Recently, it was the anniversary of a particular event, or series of events, that happened at a time when I was probably struggling the very most with my anxiety.
What the event was doesn’t matter, nor do the specific ins and outs of what happened, but what I wanted to try and put into words was how these dates felt, this year.
Firstly, I felt sad. I felt sad that what should have been a really happy occasion and memory is tainted by the way my anxiety made me feel. It completely took over the event, leaving me crying in my room, and escaping for long walks with my dad.
Secondly, the emotions and feelings came flooding back. I sat in my room remembering the events.
The transportation there and back made me feel trapped like I would never be able to get out. And every minute felt like hours.
I was convinced everyone was watching me, noticing what a nervous wreck I was, noticing me trying to slow down my breathing and stop my whole body tensing and shaking.
I was convinced I would be letting people down, the family and friends there with us. I thought I must seem pretty pathetic. In their opinion, all things considered, I had ‘nothing to worry about’.
There’s no logic to your thoughts when you’re at the mercy of your own mind, though.
I remember sitting in a tiny café with my dad, looking out over a beautiful view, chatting and mulling everything over having had a sleepless night. I’d woken up with nausea that was overwhelming, with a chest so tight every breath hurt.
I couldn’t eat, so each mealtime again felt like a performance. In reality, no one really noticed. In my head, everyone was staring, noticing I wasn’t acting normally, thinking about how ridiculous I seemed.
Thirdly, I felt frustration. I felt angry. This was initially directed at myself. How could I have let it get so out of hand? How could I have let myself be drawn so deeply into these thought patterns? And then the frustration was at the illness. Why me? Why ruin an event that should hold nothing but happy memories? Why not just leave me alone?
And fourth? Fourth came pride. And the pride was made up of two parts.
The first reason for the pride: nobody knew. Nobody knows. Aside from my parents, no one else at the event would have had a clue. Despite my thoughts at the time, I can look back now and see nobody had any idea. I didn’t ‘ruin’ anyone else’s time. I didn’t taint anyone else’s memories.
And the second? Looking at how far I’ve come. I try to do this often, because I think it’s one of the most powerful things you can do at whatever stage you are in your ‘journey’ of dealing with an illness like anxiety.
Travelling still makes me nervous, I’ll admit. I have to know the route, the journey time, that there’s the opportunity to pause before continuing if I need to. But I can do it. I went through months of almost weekly trains between Manchester and London, and now I commute on the tube at rush hour every single day.
Have I had days I’ve jumped off to breathe? Yes. Have I had days I’ve dreaded getting on, or times the tube has stopped with no explanation in a tunnel and I feel the panic slowly creeping up and taking over my body? Yes. But I do it, every day.
Social situations don’t leave me panicking constantly in the days before, and I don’t spend the entire time looking at the door, repeating to myself ‘you can get out, you can get out, you need to get out, you need to get out’. Do I have days I don’t want to socialise? Of course! But does everyone? Also, yes.
I’m in a very, very different place to the one I was in a couple of years ago in these months leading up to Christmas.
And you know what? I am so, so proud.