Letting go of 'that' secret
Posted Wednesday 4 July 2012
When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I secretly studied it everywhere I could, trawling the internet for information on this strange, absurd, embarrassing condition. Somehow I knew from the very beginning it had to be hidden.
At times I tried to tell the odd person, the consensus being that I was simply growing up. I knew it was more. I knew throwing up every morning (never on purpose) was not just a part of adolescence. I couldn’t ‘just calm down’ at my 18th birthday party when the nerves made me vomit. But I couldn’t explain what was wrong, so I didn’t.
I lied. I lied to a lot of people about what was going on. I was controlled by this mysterious thing, day after day, but pretended everything was okay. I wouldn’t tell anyone I had compromised my life.
So that first time I tried to tell people, I stalled. After that, it came out in dribs and drabs for years. Until eventually, this method of trying to ignore my ill health came to a climax, and my life stopped.
By the time I had developed agoraphobia it became much harder to hide. During another public panic attack I phoned my mum in real distress. I was crying and shaking, clinging to that phone like it was oxygen. It must have been horrible for her but she did the right thing. She called my dad and before I knew it my family realised I was in real trouble. Suddenly this thing I had been fighting to suppress had been let go. It was such a relief.
Once my close friends and family knew, regardless of whether they understood, they were there for me. Coming to visit when I couldn’t leave the house and accompanying me in person or by phone when it was too hard to go out alone. They just did whatever it took to get me through those dark days. And I have no doubt that if it wasn’t for them taking some of the weight, I simply wouldn’t have survived.
Now when I tell people about my anxiety and depression many respond by saying ‘me too’. We all have these experiences, some more extreme than others. They don’t define who we are. Having a problem with mental health is just like having a physical one. I don’t know why it took me so long to realise, but there is absolutely no reason to be ashamed. Letting go of that shame has liberated me from anxiety more than any medication or therapy ever did.
To anyone with ‘that’ secret, I hope you can turn to someone and tell them how you feel. Share the burden. You don’t need to tell the world, just someone who cares. When you feel ready to do this we will be here waiting for you. I know there are people out there who care about you, because I am one of them.
If you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, there are things you can do and places you can go for support. Follow Amy on Twitter.
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