Monday, 16 January 2017

My Origin Story

God knows I talk (or write) about my experiences with mental illness like 25/8, and while I've managed to explain some of my beginnings, I don't think I've ever really put it in terms that make sense. Boy do I wish that back then I'd known that what was happening to me was just anxiety - honestly I was approximately 99% sure I was dying. I suppose that's why I feel so strongly about talking about it now, because I hate to think there are other people out there, still thinking that something is horrendously wrong with them. Anxiety is a mess, but it's not as dangerous as it feels. The only thing that made a difference to me when I felt like I was alone was learning that I wasn't the only one who gets hiccups at least once a week because they can't breathe properly (among other weird as heck symptoms). If I could make some small difference to someone, then it's all worth getting way too personal on the internet. 

June 2013 (thats right, it's been almost 4 god awful years) 

Most of my pictures were taken backwards,
because my hip bones were now so sharp
they looked like concealed weapons.
Out of the dang blue, my GCSE's made me horrendously ill. The stress of exams I suppose and of starting a new school, but whatever it was I was losing it. Couldn't eat and couldn't function well enough to revise, I was physically sick at school the morning before my last exam. Then it just kind of didn't get better, turns out it wasn't just exam dependent. I stopped eating entirely, I lost about a stone in a matter of weeks. It was a real bummer that I'd bought my prom dress back in March, the prettiest thing I've ever owned and it didn't fit anymore. I can't tell you how many times someone made a comment on my weight that night, they were definitely convinced that I had either intentionally dieted or had developed an eating disorder. So that was fun. 

That summer definitely didn't get any better. I was sick at every single party I attended (sorry guys) and I was the only one who didn't drink. It should have been obvious at the time really, given the pattern of my illness, that I was never physically ill. I was unwell every time I left the house, at least until I was distracted, and then not so bad once I was settled at home. It never really occurred to me that my issues could be mental, given how physical it felt - turns out anxiety is an extremely physical illness. I saw three doctors, had several tests, and not once did anyone suggest it could possibly all be because of emotional stress. 

Following what we have now dubbed "The Summer of Hell 2013" (had to be numbered because it wasn't the last..) I started college in September and honestly survived a good few months feeling fairly normal. I felt sick-ish every day, but I got used to it and wrote it off as normal. Those few months of college were honestly the happiest I remember being, and I'm grateful that I got a short while of peace before, of course, shit hit the fan. (sorry mum)

March 2014 

On one specific Thursday in March, which I can't for the life of me remember the date of, I was super ill with nothing but the common cold. It was a heavy one, but it wasn't a big deal. I'd lucked out with my timetable that year, on Thursdays I had one lesson, in for 2pm and out by 4pm - easy. I wasn't raised in a "take a day of school because you have a cold" kind of family, so I had to drag my germ riddled body into college, 30 minutes on the train. I sat through my one lesson, teeth chattering, 100% sure I was about to be sick. Nonetheless, I made it through the hours and headed back to the train - which happened to be pretty late that day. It finally arrived and a best friend and I climbed on, having to stand because, well,  have you ever seen a train out of London at rush hour? I wasn't well, I was desperate to get home. 

Suddenly my hearing went and everything sounded like I was underwater. 

The ticket collector came by, at which time I'd fully dissociated. I couldn't have told you my name if you'd asked, I was gone. He had to prompt me several times before I registered what he was saying, in a busy panic I found my ticket and he was on his way. 

Then my vision went - it's hard to describe this one - in some ways it's just straight up blurry, in others I could see just fine, but it was as if my brain wasn't registering the information. I could see, but I felt blind. 

These feelings obviously cause huge fear, I got dizzy, I looked over to my friend and I told her "I can't hear". I was white as a sheet and also somehow green. Finally we shuffled over to a seat where she sat me down and looked at me almost as scared as I was (thank you for looking after me girl). The main issues settled quickly but I didn't feel well for the entire rest of the journey. After an excruciating half hour, I got back into the car with my Mother, who was also very concerned by how green I am. We put it down to the cold and I took the Friday off college. 

If I'd known then that what happened to me was a panic attack, maybe I wouldn't be where I am now. The truth is, I just started to avoid situations where that might happen again, and being terrified of feeling ill. Those feelings are all too familiar to me now, every panic attack feels the same and yet they never get easier.  

