health

"It took more than one moment to realise I needed help with anxiety. And that's OK."

I wish I could say there was a single, light bulb moment where I knew I had to get help with my anxiety. I wish I could say I woke up one morning, had an epiphany that enough was enough, and knew exactly what to do and what to say to make it better.

But that’s not how it works. At least, that’s not how it worked for me.

Instead, getting help with my anxiety has been like a long, steep staircase that I just had to keep climbing. The climb is worth it, of course; but every step means there is something different, something new that needs to be faced.

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Getting help with my anxiety was like a long, steep staircase that I just had to keep climbing. Image: iStock.

Admitting there was a problem to myself was the first step. Telling my parents was another. Realising I needed professional help was the next.

Then, summoning the strength to book my first appointment with a psychologist, and swallowing my first anti-depressant...and on and on it went.

I've lived with anxiety for just over 10 years. I know the process of getting help can be exhausting.

But, nothing is as exhausting as facing every day with a feeling of constant dread, and trying to 'brave it out' when really, inside, I was absolutely terrified.

The constant self-talk of trying to tell myself that everything was okay almost every hour of every day was taking its toll and instead of a realisation of 'I need help', it was more of a resignation to the fact that I simply couldn't do it alone any more.

It took me almost six months before I took the very first steps towards getting help with my anxiety.

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I decided that I couldn't do it alone anymore.
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I was in my final year of school, and I had been battling through mood swings and periods of self harm on my own for months until finally, I decided someone else had to know.

I didn't keep it a secret because I was scared, or ashamed. At the time, I wasn't even aware that what I was going through could even be labelled as "anxiety". I couldn't quite put into words what was happening, and so I just... didn’t say anything at all.

If I didn't say it out loud, then it wasn't real.

But there was something in the back of my mind that told me I should tell someone. It told me I should say something because maybe, just maybe, this was different to the "normal" stress I should be feeling in the lead up to my final exams.

When the doctor told me that I "seemed to be suffering from a few anxiety issues", everything made sense. The wheels were set into motion and the path was paved for me to get finally get help. (Post continues after gallery.)

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I saw a psychologist for the next six months. It was a big learning curve for every person in my life - especially me - and eventually, things seemed to be under control.

But three years later, my anxiety returned. And this time, it was so much worse.

I knew enough to recognise the feeling. I knew my anxiety was back. But the symptoms were different. I couldn't eat. I felt nauseous all the time. I developed an incredible fear of doing the most simple of tasks: catching a bus to university, going to the shops, answering my phone.

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For three months, I could barely walk outside my front door. I lost six kilograms in almost as many weeks.

I tried putting all the things I had learned from my past experience into practice. The mindfulness, the meditation, the breathing exercises. I thought I was managing and that one day I would wake up and I would instantly feel better.

I just needed that day to hurry up and arrive.

Speaking to my mum, I described the constant feeling of dread as a "brick wall".

Listen: Mia Freedman on why routine is anxiety’s best friend. (Post continues after embed.)

"It's in the way of my life," I told her.

"I know there's something on the other side. I just can't see it. I don't know how I'm ever going to climb over it. Maybe... maybe I'm just stuck on this side of the wall forever."

The look in her eyes told me everything I needed to know: it was time to reach out for more help.

I went back to the psychologist, and I was diagnosed with panic disorder. I was also prescribed anti-depressants. It took me three days to swallow the first pill. I cried every day for almost two weeks when I had to take them. I felt like a failure.

I was fine without medication the first time, so I didn't understand why things were so much worse this time around. But soon, I began to feel better. The anti-depressants began to work.

I was no longer ashamed of being on them and I told anyone and everyone who would listen about my experience with anxiety.

I hoped one day I would wake up and instantly feel better. But that didn't happen. Image via iStock.
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Two years later, I decided that I no longer needed medication. I spoke to my doctor and we decided I would try and go off them.

Things were great, for a while, until of course they weren't.

Despite all of my history, all of my experience that told me things were way better when I turned to those around me for help, I was stubborn.

"I'm okay," I told myself, over and over again. "This isn't bad. I'm coping just fine. I'm getting through every day."

But I was exhausted. I hadn't realised how exhausted until one day, during a routine doctor's visit, my GP asked me how I thought my mental health was going.

"I'm... I'm so tired," I said, bursting into tears.

"I'm tired and I'm sick of every day feeling like a battle."

I hadn't realised how exhausted I was until my doctor asked. Image via iStock.

One year on, and I am back on medication. Things are, for the most part, under control.

I don't wake up every day with a feeling of dread in my stomach. I'm not scared of tiny things and I get to enjoy each day without constantly battling to feel "normal".

But there's one feeling I do wake up with every day: pride.

Getting help for anxiety - or any mental health problem - isn't easy. For many, it's not a simple or straightforward process. I'm lucky I had an incredible support system around me that I was able to turn to when I needed help.

There were many steps involved for me to get to where I am now, 10 years later. But I did it, despite how hard it was for me along the way.

And for that, I am incredibly proud.

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