/sociological research in order to observe the intersection between religion, gender, and sexuality in the formation of masculinities and the effects of toxic masculinity in our schools.
For my post today, I will be talking slightly more in-depth about my mental health. I have been quite open and honest about my battle with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks – and have written some posts of my own on my blog. Basically, my anxiety has been brewing for years – since high school really – and I think, in the beginning, it was triggered more by stress and social situations, but now it has evolved to a more EVERYDAY/RANDOM things that can trigger my anxiety. I can be on the bus and have a panic attack, in the shops, in the shower, in bed – literally can wake up dizzy and shaky and incredibly anxious.
I was lucky in the sense that my mum also suffers from anxiety so when I was diagnosed it was just a thing, nothing to be ashamed about. But I quickly realised that in my family, and I mean my extended family, it was not something you talk about. There was an aspect of shame that came with mental illness that immediately made it an issue you did not talk out loud about with the family. I found this hilarious, considering my extended Greek family has a long history with mental illness, so I made it my mission to talk about it without shame and embarrassment. It actually had a positive effect.
So, on that note, the importance of talking about mental illness and creating a space where we can have an honest and supportive dialogue about these issues, really will help people being able to find the support and the help they need!
So, as I said before, I have been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder with panic attacks. This means that I can feel anxious, stressed, or worried in general, and not only in the result of a particularly stressful situation. It can be quite persistent and crippling.
In terms of my own experience, I found that I would wake up dizzy and shaky, struggling to breathe properly and randomly feeling completely overwhelmed by my environment. I would constantly think in the worst-case scenario and worry about literally everything. There was a point where I literally had to be forced to leave my house because my anxiety would get too strong that the thought of leaving would trigger a panic attack. I do have low self-esteem and am quite shy because I’m afraid of speaking to people and saying the wrong thing – and if I do think I do say the wrong thing, my anxiety forces me to relive that moment over and over again.
Another aspect of my anxiety comes in the form of having to do little things constantly or else I would have a panic attack; for example, when I would go on the train towards the city, I had to go on the last carriage; and coming from the city home, I would have to go on the first carriage – and I needed to have a window seat. Or else I would sit there trying to breathe.
Thinking back now, I don’t know why it took me so long to actually get formally diagnosed. It was something I knew I needed to do because at a certain point, in 2016, it became extremely debilitating, but I always said, ‘yes, I will but not now.’ Now, in 2016, I was completing my honours thesis for university, so I was already quite stressed, and times that by a thousand and you had my mental state. I would have low-level attacks on the bus and train to uni, I wouldn’t be sleeping, and I was extremely unmotivated to do literally anything. So, by this stage, I was having severe panic attacks at least once a week. But, funnily enough, it wasn’t until I had a really intense panic attack at work that I said to myself I needed to go to a doctor. My panic attack at work was so extreme that both of my bosses called my mum without me knowing because I was so out of it. They had to literally carry me to the back of the shop – I was so disorientated and trying not to faint that I didn’t notice until mum came into the shop and took me home. That was when I became a crying mess. It was not pretty. But that was the catalyst.
Now, I do take an anti-depressant for my anxiety called Lexapro. I take 10mg which is actually the lowest dose, but it has been helping me so far. I do believe that the plan is to up my dose exponentially, but, although I do still have anxiety, I haven’t had an extreme panic attack for a while, which is fantastic considering in the beginning, my anxiety and my panic attacks impacted my life in only the worst way. It crippled me both mentally, emotionally, but also socially and physically in everyday life. I would have to think to myself: is today a good day? Can I leave the house? Or should I stay home just in case I have an attack? It can be terrible, and, honestly, you cannot live life that way.
However, now, I would say that my anxiety has also enabled me to grow into a strong woman who knows her flaws but also knows her strengths and works extremely hard to be the woman I want to be. Without my anxiety, I don’t know who I would be.
When I think about it, it’s kind of funny. I mean at first, I thought my anxiety was asthma. Sweetie, it was not asthma. I couldn’t breathe at night because I was having panic attacks. If I could confront my past self I would say, ‘Go to the doctors and get help! There’s no shame in it, no matter what you hear from the rest of your family, anxiety is real and it is much more pervasive, and no matter what Cousin Manny says, you can’t just ‘get over it’. Stop telling yourself you will eventually go to the doctor and go now! Your mental health and your physical health with thank you (also your thesis). So, be strong girl. You got this!’
I think one of the main misconceptions that I want to break and which annoys me is the idea that anxiety is stress. When I say I’m anxious, I’m not stressed. Don’t tell me to get over it or just to breathe – it doesn’t work that way. I feel as though a lot of people use ‘anxious’ interchangeably with ‘stress’, and that’s fine – but having an anxiety disorder and having anxiety can be two completely different things, and they can affect a person in completely different ways. Anxiety disorders are real, and they can be extremely crippling. I feel as though older people try and always dismiss anxiety disorder because they only understand ‘anxiety’ to be ‘being stressed’. No. Having to do exams can make people stressed and anxious but when I’m shopping and all of a sudden, the world is too bright and loud, my vision is narrowing and I can’t breathe, that’s a panic attack because of my anxiety disorder. Don’t dismiss my illness because of your ignorance.
The main thing people should do in order to help is to just understand, really. When I say no to hanging out, for instance, don’t take it personally, it just means it’s a bad day. There are going to be instances when I just stop talking for a while, and that’s okay, it’s not you, it’s me. I need to be in my own space for a bit, to read or blog or go on my phone. Although my thoughts can be chaotic, I do need some time with them to help calm me and organise my day. Just be supportive and patient, that’s honestly what will help me – if I don’t answer your text for a few days/weeks, know that I know you have messaged me but the thought of communication at that moment is too big of an ask.
I have always been quite open about my mental health. I think the first post about my anxiety on my blog was actually in the form of a poem or a short story. It was in the aftermath of my huge panic attack at work, that I spoke about above, and I needed an outlet for my sorrow and panic. It wasn’t a deliberate decision to talk about my anxiety on my blog, it was more of a natural progression to utilise this space that I created to be able to unleash my feelings or talk about my anxiety when I needed to. I have to say that most of my poetry, for instance, explores aspects of my anxiety and aims to try and articulate what happens or how I feel when I am fully in the grasps of my anxiety or a panic attack.
I talk openly about my mental health and why I want to take part in talking about mental illness is to break stereotypes and educate people. Although anxiety has fundamentally changed my life, I would not wish to live my life without anxiety or without my past experiences. I briefly said this before, but I don’t know who I would be without my anxiety. Dealing with my disorder has made me stronger and I have learnt so much about myself through this journey that I honestly think I would be such a different person – most likely unrecognisable. It made me be more open with myself, it brought my mum and I so much closer, and I made irreplaceable friends through a mutual bonding of anxiety complaining. I began to write more as a result of my anxiety and I honestly would not change a thing.
And that brings my post to a close! If people want me to do a mental health/illness post on my blog on the regular, let me know! I really think we need to work harder as a community to help deconstruct the stigma surrounding mental illness, so being able to do a guest post for Kelly is such an honour! I post regular bookish goodness on my blog and I am an avid tweeter, so if you ever want to talk about anything, be that books or mental health, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Thank you so much to Kelly for giving me the honour of writing for your blog!
Until next time, take care and happy reading!