Images: Lara J Messenger.
When people find out I have anxiety, they are usually surprised, and sometimes even confused.
“But you’re so happy,” they say.
It’s true. I am a very happy person with a wonderful life. But that’s the trouble with mental health, isn’t it? It doesn’t discriminate.
My panic attacks started when I was a child. I remember being eight years old in hysterics because I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I would work myself into such a state that Mum would have to sit by me for hours until I would finally drift off to sleep.
At 10, I went for a run with my Dad, got a bit puffed and broke down thinking I was having an asthma attack (I wasn’t).
I remember having Mum rush me to the emergency room at 12 because I was convinced my throat was closing up after a case of hives (it wasn’t).
(Watch: Mia Freedman talks about how she deals with her anxiety. Post continues after video.)
In my older years, my anxiety started to take extreme forms – I was constantly convinced something bad was going to happen to my loved ones, because why should I be so lucky to have such a great life?
I have made a very conscious effort to do everything I can to manage my anxiety. I see a psychologist when I need to talk it out, I take various supplements to relax my nervous system, I meditate and practice deep breathing, I even eat regularly to keep blood sugar levels from dropping.
Above all things, I have been living a very happy, relaxed life – especially recently.
This all seemed to be working in my favour – I hadn’t had a panic attack in a year and my stress levels had dropped significantly. I was a new woman.
My most recent panic attack was yesterday, and it seriously threw me.
I haven’t felt anxious in months, maybe even a year. I had just bought a new car, after starting a new, dream job, planning a two month trip to Europe - things honestly haven’t been better.
And yet, there anxiety was, like an old friend you don’t really want to see anymore but turns up for dinner uninvited anyway.
I noticed something was wrong when my breathing shallowed seemingly out of nowhere. I was breathing from my chest, which started hurting. I got the sweats, my heart started pounding, I started involuntarily clenching my teeth and my vision was blurry.
Hello anxiety, old friend, we meet again.
I tried deepening my breaths (breathe for four, hold for eight, breathe out for eight) but by now I was deep in fight or flight mode. I started hyperventilating, shaking and crying - knowing all I could do was wait for it to pass.
I was safe. I was happy. There was nothing ‘bad’ happening to me. Which is why I was so damn frustrated that after months of having my anxiety under control, it had reared its ugly head for no apparent reason. There was no catalyst. I knew everything was okay. And yet, there it was. (Post continues after gallery.)
Anxiety is a mental illness. Beyond Blue describes anxiety as “more than just feeling stressed or worried. Anxiety is when these anxious feelings are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but for someone experiencing anxiety, these feelings can’t easily be controlled.”
Yes, anxiety can be managed. But as I have recently learned, it will never just go away. It is something to be worked on every single day.
If you are experiencing anxiety, know that you are not alone. There is help available. It does not make you weak, and you should not feel embarrassed. I believe that the more we share our experiences, the more we can work together and support each other - especially those who feel like they may not have support.
Anxiety may be a part of your life - but it doesn’t have to define you. You are not alone.