I suppose I never really recovered after that one, at some point my daily sickness turned into dizziness. I was dizzy, I couldn't breathe and my heart was permanently thumping through my chest. 

June 2014

You're telling me that this gave me a better chance of getting
into university? 
Those darn AS levels, and hey, guess who was sick again? On the very first day this time, so that's different. I got painfully ill again, and failed miserably. A very sad birthday passed and the school year ended. I'd volunteered to help at taster days for the week after the end of the term, because at the time university seemed like a good idea, I'd never done extra-curricular activities in my life and apparently you need those first. 

July 9th, I turned up at college early in the morning to help. There was a very small group of us, and it was about to get smaller. We waited in the cafeteria for a while, and within the first few minutes sitting there, it happened again. It was lighter this time, I was dissociating and a little dizzy but I suppose I couldn't call it a panic attack. I said I felt ill and I had to leave, and by no surprise in retrospect, I felt better as soon as I got outside. 

Nonetheless it was terrifying and I went to see a doctor the very next day. I got a blood test, and then I got even more ill, because life is fair like that. I was so dizzy for the entire summer that I could barely stand until the end of August. Summer of Hell 2014. It was then that a doctor turned to me and said "do you think this could be anxiety?" and there it was. The only words that needed to be said, that no one ever thought to say for an entire year. All my tests came back clear and that was it. We took a look at the pattern, and as time went on it became more and more clear that it was the only solution, despite my objections I had to learn to accept it. 

We discussed by leaving college  over the summer months, but by the time September came around it seemed like I would make it once I got back into the routine of it all. Wrong again. Oops.

December 2014

I'd pulled through the first term like a freaking champ, though towards the second half I started missing days at a time. My attendance dropped to a very respectable 60% by the end of the term, which in my defense is pretty good given that I was utterly terrified to even leave the house. For a large number of evenings I'd had full breakdowns because I was terrified to go back in the morning, and then again when the morning came, and usually when my train arrived. I couldn't tell you how many mornings I got to college, panicked, turned around and came straight back home in tears. 

Christmas 2014 was not my favourite holiday, branded the "Christmas From Hell 2014" (numbered because, you guessed it, it wasn't the last). Christmas is tough for the mentally unwell. It's overwhelming and there's way too many people around. This, coupled with the notion that as soon as it was over I'd have to go back to college, I suffered a total breakdown on Christmas Day no less. I declared that I could not go back to college in January, it was my life or my education. That was that, I officially dropped out and it was the best decision I've ever made. I got a therapist learnt that I was way more unwell than I would have imagined. 

Summer 2015 

Naively, I thought I could finish my A levels at home immediately after a full meltdown and gosh was I wrong. Around April it became clear that it just wasn't going to happen, so I didn't do it - simple as that. I have no A levels and I couldn't care less. I turned 18, then hit an extremely low phase. The summer depression was real, I cried almost every day and rarely went out. I didn't see anyone all summer. It was my third (and hopefully final) Summer of Hell. I haven't felt sadness like that since and I hope I never do again. 

It got so bad that I was taken to see a psychiatrist to discuss medicating me. He seemed extremely concerned and gave me a full report on what he thought was wrong with me, accompanied with suggestions of medication I could be put on. I got my medication at the end of the summer, and of course, I didn't take it. I went entirely unmedicated despite the recommendations by not one, not two, but three medical professionals. 

Christmas 2015

Here we go, Christmas of Hell 2015. Short and sweet - it sucked. It was exactly the same as the year before, except this time I couldn't sleep either, like at all. I was in full meltdown for what seemed like no reason and then on Christmas Day my poor Mother had to use the phrase "you're no longer able to make your own sound decisions" and urged me to take the medication. I was furious at the time but her intervention saved me from myself. I'm only lucky that sectioning an Agoraphobic is sort of counter productive. 

Come 2016 everything changed. I took one single exam, I have one quarter of an A level and I've never been prouder or more certain that that is as far as I go. I learnt to drive, then swiftly stopped learning to drive. I brought back my social life from the brink of extinction I learnt that outside isn't all bad I changed my meds and I changed my therapist. My summer was the best I've had in a long time and Christmas was just the same - turns out it does get better. 

So I suppose that's where I'm at now, give or take a few panic attacks. 2017, give me your worst.