Anxiety, the unspoken subject
Updated: Jan 24
I battled with whether to post this here. After all, Inwanderment is a Travel Blog, It's not a lifestyle or support blog. It's about travel.
But after much thought, I came to realise that this blog is about us. And it's about me.
And when we set out on this crazy travel journey we vowed to be honest, raw and true and to share our experiences with you all no matter how good or bad, the darkness and the light.
Anxiety impacts every single part of our lives including travel and especially travel.
Travelling to places unfamiliar and afar can be scary without an anxiety disorder and so I share my story with you. In the hope that it fills just one person with hope and reassurance that you can overcome, and you can travel and you can live your life's dream in spite of anxiety.
Here is my story to you
I am on the surface a very confident, outgoing and bubbly person. I will try most things once and even twice if I don’t hate it too much. I have done a bungee jump and a skydive despite being scared of heights. I have scuba dived numerous times in different countries despite being claustrophobic and almost having a panic attack many times whilst deep underwater. I have skied (kind of) four times despite crying almost every time I have been because a) I am scared of heights and hate chair lifts and b) I am terrified of flying down a mountain out of control on metal plates, yet I keep going and keep trying.
I am scared of almost everything and anything adrenaline-fuelled or risky. I like to think I just have very good survival instincts.
But If I am honest with myself, I think I am just a wimp.
But the point is I have never let my fears stop me, I have pushed through, terrified and sometimes hating every moment just so that I can experience it anyway.
I try to not let anything beat me, I don’t like to quit.
I am telling you this as I feel that there can be a generalised view that people who suffer from anxiety are weak. They are shy. They are less than and unable to achieve or conquer. Or that they have been through something terrible and maybe that then was acceptable... as if it is our place to judge. It's just not true.
I, myself thought this before suffering anxiety. I was ignorant and lacked understanding and knowledge and I thought I was somehow superior to how our body and mind work at its most fundamental level. I find that hard to admit, but admit it I must as I know there will be many others who maybe feel the same way and have been lucky enough to not experience the grip of panic and anxiety for no rational reason known to yourself.
I thought I was strong enough to endure anything life threw at me and anxiety was something other people had.
But when I had a panic attack seemingly out of the blue whilst sat in a client meeting in November 2017 it took me completely by surprise. I remember being sat there surrounded by around ten people (which is not completely unusual in my job) and for no reason consciously known to me, my heart started racing, I couldn’t think straight, I was gripped with panic and I felt as though I need to get up and run out of the room. And that is how it began.
For the next three or four months, I was battling with full-blown anxiety and panic attacks for no apparent reason. I felt terrified to even go to work, constantly paranoid that it was obvious to everyone around me, I felt numb and disconnected from everything as if I were dreaming and my mind was plagued by thoughts of how anxious I was every waking moment.
The moment I woke up I assessed how anxious I felt. The days consisted of thinking I was going mad and trying to stabilise my breathing to avoid a panic attack.
Everything was a struggle and I felt as though I would feel like it forever. It's not just the mental effects that are completely disabling but there are so many physical symptoms I was so unaware of that I suffered from whilst I had anxiety.
Dizzy spells, headaches, numb fingers and hands, noises sounded louder, and I was completely on edge all the time and was plagued by the constant feeling of either being on high alert or constant exhaustion. Luckily for me I had family who had suffered from anxiety and a best friend who had also battled anxiety for a few years and was able to reassure me at every step that was I was feeling was in fact anxiety and I wasn’t losing my mind or dying.
For someone like me, that was always so organised and, on the ball, and prepared for any eventuality it hit me hard that I was suddenly unable to think straight, remember the most basic of things or do simple tasks such as writing Christmas cards, sit in traffic or do the food shopping without almost triggering a panic attack.
What had happened to me.
I researched anxiety and coping techniques until my brain was full of hints and tips and started to try and overcome it or at least manage it. I had colouring books, notebooks, word games to distract my mind, scented candles and had been practising breathing techniques every spare moment I had. I eventually, a number of months down the line started to feel more normal again. It was a slow process. And something I honestly feel as though could have beaten me for much longer had I not had my best friend Emma there by my side every day to hold my hand through it.
I thought that since I had faced anxiety head-on during that time period, I had it ‘under control’, I understood it. And if I am honest, I became a little arrogant.
