Please note that Sarah’s story might be difficult to read, it contains very honest content.
Our guest blogger Sarah will represent Dorset at the UK National Miss 2021 Competition. She hopes to use her title as a platform to help other people and wants to share her experience of anxiety and depression.
When I was asked to do this blog I said yes because I want to raise awareness and help people with the same struggles that I have had. At the same time panic set in as, because of my dyslexia, I struggle with writing. My past experiences triggers my anxiety so it’s a little bit of a vicious circle. However, I thought I would challenge myself!
My anxiety started early on when I was at school. I remember sitting in a class of 30 children. The teacher would explain what we had to do, and everyone just seemed to get it straight away. I would ask again and she would explain it, but I still wouldn’t get it so I spent quite a lot of time staring around the room at everybody else getting on with their work.
Being diagnosed with Dyslexia
I tried to work out in my mind why they could do it and I couldn’t, as at this time I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia. I ended up staring into space looking out the window. And if there was somebody clever sat next to me I would copy their work. Which sounds terrible now and I’ve never encouraged my son to do it. But I did get so frustrated with myself that I didn’t feel good enough.
There would be times in English where they would go round the room asking people to read out of the book. When it got to my turn I would ask the teacher to go to the toilet and sometimes I’d just sit in there for the whole lesson. She must’ve known I was struggling because it was every time. If I had to read I would read so slowly. I would have to break up words, and couldn’t read some of them altogether. I could see everyone looking at me because I was different.
My trigger for anxiety and depressing
These struggles triggered my anxiety and depression. Eventually I got help for my dyslexia and had a classroom assistant sat next to me. But this would also make me feel stupid because I was the only person who had one. If there was a difficult task that everybody else was doing I would always be taken out. I’d have to sit on my own with the assistant and we would do something totally different that somebody much younger would do.
The books I was reading were for younger children. This also caused me not to feel good enough. You see the problem was that I was comparing myself to everybody else around me. I was looking around seeing what they could do, and thinking why can’t I do what they are doing? Why am I not enough?
I have an older brother who is a year older than me who is extremely academic and doesn’t seem to try much in anything – he just gets it. I was miles behind him. When the classroom was noisy, I couldn’t concentrate at all and socially I was behind as I didn’t have a lot of friends. If everybody spoke at once I couldn’t cope. And big crowds make me feel panicky. I didn’t fit in with everybody else and I felt different. I just wanted to be like everybody else.
My confidence level was at zero. School was not a good environment for me. I became withdrawn and I didn’t want to talk to anybody. Although surrounded by people, I felt alone. I would cry myself to sleep and used to sit up at night planning how I would end it. I just felt like there’s no point in me being here and I felt like I didn’t have anything to add to the world.
At this point I was very depressed, although I was not diagnosed. I wouldn’t tell anybody how I was feeling, and it was such an isolating time. Around my fingers would always be sores where I would bite around the skin. When I felt agitated or anxious, it become a bit of a coping mechanism. Not one that I would recommend!
After leaving school, I began to flourish
After I left school, I started hairdressing. I was painfully shy and struggled to talk to people, but I was very lucky that I worked with a very friendly team of girls that brought me out of myself. There I learnt how to communicate with people, and how to deal with situations. I didn’t have to write anything or read anything, as everything was shorthand. The other apprentice I was working with was also dyslexic. We are still friends to this day!
I finally felt “normal” but it wasn’t till years later depression and anxiety reared its ugly head again. My relationship with my son’s dad broke down. We grew apart and he moved out of the family home. I was left on my own and although I knew it was the right thing to happen, I really struggled mentally.
The first panic attack
The first panic attack I had was at the worst possible place you can imagine – at my sons’ school. I’d gone to tell teacher that we had separated. I waited for the parents to go and went into his classroom and asked his teacher for a quick word. As I was waiting for her I started feeling dizzy. I started feeling ‘fuzzy,’ as if I was going to pass out I could see goosebumps on my arms all of a sudden I got really cold. It was like ants were running all over me.
