Hi, I’m Bronwyn, and I have an anxiety disorder.

I was given this label in 2014, handed to me by a doctor at the start of my A Levels. I blamed it on exams, I blamed it on numerous personal problems, but most importantly I blamed it on myself.

It did start when I had panic attacks before exams. I was 15. 15-year olds don’t really know anything in the eyes of many, anyway. I ignored it.

Just because I ignored it doesn’t mean it stopped. I turned 16, sat my GCSEs, cried a lot and blamed it on hormones. Sorted.

You can’t cry, because crying is a weakness. You start giving yourself windows to be sad, you try and fit it around the schedule of your family and your housemates, so you don’t get caught. It’s like when you were a kid and you tried to stay up late playing on your Gameboy, keeping an ear out for someone creeping up the stairs. When it doesn’t work, you shut down. It’s like your brain has an off switch, or it has run out of battery, and you feel empty. You feel nothing.

The emptiness is a side effect of the anxiety you experience on a daily basis. It depresses you that some days you don’t have enough energy to do anything but sleep. Everything slows down. You cancel nights out. You stop leaving your room. Meals are minimal, and you just about make it to your lectures. You want to be alone, but you don’t want to be alone with your thoughts. You deteriorate from the inside, out.

In 2016 everything changed. I may have needed help years before this, but it had gone too far. My quality of life had diminished, and I realised that not only was I hurting myself, I was hurting the people around me.

I needed to do something. Anything.

I went to therapy. I joined a gym. I bought a lot of colouring books. I accepted that I wasn’t okay, but acceptance is only part of the journey. Since then, I’ve been on a wild ride of discovery. I’ve learned about why my brain decides it doesn’t want to work sometimes, how to make it work a bit better and what works best for me. I went back to my roots. I read a lot of books. I played a lot of video-games. It distracted me.

I continued to get stressed. The problem was the symptoms started to become physical. I would have weeks where I didn’t have any energy, and the dread would make me feel nauseous. My eczema came back with a vengeance, and my hands would start bleeding constantly. My skin cracked and so did I.

I lost my Gran. Then my Grandad.

You’re still only 21, someone calls out from outside the void. Look what you’ve done. Look at what you’ve got left to do. They’re so proud of you. They’ll always be proud of you.

I was slipping, and everyone was slipping away from me. Either by passing away or me pushing them away. I was in a different country, but it felt like I was a world away.

People may think I’m dramatic, or extreme. People may think that I overreacted. People can think whatever they want. I can’t stop them. However, others can also start to understand if you give them a chance to. People can also support you. People can learn.

Even if I take two steps back, as long as I try to take three steps forward, I’m still moving ahead. There are good days and there are bad days. I follow my brain’s lead. I will have an early night if I need it. I will try to communicate more if I want to. Surprisingly, my friends want to be there for me. I try and be open about my mental health and hopefully people will realise it’s okay for them to be too.

I am very lucky to have grown up in a changing world. A world where people are being a little more open, a little more progressive, and a little more accepting. Mental health isn’t any less coherent, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about. It’s never been a big secret, but sometimes one judgemental comment or one patronising look is enough to make me wish I suppressed my way to success.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month, but there are resources that can help you all year round. It’s 2018 now, and I’m not the person I was in 2011, so there’s hope.

Resources

Mental Health website: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/stress-are-we-coping?gclid=CjwKCAjw_tTXBRBsEiwArqXyMkgTZXa0NQaYur8rnE7-COO8qWkwwRstB8F6NTPJAzWjxAfSOsHu0hoChQsQAvD_BwE

What actually is stress?: https://www.medicinenet.com/stress/article.htm#what_is_stress

I wrote some things a while ago about mental health: Invisible to you, and the The Precarious Topic of Mental Illness

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