In the summer of 2018, I went through a tremendous amount of changes. I decided to get divorced after three years of marriage, after months and years of arguing, sacrificing our friends, his family and the home in which I had lived. I had to rehome my cats and give up our dog to his care. My grandparents whom I am extremely close to and have been for many years both landed themselves in the hospital close to death and with me living three hours away it meant me travelling back and forth at weekends, taking leave in the week to care for them and do hospital runs and try and keep on top of my job as well. After a month of this, I made the huge decision to relocate back to the Midlands after living down south for 12 years.
My closest friends lived in Basingstoke, my support group. I had worked with the same girls for 11 years and loved them dearly. It was my home and my life. But being so far away from my family and grandparents was really taking its toll and I couldn’t live so far away when something could happen any moment. I wouldn’t have forgiven myself. So, I planned to relocate to live with my brother in a house share and I relocated my role to another branch in the Midlands and 40 days later in November 2018, I moved.
I put my things in storage and up and left everything behind.
The following months I really didn’t take care of myself. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was drinking far too much alcohol and caffeine and was not eating healthily at all. But I was buzzing. I felt great. I had met Steffan shortly after moving, I had a new job and I was closer to my family. My grandparents were out of the hospital and I had a fresh start. I was so happy.
I didn’t stop to think about the fact that I hadn’t really dealt with anything that had happened over the summer. The arguments, solicitor appointments, stress and sleepless nights as well as constant worry. I just drank alcohol, took caffeine tablets daily as I was so tired, had fun, didn’t sleep well and kept going.
So, it’s no surprise when the anxiety started to creep back in after Christmas. I had been so pleased with myself, I mean if I could survive a divorce, house move, scrap that complete relocation, new job, leaving all my friends behind, care for my sick grandparents and start a new relationship and not have anxiety I was clearly winning. How naïve was I?
It started by creeping in here and there. The odd feeling of being panicky but I ignored it kept going. It was expected, right? A lot had changed. I kept going.
The brain fog started here and there. Again, expected. I kept going. I knew my anxiety.
A month or so later, my gran got poorly again and seeing her so unwell broke me.
I had two panic attacks driving back home and could not stop shaking.
I still was ignorant to how bad I was feeling and went into work shaking, planning on asking my manager to take a half-day holiday so I could rest.
She took one look at me and ordered me to go straight to the doctors.
It was at that moment that I realised how bad a state I was in. I was shaking, feeling panicky constantly, foggy-brained and worst of all. I was completely unaware of the state I had gotten myself into.
The doctors recommended anti-depressants which are used to ease anxiety due to assisting your brain with the uptake of serotonin. The happy hormone. I was apprehensive. I had ‘beaten’ anxiety before without medication and I knew it didn’t cure anxiety alone. It just helped. But I was in such a state the doctor recommended I take them, as well as taking other steps to lower my stress levels such as living a healthier lifestyle and seeing a therapist to do cognitive behavioural therapy.
I returned home shaken clutching my medication I had been prescribed but still in denial and planned to return back to work the following day. Both my manager and friend Kat, and Steffan both refused and said I needed to take some time off for myself. I accepted but I really didn't think I needed to take any time off, I was okay. Right?
Within two days my whole world fell apart, I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't think straight, I couldn't leave the house without the risk of a panic attack and I barely recognised myself.
The flood gates had opened.
During this time I rested, I slept, I read, something I had not done in years. I cried. I was scared. I was terrified I would never be able to work in a 'real job' ever again as I couldn't withstand the pressure of driving to the shops so how could I work in recruitment again? I hid in Steffans room in his house share unable to really talk to anyone aside from him. Just five months into our relationship Steffan was having to care for me pretty much and I felt guilty every single day.
I was broken.
I couldn't think straight and I felt scared to even leave our bedroom and speak to anyone. I was a shadow of the person he had met just a few months before and I spent most of my time sleeping or worrying.
After 6 weeks of not feeling any better, I became frustrated and phoned my Doctor. He advised I needed to be patient and work through it. That this level of anxiety hadn't been formed in just 6 weeks, it had been cultivated over a much longer period of time. He once again recommended I go and see a cognitive behavioural therapist. I refused. I didn't want a therapist digging things up that really didn't need any attention and making everything worse. But, after a long talk with Steffan, I realised that maybe I needed to do what the doctor advised. I had to try. Life was slipping me by.