I couldn’t get my breath – I tried but I just couldn’t. I started panicking, and at this point I was crying. I must’ve looked awful – like I had just run a marathon. It didn’t actually last that long, but it seems like it went on forever.
The teacher took me into another room where I spoke to the head. I was still a bit emotional but managed to get my words out. I remember feeling totally embarrassed and I text a ‘Mum’ friend at the school asking if anybody saw me. One of the teachers called me the next day to make sure I was okay and asked me if we could have a meeting which I agreed to. She’s basically just checking on me and ask if there’s anything that the school could do to help.
Pretending nothing was wrong
I sugar-coated it and pretended there was nothing wrong and put on a smile and apologised for my behaviour. My sleep suffered – I was up all night analysing every moment of the day. I questioned whether there was something I did wrong or if I upset somebody which was ridiculous because I never did. I started becoming really worried when I left the house if I’d locked up properly remember one day I went back and checked it three times.
It just got worse and worse. I’d randomly start crying – I tried to put on a front, but soon as I got home broke down. It always at night after I put my son to bed. I wouldn’t sleep and my appetite went. At this point I was having suicidal thoughts. And I knew I needed help. Seeing my son pulled me round every time, and I would never do anything because of him.
Normally I’d get to sleep at about 2 o’clock in the morning and then wake up at around six automatically. I took my son to school one day and on the way, I literally broke down. I wasn’t even feeling that sad that day. There was nothing on my mind but I just couldn’t stop crying. I had to pull over and then couldn’t breathe – I felt very panicky.
Seeking help for my anxiety and depression
The same thing happened that I’d experienced in the classroom. I later discovered it was a panic attack. Once I’d calmed down a bit, I went to the doctors. I went to the reception desk and literally broke down so I couldn’t even get my words out. She told me to take a seat. I felt so embarrassed, I looked around and everyone was staring at me. It took me back to being a child again.
I was called into the doctors’ room and I basically offloaded everything to her. I told her every detail and was then diagnosed with anxiety and depression. The doctor said that the likeliness is I was having panic attacks and prescribed some medication for me. I found it made me quite sleepy, so I used to take it at night about a hour before bed.
At first, to be honest, I didn’t notice much difference and I contacted the doctor to say it wasn’t working. Then after the first two weeks, it really started to kick in. I wasn’t even experiencing the side-effects as much as I did before, and I did start to feel much better.
I started eating regularly again, and my appetite seemed to come back a bit more. It was like a fog had lifted, and I even started working out at home. I felt like I needed a fresh start. I guess in a way I was seeking acceptance still, so I started doing a bit of modelling. Nothing big, just for photographers doing projects mainly. Then I entered into the UK’s National ‘Miss’. They accepted me and gave me the title ‘Ms Dorset’ to represent my county.
It has really been a boost for me and helped my confidence a lot. I still sometimes feel anxious and panicky, but nowhere near as bad I did before.
My tips for coping with anxiety
I have got a couple of little tips. If I’m feeling anxious or begin to chew my fingers I paint my nails. The process calms me down and soothes my anxiety. I then don’t do anything with my hands whilst the nails dry, and by the time they do the moment has passed.
I’ve also started to do yoga in the morning, as I get up before my son now he’s getting older. This is a brilliant way to start the day and really helps me to focus on what I’m doing.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t get help earlier. I didn’t ask for help and I felt like I would’ve been a burden by asking for help or being a problem. Actually it was so simple, and if I had gone to the doctor straight away they would’ve helped me and I wouldn’t have gone through all of that pain,
So my message is this: if you’re having similar feelings, don’t keep it inside. Talk to someone, seek help and visit your doctor sooner rather than later.
I hope my story helps someone.
If you need support with the issues that Sarah has experienced, please use the following links. Dorset Mind offer support for anxiety, depression and eating disorders. You can find the link here.