It's always there, always present. Whether it's at the forefront of my brain, impacting every move I make and controlling every thought that pops into my mind. Or, whether it's lurking in the recesses, putting me on edge by it's intended future presence. This is anxiety, something which has plagued me for the vast majority of my life.
At first I didn't really recognise it, I'd have prolonged periods of worrying characterised by an overall sense of foreboding. I'd always put it down to something external, a tough conversation I'd had, a chastising from a colleague or loved one or, when I was a student, one too many drinks the night before.
Then all of a sudden it peaked and hit me with enormous physical symptoms, I couldn't breathe, sit still or talk to anyone, I felt like I was dying. My first thought? "Something's terribly wrong here, I'm dying, I need to see a doctor, I have an unexplained physical condition". But of course, I didn't, I just had anxiety.
Since the day that it peaked I've sought help, spoken to friends and family about it and even started taking medication intended to inhibit my brains response to anxiety. Yet it still persists, stalking me throughout the day, keeping me awake at night and ruining the things that I love.
One thing that helps me when I'm in the grips of fierce anxiety is reading online about how other people struggle with anxiety, so that's why I'm writing this blog today. If just one person reading this is suffering with this debilitating mental illness then I want you to know something, you are not alone.
That realisation helped me enormously, I am not alone in this, millions of people the world over are suffering with anxiety. Some people because of their tragic circumstances, and some people for no obvious reason. This mental illness doesn't have a 'type', it can affect anyone and everyone, even the most confident and outgoing of people. So here's my story on anxiety, how it has affected me and how I've tried to beat it, I hope it helps.
Everyone has random thoughts, and you can't really control what pops into your brain at any given time. The problem with anxiety is that your brain pays these random thoughts far too much attention, here's a few examples of thoughts that I experience and the anxiety they cause.
This is the type of thought I usually get when I'm lying in bed on a Sunday night before work. The random memory of the time that I wrongly chastised a friend at Primary School, when I shouted at my Mum at the age of 13. Ridiculously small things that shouldn't particularly enter a 26-year-old's brain, but I dwell on these thoughts and they become something else, something bigger, something scary.
They go on to become fatalistic thoughts like, "Maybe I'm a horrible person", "everyone hates me", " I hurt everyone that I ever meet", "what's the point in me?"
These are all irrational thoughts to have and the thinking pattern behind them is completely irrational too, but by the time I recognise that I'm already in full-blown anxiety overload and can't calm myself down. I just have to wait it out.
It's a completely natural thing for you brain to throw up random 'what if' moments, the most common one for people is when they're driving and they get the random thought, "What if I pulled the handbrake now?" Most people laugh these thoughts off and move on, someone with anxiety doesn't.
That thought goes the other way for me, I wonder why I thought it, what does it mean? Am I suicidal? Am I going crazy? Why can't I control my thoughts? I fret over it, and by the time the next stray thought comes around I'm already in an over-sensitised state and it pushes me into the depths of anxiety.
I'm going crazy...
You know the feeling you get when you stand up too fast? That light-headed almost dizziness, well when something like that happens to me my first thought is "What's going on?". I think I'm feeling weird, I begin to feel spaced out then it hits me, "I must be going crazy, this is a manic episode, whatever that is, I'll be spinning around on the ceiling in a minute." Then it passes, and I realise it was just a result of standing up too fast but the physical symptoms of anxiety are running riot through my body.
That's the big fear behind anxiety, the idea that you're losing control of yourself and situations around you. The last time this fear really hit me was at the Swansea game, there was a rather large gentleman next to me taking up a large portion of my seat and to the other side was an equally large gentleman, this left me feeling somewhat constricted.
Then the shouting came, Collin Quaner had angered the man to my right and Mike Dean had vexed the man to my left. They began shouting and screaming and then both turned to me at once to air their grievances, all I heard was a cross-fire of angry rambling and I felt trapped.
Their voices felt as if they were caving my skull in and I saw no escape, I felt like I was going to scream or get up and run.
Obviously I didn't, I just sheepishly agreed with both men, politely nodded and sat through the rest of the match fighting an almost uncontrollable bout of anxiety. I felt so full of nerves I was sure I was going to stand up and out myself to the crowd as a 'nutter'. I was a wreck, and it completely ruined something I love. I wasn't hit by the same nerves at the Crystal Palace match but I was on edge,"what if the shouting starts again?"
These are the things I'm dealing with at the moment and trying to overcome, and yes, they may sound crazy to you, but to someone with anxiety they will sound all to familiar. Yet there are positive steps to take, things that you can do to help get back to your original self. Here are some of the things that I've found help me.
-Writing: Regular readers of the blog will have noticed that my output has increased massively in the past few months and there's a reason for that. I love writing and it's one of the few things I can do to clear my mind. For you it might be something different, but it's important to recognise what you love doing and keep doing it.
-Running: I've always hated running, I much prefer to get my exercise playing football because at least that's enjoyable compared to the monotony of running for no defined reason. But I've recently taken running up as a way to clear my mind and it's fantastic, there's no time to worry or analyse things when you're out there pounding the tarmac. It's just you, your body and endurance, it's now one of the first thing's I do when I wake up, it's a brilliant way to start the day.
-Meditation: When I first heard about meditation I scoffed, I thought it was something that hippies and weirdos did, but you know what? It's brilliant and every body should be doing it, not just people with anxiety. We're always stimulated by something nowadays and meditation gives you the perfect way to take a bit of time out and focus on yourself. If you want to try it out then you can for free by downloading an app called Headspace on your phone or tablet.
-Medication: Tablets are a taboo for many people and they certainly were for me, in fact it took some pretty strong persuasion from my doctor and a year of contemplation before I finally agreed. The tablets prescribed to me were Sertraline and they've helped enormously.
Although I won't lie, the first week was incredibly difficult, if anything they made me feel worse, I went into myself and just felt depressed. But, I got through that and now I'm doing much better, I like to think of the medication as a crutch that's helping me in my battle against anxiety.
-Therapy: This is the obvious one, but you'd be surprised at how many people neglect this option. It's vitally important to talk to someone who doesn't judge you for what you're experiencing. Just the simple task of opening up about what you've been going through and your emotions can be an enormous help. If any of what I've described above sounds familiar to you, then the first thing you've got to do is talk to someone, whether that's a friend, family member or healthcare professional. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved.
So what now?
My battle with anxiety is far from over, in fact there's a knot in my stomach right now as I type this sentence. I'm worried about the reaction this article will get, I'm worried if people will think I'm weak, crazy or attention-seeking, but I know I can beat this.
I know anxiety won't last forever and I will eventually feel like my old self, the only thing I can do until then is continue doing everything that helps. Keep running, keep talking, keep meditating and taking the medication and I know this will get better.
Life isn't always easy and sometimes it's going through the lows that help us to really enjoy the highs, just ask any Town fan that was at Wembley when Schindler sent us up. If you or anyone you know is currently struggling with anxiety then take a look at some of the links below, and remember, it will get better.
MIND - A mental health charity offering help and guidance for all types of mental illness.
Anxiety no more - A blog written by a fellow Town fan detailing his battle with anxiety and how he got back to being himself.
NHS - Yes the NHS is really helpful, there's lot's of links on their site about treatment for anxiety and way's to lower your stress levels.
Headspace - Guided meditation app for beginners which gives you a chance to clear your mind and lower your stress levels.