Talking about mental illness can be difficult but sometimes starting a conversation can be the first step to helping yourself, or helping someone else. In this article, Emily Badham overcomes her discomfort of talking about mental health and starts the conversation by opening up about her own experience with anxiety.
Recently mental health has been at the forefront of discussion online and throughout the media which, in all honesty, was making me feel uncomfortable. I know the importance of talking about mental health and I know the stigma associated with having a mental illness makes it even harder to discuss, but I still felt uneasy. But, due to recent events, I have become much more open about talking about mental health and my own personal anxieties.
So, let’s be blatant and honest. Let’s talk about anxiety (just a little reminder that a lot of this will be based on my own personal experience and it in no way represents the feelings and experiences of other people in the same or similar situations).
The NHS describes Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as ‘a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event.’ People suffering with GAD also ‘feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.’ In addition, research suggests that a number of factors may contribute to GAD, while many people may develop it for no reason at all.
On a personal level, my own anxiety does not have a cause. There was no significant event, no big revelation, it developed out of nowhere about five years ago and never went away. The stress at school triggered the beginning of my battle with anxiety, which developed into problems with social situations like crowds and busy places. And my panic attacks have random triggers that I can’t control.
I had never really suffered with constant anxiety until recently. Before, it would come in waves of intensity: low when I was nervous in situations that people wouldn’t usually feel nervous in, and high being a full-blown panic attack. My anxiety now consists of a constant shaking sensation from nervousness, and exhaustion from my brain being on overdrive.
I can only describe the sensation as being so cold that your whole body is shivering, your hands, legs and feet; everything is shaking. That is what I feel all the time, except it is not visible because I just feel the shaking but don’t physically shake. It’s like being on a constant adrenaline rush but without the energy.
I might not have made much sense talking about my experience, but this just sums up how difficult talking about mental health, and anxiety in particular, is. It can’t be explained or understood properly to those who do not feel it themselves.
Anxiety is not often taken as seriously as other conditions because you can’t see physical symptoms and it is not understood how debilitating it can be. It makes everyday tasks extremely difficult to complete, it makes you realise how much we take for granted when we aren’t suffering. For a while I couldn’t even walk into a supermarket to do my food shopping on my own without panicking.
If you have read this and have any concerns about your own mental health, please speak to your GP or someone you trust for support. Also, don’t forget about the many help services available at the University like Student Support and their ‘Mind Your Head’ walk-in sessions, as well as Bath Spa’s Mental Health Society who hold a Positivi-tea every other Thursday where you can talk to other people that may be suffering just like you are. Never be afraid to ask for help.
If you don’t suffer from mental illness, you can still take something from this: please don’t use ‘anxiety’ as an adjective for being nervous or concerned about something. It not only takes away the meaning of the actual condition, but it makes people with anxiety feel completely degraded, as if it isn’t real. It is very real, and very painful, and I certainly would not wish it on anyone.
Lastly, I will leave you with this: if you had a broken leg you wouldn’t be expected to run a race, so if your mental health is affecting your ability to carry out everyday tasks, please ask for help. Never be afraid to ask for help. Get involved in the discussion about mental health.
If you would like to find out more about anxiety and the various forms it can appear in, take a look at the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/ or speak to your GP if you have any concerns.
Words by Emily Badham