I started seeing a therapist close to our home. It was hard at first.
The days rolled into weeks and the week into months and all in all I was off work for almost five months!
I started phasing back to work and found myself unable to do the things I once was. I couldn't remember anything. I was exhausted. I felt useless like I was just making excuses and like I should have been better by now. My work colleagues and Steffan had been so understanding for so long and I was letting them down by not getting better. Why?
It took months and months of healing, slowing down, therapy, changing my thinking, understanding myself, of learning how much I could cope with, of realising when I was pushing myself too hard and of loving myself regardless of what I could and could not achieve. It took newfound respect for my body and an acknowledgement that
I could not continue to abuse my body and my mind and expect it to not scream out in despair when it was being ignored. I was listening. Finally.
Anxiety is not choosy who it affects, how long it lasts, when it hits and how it happens. It's not talked about often enough and still seems to have an air of embarrassment around it, as though its something that doesn’t exist, people shouldn’t have and should just ‘get over’. It is still sometimes seen as a sign of weakness. A mental state. But it is so much more than that. It is a dark heavy cloud of helplessness, crippling terror and horrendous physical symptoms and it needs to be respected, acknowledged and spoken about more.
I decided to come off my anxiety medication last year in the summer and whilst I felt no pressure to do this, I had made so many life changes that I felt ready within myself. I came off them over a period of four months and I am relieved to say my anxiety has not returned. That said I am aware that it can do at any moment if I fail to keep implementing the things I have learnt to take care of my mental health. I am no longer ignorant of the fact that I am not immune to anxiety returning over and over if I do not take care of myself as I hear its whisper every now and then.
I don't ignore it. I respect its voice and I slow down.
I take myself back to a place of calm and I put myself first.
I will always be more prone maybe as I tend to be someone who puts myself under a lot of pressure. I work hard. I can never do enough. I take on other peoples emotions and worry about my close family intensely. These are things I am working through and will continue to work through but its a path I will be on for life as I grow and change.
Anxiety is caused by many different things and I won't pretend to know them all. For me, it has been caused on both accounts by prolonged periods of stress that were not acknowledged in a healthy way.
The first, constant arguments in a past relationship which then caused me to approach my day in a highly stressed way. I spent most days stressed out, short-tempered and angry.
The second, ignoring emotion that needed to be dealt with, not allowing myself to rest or sleep, excessive alcohol and too much caffeine and again, I was stressed most days from being angry I was sat in traffic to excessive road rage, it didn't take much for me to lose my temper.
Our bodies cannot remain in a constant state of stress whether that is through physical abuse such as alcohol or ignoring our levels of stress, without eventually experiencing some form of anxiety. It really helped me to understand the science behind this. The hormones your body produces when you are stressed out and an understanding of how this puts your body into fight or flight mode which results in panic attacks or the many symptoms anxiety brings with it. All of the science is there and it makes perfect sense and once I understood this I really appreciated how important it was and is to keep my stress levels down.
Yes, we experience things that make us feel stressed on a daily basis in this fast-paced world, but at that point, I have learnt to do things that will bring them back down in a healthy way and not ignore them, cover it up with alcohol and just keep going. It's at that point I make changes and listen.
There are many things that cause anxiety from chemical imbalances to trauma to daily stress or life changes. Seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist was the best decision I have ever made as it helped me to look at my thought processes, past events, the way I coped with things and work out what had caused me to get to that point. I loved CBT so much I am doing a course in it myself and honestly, I think CBT would benefit every single person whether or not you are suffering from anxiety. But for me, the saying, Knowledge is power, really was so true. Once I understood it, once I knew I was not going crazy, once I knew it was simple science and I just needed to pay attention, the game changed.
I wanted to write my story and be brutally honest with each and every one of you as it’s a subject that is not discussed openly enough and I think is completely misunderstood. I will continue to talk about, shout about even and be an advocate for good mental health and push forth the understanding and compassion needed around anxiety.
I also wanted to show that you can still suffer from anxiety, panic attacks and move forward with your life.
I am terrified of flying, yet I travel.
I have a habit of overdoing it, pushing myself way too hard and exhausting myself on a regular basis yet I have my own business, a demanding full-time job, a travel blog and a busy Instagram page I run. You can still do the things you want to do.
