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How to be happy with mental health problems

Friday, 04 March 2022 Alice

Alice suffers with severe anxiety, PTSD and an anxiety disorder yet still enjoys life. Here she explains how.

I am a really happy person. I adore my job, I have amazing friends, a wonderful husband, 2 beautiful dogs and 2 cats… I also suffer from an anxiety disorder that is a type of PTSD.

People often assume that being an anxious person makes you an unhappy person so I started to think about how it is that I do manage to cope so well, in case it may help others.

I used to keep my anxiety and eating disorder secret. Then one day I heard a well-known poet at an event recite a poem about ‘shallow’ women with eating disorders in a derogatory way. So, I wrote and performed a poem about what it is really like to suffer from an eating disorder. I performed this at a music festival.

"There are ways to live with certain mental health conditions, just as there are with physical conditions."

To my surprise, many people came up to me afterwards with their stories. I remember one guy in particular, who was in tears, telling me how he now understood just that little bit more about his sister, who was in hospital with anorexia, and her struggle.

I believe there are ways to live with certain mental health conditions, just as there are with physical conditions. That is not to say it is easy. Far from it. I still wake up every day in a state of fear –  an almost debilitating panic attack and feeling of dread where my whole body is in shock. Adrenaline rises, sometimes there are chest pains, palpitations, and I live with a constant neuralgic pain, and all this is caused by the PTSD where I am re-living a traumatic event over and over again.

Dark moments

At times this feeling has become so overwhelming, that I have felt it may never end. To be honest, I have had some really, incredibly dark moments , where I have felt that there may be only one answer, as I hated being me.

My PTSD anxiety disorder was triggered by an traumatic event that I never speak about. I had anorexia as a teenager, because the modelling agency and stage school I was signed to, pressured me into staying thin, which led to bulimia as an adult. I am also aware that these conditions may be ‘linked’ to anxiety and panic attacks, due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Yes, every morning is a real struggle. however, my job, which I feel is a vocation, gives me a reason to keep on fighting.

I teach fun exercise/dance for over 60s - able and disabled people. The people who come to my classes every week, are an inspiration and they lift my spirits. I also entertain in care homes, dementia care homes, and nursing homes with stroke patients and blind residents. This also inspires me. Seeing people enjoy the music, sing along and sometimes dance to the music with me is so rewarding, and I always come out feeling uplifted, humbled, and extremely happy.

I am very good at hiding how I feel – I believe it is called ‘high functioning anxiety’. Yet at times I do become so overwhelmed it is almost blinding.

However, having such a wonderful caring husband, and having the people who come to my class in my life, I do see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Endorphins to the brain

Exercise also spurs me on. It helps by sending endorphins to the brain. So, I now fundraise for various charities by competitive swimming and running and triathlons. I recently took part in the National Swimathon for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie and am training to do a Channel Swim this year for the Alzheimer’s Society. If I have a goal, it helps me to work harder and push through any discomfort mental or physical.

I was introduced to Mindfulness meditation by Ruby Wax after I appeared on her TV show. She then interviewed me for her BBC mental health series. I am not saying Mindfulness is a magic wand, or even that it will help everyone, but it does help me to understand that thoughts are not facts, and I am learning to recognise a panic attack for what it is.

I am learning to focus on the present moment and on the breath. Mindfulness has strengthened my sense of gratitude especially of the small things in life, and it’s given me a skill set of meditation techniques that if I do them every day are of huge benefit.

So, to sum up – what helps me to stay happy even with severe anxiety, PTSD, and an eating disorder?

Doing a job I love so much - having a vocation in life

Gratitude for having lovely and supportive people around me

Mindfulness meditation daily

Exercise – swimming, walking, running

I hope this helps you to find happiness, too.

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