My Story: 10 Years of Living with Anxiety Part 3

Posted on October 14, 2013

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My first breakdown

When I got back to London and found myself working in media, it was exciting at first, but there was a slow gradual process of the decline of my mental health. I was partying a lot, trying to hide my discomfort in the world, burying my sadness and confusion and pain with large amounts of alcohol, mdma and cocaine. I was drinking at lunchtimes, going to a lot of media parties in the evenings, and spending most days hungover at work. I’d go out Friday night, and then the rest of the weekend would be a total write off.

After 6 months managing a dance music magazine and getting guest list invites every week to the best parties in town, I realised I was miserable. I was falling out with my closest friends, and having meaningless one night stands with guys who didn’t respect me.

I wasn’t getting on with anyone I worked with, I was argumentative, hard to manage and constantly challenging the status quo. I started to hate going to work, dreading the mundanity of it, and rarely made an effort with anyone. I started to hate people, perhaps just because they had tried to talk to me about the way I was behaving, or because they were popular and I was jealous.

Of course I was deflecting my own hatred of myself.

Shortly after, I started getting chest pains at work – which I later discovered were panic attacks. I was always on edge, working myself up into frustration, often close to tears. When people would seem to be getting pissed off or frustrated with me, it seemed to only serve to justify the negative thoughts in my head. And because I couldn’t see how I’d been behaving I didn’t understand why. I thought I was going mad. I started getting feedback, which made me feel like I couldn’t trust my gut instincts anymore. I became defensive. I built up walls. I started to realise that nobody knew the real me, that I had been putting on a front, perhaps most of my adult life, covering up with overly confidant (and in some cases aggressive) behaviour. My armour. The distance between the inner vulnerable me and the tough me, that the outside world saw, grew increasingly far reaching.

I did a lot of things around that time that I regret, and have been ashamed of. But one of the good things about growing older (and wiser) is that you learn how to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made when trying to navigate your way through the world.

But I was utterly lost, and seemingly no one could help me. It was like I was on a path to self-destruction and I was a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I behaved in ways that would make people hate me, then at least I could understand the voices in my head that sad they did.  I left that job in the end by getting myself another one, at a much smaller company headed up by a friend of mine – a more nurturing environment.  I started to see a variety of therapists to help me understand what was going on in my head.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was unwell.

Intimacy wasn’t something I knew much about because since I had been really young I had been at boarding school. I had a bad relationship with my family, who I had been pushing away since I was a teenager. I had never had a grown up love relationship, only destructive ones – so when I was meeting people I made it all about sex, and for a really long time afterwards I just wanted to have sex with as many people as I could. The bottom had fallen out of my confidence, and I sought to re-plug it with bedpost notches. I reveled in sharing these stories with friends, as if my sexual adventures defined me. I felt like they made me interesting and exciting. When really all I was doing was masking the turmoil bubbling inside of me, the lack of personality I seemed to have, as I felt so consumed by things I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Anxiety now

Everyone is different, but with me, everything seems to start with anxiety. Anxiety leads to irrational or destructive behaviours, which then leads to depression. Gaining self awareness, and an understanding of what is scientifically going on in my brain, has probably been what has saved me.

I’ve done a lot of CBT, mindfulness for depression, explored issues around sex and intimacy with talking therapies, such as being gay (or not); plus looked into my experiences of anxiety, depression, drug addiction, love addiction, abandonment, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, dysfunctional family issues and mother issues with various specialists, and in my own reading. There’s a book – or an online article – for pretty much anything. You’d be surprised.

Homecoming

I’ve done bipolar tests, aspergers tests, tried hypnotherapy and worked with 12 steps to try and understand why I have struggled with these issues my whole life. There have been times where I actually wanted to be told I was bipolar. Anything to put a label on it, to feel less alone in my pain.

Learning about Inner Child theory, has possibly been the single most biggest progression in my mental health journey. There is a great book by John Bradshaw called Homecoming, which is my therapists bible in this subject. You can buy it now by clicking that link. I would highly recommend it, if any of what I have been saying resonates.

By healing the past, and spending a lot of time finding peace with it, i’m seeing that I am gradually mellowing out. My ‘triggers’ still happen, but the anxiety doesn’t feel as almighty as it used to.  Prior to this new type of therapy, where we do meditative visualisations that tend to release subconscious pain from childhood, I’d had one other major breakdown since the one described above, last year. In the last 12 months I’ve felt the lowest i’m sure a person could feel on a number of occasions. This culminated in me taking too many painkillers on new years eve last year when drunk, and subsequently having suicidal thoughts quite frequently afterwards.

Self medicate

The one thing I just never wanted to do was go on medication, and to this day I still haven’t, bar some anxiety medication borrowed off friends during particularly challenging times.

One of the biggest things for me, has been talking about it.

Only my closest friends have ever known the full extent of my suffering from anxiety and depression, and in most cases those friends only know because they also suffer.

There’s so much stigma in the professional world, particularly in media, about mental health issues – there’s this perception that if you let people know you’re struggling, you will seem weak, incapable of doing the job. It’s a fear that i’ve had, that people in the workplace can sniff me out as a fraud. I’ve often felt at times, particularly as I have a career that demands a lot of confidence and strong communication skills, that i’m blagging it. That I’m not really that person, that everyone else sees. But when you need to take time off for being unwell emotionally, you have to be able to feel like you can be honest. But I don’t think people generally feel like they can be when it comes to mental health issues.

Reducing the shame around anxiety and depression is important to me, which is why I support the Time To Change campaign, by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

You can read more stories on their blog.

#TimeToTalk

@TimeToChange

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Posted in: The Truth