Beyond Blue recently launched their I Am Anxiety campaign, an anxiety awareness campaign the first of its kind within Australia, which inspired me to write about my own experiences with anxiety. As I wrote in this post earlier this year, I have lived with anxiety for quite some time, and so this campaign is fairly close to my heart and the hearts of 1 in 4 Australians like me. The videos outline many of the common symptoms of anxiety, calling viewers to recognise them and take action.
Disorders such as depression, anxiety and many other mental illnesses are still so largely misunderstood by the general public that many suffer from the symptoms without being aware. The social stigma caused by such a lack of understanding on the topic has left many to fall silent on their own affliction; whilst many people commonly view depression as being a serious mental health issue, a lot of people assume that being anxious is simply a part of their personality. Such is the stigma of these conditions, that many of those around me would not have known that this was a part of the day-to-day life of someone who is typically described as being outgoing, sociable and seemingly speeding towards a bright future.
It's been hard to try and find the right thing to say in this post. I'm not used to talking about it, let alone writing about it, so it's taken me a while to write it; several times, I considered not publishing it at all. But the only way to disarm the suffocating power of these conditions is to talk about it openly; knowing that there is nothing shameful about having anxiety and that it does not mean I am a weak person is still something I have to constantly remind myself.
For a time, I didn't realise I had anxiety and depression. I had attributed my moods, even my self-harm and obsessive over-thinking back then to the symptoms of being a teenager. I began to assume being "emotional" was simply a part of who I was. Retrospectively, I look back and realise I had a lot of the precursors since even before I was a teenager. Even after I thought that maybe what I had was something more serious, I kept it to myself, believing that I wouldn't be taken seriously and that perhaps all I needed to do to make it go away was to be a better person. I blamed myself for how I felt, pushing myself further into a hole of self-hatred.
My anxiety came to me in a multitude of forms. It came in the form of sleeplessness and difficulty breathing every day, along with the onslaught of intrusive worries I wasn't even entirely conscious of. They were like nasty little whispers that would slowly bother me, building up momentum over time. My mind can move so quickly that I barely even realise that I'm snowballing, one irrational concern after the other. There was always noise in my head, and on particularly horrible days it can become so debilitating I am unable to do anything. I went to the doctor complaining of the tightness in my lungs, convinced that I was asthmatic or had some sort of deficiency; we even did blood tests. It had been going on for years, I told her. Naturally, the tests didn't amount to anything.
My anxiety reached its peak a little over two years ago. After I was no longer able to blame my stress on university and assignment deadlines, I came to terms with the fact that my anxiety might be real. My doctor directed me to cognitive behavioural therapy through MoodGym, which is an online CBT program designed by psychologists to help people understand their disorder, learn the skills they need to have to combat negative thought processes and more. To my utmost relief, everything started to make sense. Much like a physical ailment, anxiety is a condition that must be managed. It's not something you can overcome by wishing it away or pretending it isn't there (if anything, that only feeds the demons), and it's certainly not something you can overcome if you do not understand it.
It's been a difficult, confusing journey to get to where I am in my relationship with anxiety today. It'd certainly be a stretch to say I no longer experience any anxiety (it crosses my path on a daily basis), but the way I approach it has certainly changed, only because I am aware of what it is. By keeping myself occupied through my photography, which has always been a positive aspect of my life and always provides me with opportunities to meet fantastic, kind people, I no longer believe I am of little value to anyone. By regularly making note of my irrational thoughts and bad days, committing to regular exercise and yoga (a lot of which requires confidence, self-belief, and maintaining a positive mind) and other small changes to my daily life, managing my anxiety has become a little easier.
With the launch of Beyond Blue's awareness campaign, many others can begin to overcome their inner battles and start breathing a little easier, just like me.
Please feel free to share this post and the resources below, to help promote open discussion and awareness of mental illness and to empower those who feel as if they are suffering alone.
Read: Beyond Blue's Media Release on their National Anxiety Campaign
Read: About Anxiety
Read: Beyond Blue's Understanding Anxiety Fact Sheet