A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting on my sofa struggling to breathe, with a pounding head, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea and tears streaming down my face.
I felt a foreboding sense of dread and fear as the room started to spin.
The next thing I remember is waking up, having blacked out for about ten minutes. I felt an overwhelming tiredness and tingling sensation through my whole body as if I couldn’t move.
These symptoms were not related to a physical health issue but were caused by anxiety overwhelm.
The first time I experienced an episode of this nature was about 15 years ago, I honestly thought I was having a heart attack and the paramedics were called, they confirmed it was a panic attack.
These episodes have happened periodically ever since. It really does feel like my entire body and brain just can’t cope and shuts down.
This is an example of my anxiety at its most severe, and a warning to take a break for a while but the lesser symptoms are a permanent part of my existence and affect everything I do.
I am a high-functioning adult, a parent, and an employee but I struggle with my mental health.
I have diagnoses of CPTSD, Clinical Depression, a probable autistic spectrum disorder (but not diagnosed) and Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
The CPTSD can trigger me to respond using fight or flight in certain situations and the depression comes in waves, making me feel very low but these are manageable. It is the anxiety that impacts my life and is a struggle twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
I guess growing up I was always a nervous, sensitive child who struggled to control my emotions but over recent years this has become increasingly worse. I particularly struggle with social anxiety around interpersonal relationships.
Let me try to explain how this affects me.
My experience of social anxiety
I have continuous racing thoughts in my head which tell me I am not good enough, people don’t want to work with me or be around me, that I am an imposter, and that people will find out I’m not capable or normal, that I don’t deserve friendship or love.
This leads me to over thinking every single social interaction I have throughout the day.
Every conversation, email correspondence or social media message, I will replay in my head several times, trying to work out if I have said something wrong, if I have offended someone or if I should have done something different.
Environments where it is necessary to interact with lots of people such as parties, social events or large work events can feel especially overwhelming and challenging.
Anxiety at work
I struggle severely with imposter syndrome in the workplace, believing that I am underqualified, and incompetent at my job and that I do not deserve to be part of the team.
I jump to negative thought patterns when others communicate with me, often catastrophising the worst-case scenario. To the point where a simple hello from a manager at work, in my head can be turned into, was there a tone in the voice, did they really mean hello, are they annoyed with me, have I done something wrong, am I going to get fired?
Teams or Zoom calls can cause anxiety too, I worry about things such as what if the tech doesn’t work, what if I speak at the wrong time, and what if I get stuck on mute.
All of this leads to frequent bouts of me being tearful or struggling with paranoia at work, resulting in low confidence which inhibits me from producing work or communicating with colleagues as I’m so afraid of getting it wrong. The irony is these thought patterns and behaviours become self-prophesising resulting in me being incompetent at my job and work relationships, therefore proving my initial negative thoughts and fears are correct, feeding back into my anxiety.
Anxiety & social life
Socialising with family and friends can be just as challenging.
I have some great friends. But if I have a social engagement planned, from the moment it is first agreed, I am thinking do they really want to spend time with me, what if they have just invited me out to be nice or because they feel they must?
I will overthink every angle of the invite and will often when speaking to people subtly suggest get-out options, so they can cancel the engagement and don’t feel obliged.
It doesn’t stop there, I can have a lovely time out with friends, but afterwards will then spend hours ruminating on whether I behaved appropriately, said the right thing, or did the right thing.
Did they enjoy spending time with me or was I a burden that they tolerated?
Anxiety when travelling
In addition to this, I overthink and stress about travelling with a fear of being late, getting lost, or missing connections, to the point of arriving at places more than an hour early.
I also panic about arriving after everyone else, having to walk into a meeting or social event once it has already started and everyone looking at me.
Then there are little anxieties, such as eating – Can people hear me eating?
Is the smell of my food offensive…to the point where I won’t pack a bag of crisps or an apple for my lunch in case the crunching is too noisy.
Preparing to leave home can also be stressful, I need to double check that doors are locked, that the iron is switched off, the taps are turned off, that I have my keys. I worry when I’m away from the house about fire or someone breaking in.
The list of things that cause me anxiety on a day-to-day basis could go on and on.
Anxiety & sleep
Night-time is the worst, as this is when I find myself reflecting on all these things and overthinking repeatedly.
This often leads to poor sleep patterns and anxiety dreams.
The reality for me is that living with anxiety is exhausting and often leads to me feeling as if no one else understands and feeling very alone. Furthermore, it leads to excessive feelings of guilt and shame, which then cause more overthinking, resulting in more anxiety. This becomes a repetitious cycle which takes over my entire life.
What helps me?
I have been known to use unhealthy coping mechanisms. I used to drink excessively which helped my confidence at the time, but I always felt worse and more anxious the day after. I have now mostly given this up. I do smoke to calm myself although I’m trying to cut this down. Other habits include putting myself down, apologising a lot or joking about myself. These coping mechanisms are unhelpful and are not recommended but we are all human.
I have more recently taken steps towards positive coping mechanisms and have accessed support in the form of medication and therapy.
I take a low dose of prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which stabilises me a little bit, I have tried various types of medication, but for me I find that higher doses, although effective at decreasing the anxiety, also have side effects which make me feel sleepy and make my thoughts very foggy, causing me to be unable to function and concentrate or focus.
I have engaged in CBT therapy, which has given me some coping skills such as breathing exercises and grounding techniques. These do help me to manage anxiety in certain situations.
I speak to a counsellor regularly, who helps me to de-catastrophize and talks through certain situations with me.
I also often sense check with a few trusted people in my life if I am overthinking and reacting wrong to communications. This helps me to rationalise my thoughts sometimes.
The importance of connection
Although most of my anxiety is around interactions with people, not interacting with people for too long can be just as damaging for my mental health, as time on my own leads to excessive overthinking and can trigger severe episodes of depression. It can also lead to fear of going back out and mixing with people, causing me too completely self-isolate.
However, I do sometimes need periods alone, just to rest and recover, especially after a difficult episode.
I am lucky that I do have a few trusted family members/friends who support me.
Connecting with nature
I find that walking on the beach or in nature is a healthy coping mechanism which can really help me to switch off from my thoughts at least for a short while.
Connecting with colleagues at work
Talking to work colleagues and my employer and explaining how I feel, especially if I’m stressed over something specific at work, can sometimes help.
“I hope that one day there will be a magic wand I can wave, and the anxiety will just disappear but for now I will continue to fight it one day at a time”.
Thank you for reading my story, if you relate to any of this and have had similar experiences, please reach out for support.
A good starting point is talking to your GP or alternatively, find support at Dorset Mind.
Anxiety UK, (Mon-Frid 9:30 am – 5:30 pm)
Anxiety UK offers services to support those with or experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
Call 03444 775 774 OR Text 07537 416 905
Samaritans, 24/7 phoneline
Emotional support and listening service.
Call 116 123
Connection, 24/7 phoneline
For people of all ages in Dorset who are experiencing mental health issues and need support.
Call 0800 652 0190
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