I get social anxiety, yet I have so many amazing friends that encourage and support me to go to events and do new things.
I am terrified of public speaking, yet I managed to speak publicly online talking about my anxiety, talking about wellness and also talking about how people can run their own business and balance this with self-care and avoiding burn out.
I genuinely thought I would never be able to return to work again, sat on the floor of Steffans bedroom, crying and shaking, filled with darkness. Looking back I have never felt so hopeless and surrounded by so much darkness.
But 18 months on there is so much light.
I have achieved and done things I thought my anxiety would never allow.
And YOU CAN TOO.
Every single one of you.
You can do whatever you want to do. I promise you. Look inward. Breathe. Be patient and learn to listen to your body and give yourself time to heal. Time really is a healer. Time. Love. Rest and compassion.
I know that I will be writing about things in our other blogs that have made me anxious or uncomfortable as I experience unfamiliar things in unfamiliar surroundings as we travel and that’s okay. I can honestly say that I couldn’t ask for a more understanding travel partner and husband than I have in Steffan and I know that throughout my many potential future moments of panic he will be with me, holding my hand reassuring me that I am not going to collapse and die or that I don’t need to run out of a random restaurant and that its okay to feel anxious. It's just my call to stop and listen and take a step back. My body needs me.
Anxiety is horrendous. It's disabling and a darkness that is sometimes unbearable. It is very real but it doesn’t need to stop anyone doing the things they want to do. We just need to get better at listening.
If I can do the things I have done, a terrified, panic-stricken, highly strung, clumsy and sometimes void of common sense ordinary girl from the Midlands, then I think it's possible for anyone.
I hope that my story helps just one person to know that you can do it. You can do anything. Just give yourself some time and care and be patient with yourself.
Sending you so much love
Things that help me when I start to feel anxious or have helped me along my long journey
The book - Understanding Panic attacks – This book changed my world. It confirmed every single symptom and effect I was experiencing was in fact normal. It was a normal bodily response and that alone made me feel less panicked and scared that I was going crazy
Listening to my body - If I feel a glimmer of anxiety I listen, If I start to feel too stressed out I listen, If I feel exhausted, I listen. Because I cannot afford not to. I listen and I step back and do what I need to do to bring my body back to calm. This can sometimes take days and can sometimes take 10 minutes.
Slow Down - Physically and mentally, literally slow down. Do less, go slower and try and be more present. Over time this has such a profound effect on your well being and has kept anxiety at bay through many stressful situations the last 12 months
Acknowledge, accept and respect your emotions - I was the Queen of repressing everything, I never cried. I was always hard-faced and angry. Repressing emotion has been proven to just cause it to come back tenfold so let it all out, journal about it, talk about it and feel it.
Listening to relaxing music - Always helps me, a form of meditation and works really well with slowing your breathing
Breathing techniques – belly breathing and combat breathing are a few things that are worth googling - both of these techniques have gotten me out of the clutches of a threatening panic attack.
Painting or any other creative outlet –any single focus brain activity that helps your brain slow down is a form of meditation, I have started painting recently and also like yoga.
Meditation – Just doing this once a day for ten minutes really helps you get practised at bringing yourself to a place of calm which can be super helpful when you are feeling nervous. There are so many good apps such as headspace or calm or just youtube tutorials. But I like to just focus on my breathing and count my breaths.
Purposefully relax every muscle in your body - Your body will find it very difficult to be in a state of panic when you are relaxed - the mind and body connection was one of the best things I learnt about last year - intentionally relax at every possible moment
Exercise in the outdoors and pay attention - a mindful walk where you focus on everything you see and pass by slows your mind and brings you back to the present. Not to mention the endorphin release from getting your heart rate up.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - I was very anti therapy but I can honestly say it is the best decision I have ever made. Any single person will benefit from CBT. Looking at your thought patterns, what you react the way you do and how you can change them. It changed my life, my relationships and my outlook. I am now even doing a diploma in advanced CBT since I am so passionate about it. It is offered on the NHS.
As well as my long journey with crippling anxiety I am also terrified of flying (of course I am) - if you would like to read my story on how I try and navigate my fear of flying with a passion for constant travel subscribe to our blog on the home page and stay tuned!