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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Living with an anxiety disorder

Living with an anxiety disorder

Living with an anxiety disorder feels, at times, like living with a neon sign above your head that flashes the word "Freak."

The time of hiding our issues away, as though they are something to be ashamed off, are long gone, and yet the stigma still remains. It's hard to be strong when even your own brain seems determined to fight against you every step of the way.

Everybody has an opinion about it and at some point in your life someone you love will completely break your heart by uttering the words, "You could get over it if you really tried."

You can always tell the people who have been informed of your disorder by the way they look at you when you haven't seen them for a while. There are generally two distinctive types. Type number one will tilt their head to the side, smile at you like you're a brave little soldier, and tell you that it is so nice to see you out and about. Type number two will avoid eye contact with you, and will struggle for things to say, eager for a quick getaway.

It has taken me over ten years of living with this disorder, but I have finally gotten to the place where I feel no shame in what I have and am comfortable just being me. I'm not waiting to be better for my life to start, because this is my life and I am living it every day. Yes there are some thing I miss out on because of my disorder, and things that should be simple at times seem impossible, but I have learned to accept the fact that I may never have a completely 'normal' life.

I cannot change the fact that sometimes I wake up shaking in fear because I have a meeting that day, or a doctor's appointment. However, I can change some small things and by doing that I can eventually manage to change some of the bigger things.

I have tried various medications over the years, but decided that they weren't for me. I didn't like taking them as they made my mind fuzzy and I found it hard to write, which I have found to be a great healing tool. I take natural valerian root supplements when needed, as well as practicing yoga and meditation.

I truly do not believe that an anxiety disorder is something you can ever get over, much in the way that a recovering alcoholic will always be an alcoholic. We will always struggle with our problems, and sometimes we will be better, and sometimes we will be worse. The important thing is to not let the bad times set us back. Accept that you feel like crap for the time being and own it. Know that it will always, eventually, get better.

At its very worse, my anxiety disorder had me feeling so alone, lost, and trapped that I considered committing suicide. Every day seemed to present a new struggle that I just couldn't cope with. I was seventeen-years-old and hadn't told my family what was happening to me, because people didn't talk about such things, and I didn't even understand it myself. I didn't really want to die though, I just couldn't see a way out, so I mustered all of my courage and went and told my mum. She was so shocked, and ashamed that she hadn't noticed there was something wrong with me; I had gotten really good at pretending and making up excuses for my behaviour. For the whole of the next day she looked at me as though she didn't know me at all and it took some time for her to get her head around it. Eventually though, as she and I learned more about it together, she became my rock, the one person to never judge me and who always supported and encouraged me.

The reason I am sharing such a personal thing is because I would have given anything, back then, to know that there was someone else out there who was feeling just like me. I learnt from this experience, that no matter how bad you think things are, eventually, they will always get better. By talking about it and making more people aware of it, I have come to accept this part of me. I am both happy and content in my life now. My anxiety disorder has had a big impact in shaping the person I am. It has made me kinder, more patient and accepting of others, as well as making me strong. I know now, that there is nothing life can throw at me that I can't survive.

The key to surviving, for me, is acceptance. The old serenity prayer, which is often used by addicts in recovery, is never far from my mind.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

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