I have the great privilege of sharing something written by a good friend and ex-colleague of mine, about her experiences of struggling with anxiety. When she talks about how others see her, compared with how she feels inside, I think there are many of us that can associate with that. However, what she shies away from mentioning is that through all of her struggles, she has remained immensely strong and courageous, loyal and generous of herself for others, and refusing to give in to the fear that can so easily overwhelm.
“It’s hard to define the moment in my life when the anxiety took over. Looking back, I have probably always been the person that worries over nothing, who lets negative thoughts take centre stage in my mind, but there has been a couple of defining events that I can say were massive triggers.
Firstly, the passing of my Dad over 26 years ago changed my whole perspective on life. Up until then I had no overriding fear of death or illness, but the second I found out he was going to die I became terrified of every cough, ache and pain. Now every time anyone says they don’t feel well or if I don’t feel too good it has to be something terminal, it rules my life and is a constant fear that eats away at every part of my being.
Secondly my son is a prison officer and last August he was viciously attacked by a prisoner. I also worked in the same prison and so knew the kind of attacks that happen. To know my son was being rushed to hospital was the worst experience of my life. Thankfully he recovered but I never went back to work and now every time I hear sirens, see flashing lights or hear shouting, I have flashbacks to that terrible day.
My anxiety manifests itself in a constant 24/7 feeling of nervousness. My stomach continually churns from the second I wake up its there, and when I do sleep my dreams are dark and intense. I’m frightened of meeting new people or being in crowds and am continually watching what people are doing around me.
One thing having anxiety has taught me is that the person people see from the outside is not a true reflection of what I am really feeling. I laugh and joke I can be very vocal and will stand up for people who haven’t a voice. I can come across as confident but inside every second of the day is an inward struggle. I have learnt that people are too quick to judge. If I’m having a bad day I may be tearful, quiet or argumentative, I may want to be alone or crave company. True friends and family who know my problems read the signs and act accordingly but many people, even though they know I have anxiety can be hurtful and unthinking. They tell me to pull myself together, to stop being stupid, do they honestly think I want to live like this???
If I could change I would but it’s a long hard road to recovery. Slowly step by step with support I now have more good day days than bad but it only takes a tiny thing to knock me back to the beginning. My demon is fear and I need to work hard to rid myself of it so I can start to live again.”
Jayne Whytock November 2017
As Jayne highlights, support and compassion from others is essential when someone is suffering from emotional and mental health difficulties. Knowing that you are loved, cared for, and accepted despite the how you feel about yourself, gives hope and strength.
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