Lots of people who struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues feel as though they have felt this way for a long time, or cannot remember feeling any other way. It’s often hard to pinpoint when it began or how it even started.
Personally, I vividly remember being 8 years old, lying in bed one night and experiencing a terrible panic attack that would lead to many more throughout the years.
In my young brain, I had absolutely no idea what was happening, why I was feeling this way or how to explain it. I remember waking up one night with a feeling of intense fear, and I couldn’t breathe. It felt as though my throat had closed up, or that there was something large and obstructive lodged there, stopping any air getting through. I recall lying in my purple pajamas gasping for air and thinking that I was going to suffocate and die.
These attacks happened periodically over the next few weeks and months. I kept quiet about it though, for even in my 8 year old brain I knew that what was happening to me was not normal, and I was afraid that as a child, nobody would take me seriously. I likened it to the period of time when I was convinced that there was an Ancient Egyptian mummy in my wardrobe, using it as a sarcophagus and plotting to get me in the night as I slept. I had confessed my fears to my parents and both had assured me that I was being ridiculous, and that there was nothing there. I didn’t want to be made to feel foolish again.
And so I silently suffered for years with panic attacks in the dark of the night. These reached a peak when I was around 11, and my parents told myself and my younger brother that we would be moving. Not only moving house, but moving countries! This created a renewed sense of anxiety and helplessness within me. Not only was the prospect of moving incredibly daunting, but I would be leaving all of my family and friends behind to start a new life with my parents and brother in a strange new place.
Again, I remember being told not to worry and not to be silly, and that we were headed on a great-and-not-scary-at-all-adventure. But on the inside I was terrified. My internalised fear brought on an entirely new onslaught of anxiety and panic attacks that would usually happen at night. I would go to bed every night dreading the moment that I would wake, unable to move and unable to breathe.
I definitely believe that this was the start or at least the first manifestation of what I would learn at age 15 as generalised anxiety disorder and later at age 17 as bipolar disorder. I firmly believe that this is something that I have carried with me for most if not all of my life.
Anxiety, depression, and mental illnesses are a huge burden that affect so many different people for different reasons, and at different points of their life. Whatever age or stage of your life, whatever your situation, IT IS OKAY to ask for help. Too many of us feel afraid to reach out, and end up suffering in silence. Please, if you’re reading this, stay strong. If you’ve stuck with me for this long, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to say you’re not okay. And don’t be afraid to share your story. Thanks for reading.