Sunday 2 August 2020

Living with an Anxiety Disorder - How Small Words Matter

Luke shares his experience of living with an anxiety disorder and how we as people need to be kinder to each other.
- Luke Sullivan

When I found out I had an anxiety disorder it gave me a lot of questions as well as answers to my behaviours. I began to accept my irrational thoughts, my unpredictable mood swings, and my low motivation and energy levels. I would often turn into a stubborn, blunt, unempathetic person. For people who know me, this is the complete opposite to how I portray myself, I have forever been a selfless, caring and warm person. However, living with an anxiety disorder means that one moment I can be happy and bubbly and then the smallest trigger completely flips my world upside down without people knowing. A normal day going to university and sitting in large lecture theatres would seem completely anxiety-free and easy for most people, but for me, it was an achievement to get through it. Being by myself was when I was most content but also lonely and helpless. This is a contradiction I know; how can you be content but feel hopeless at the same time? This is something that, as time has gone on, I have learned to understand. In this blog, I am going to discuss coming to terms with my mental health, how I deal with it, and how we as people need to be kinder. 

Coming to Terms with my Mental Health 
In the past few years, I have learned a lot about myself. I do not define myself by my anxiety disorder, nor do I flog this label loud for everyone to hear. But for months, I was confused by my behaviours and feelings. As my first year of university progressed, I began to feel more and more unlike myself. I, like many others at university, was homesick and also brought the potential stress of a long-distance relationship to university. At the time, I thought these were things I could easily manage, but looking back now, I was far too immature and naïve. This is not me suggesting that long-distance relationships at university do not work; there are plenty that have, but this is something that not many people are prepared for. As the months went on, I became more anxious about going to my lectures, I felt alone and isolated in a room full of people. The silence of lecture theatres was deafening. I would be constantly battling myself, trying to convince myself I was happy with the current situation I was in. But the truth was I wasn’t, but I was too engrossed in my relationship at the time and the advice from my family that university was the place to be. I wasn’t listening to myself. 

As time went on further, I began to have mood swings, from one extreme to another. I was turning into a person I was not, and unable to control myself. I became jealous, obnoxious and ignorant of other people’s feelings. I was portraying myself as someone I was not. I made mistakes and let my feelings completely control my life, the only thing keeping me going was my friends and the consistent sport I participated in. This left me in a very dark place, with my relationship at the time ending bitterly, this left me at rock bottom. A month later I left a note on my uni room desk and left to wander the streets of Portsmouth contemplating how I would end all this pain. 

How I deal with day to day life 
A year on and I have learned a lot about myself, gaining the perspective that I didn’t carry when engulfed in my thoughts of despair and helplessness. Having gone through months of pain, along with the unexpected passing of my father, I got as low as I have ever been. However, through counselling, and allowing time to heal, I began to grow and become myself more. And yes, I know it’s a cliché, but time is the best healer. Yes, it’s a long and drawn-out process but allowing time to pass and looking after yourself is paramount. Due to going through these traumas, my mood swings became worse, I punched walls, I shouted at my mum… things I would never do if I was mentally well. For months I tried to understand my feelings. The smallest triggers and my mood would flip. 

Now I have coping mechanisms and perspectives I didn’t previously carry. I can identify my moods and take myself away from people when I can feel my mood turning. I have extremely healthy habits. I picked up a new sport in rowing, where I have loved every minute. I am not afraid to say rowing has saved my life. This isn’t me dramatizing, this is my firm belief. I cannot stress enough how important exercise is for your mental health. It gave me a way out and provided a distraction. I could work on my physical health which in turn heals you mentally. I have friends for life and memories I will cherish forever. I know when I need my own space but also when I need the unconscious reassurance of sitting in a room of people. 

Further, due to my experiences, I love helping other people and feel I can give very good advice and have a willingness to help anyone going through the same things as me. I hate seeing people in pain and I believe I am proof that anyone can get through it and although when suffocating in a seemingly helpless situation, you can gain perspective and come out the other side a stronger and more rounded person. 

How To Be Kinder 
Although this blog is me telling the story of my life, what I want people to take away from this blog is that: WORDS MATTER! What you say to people always carries meaning and intent. Think before you speak. I, for a long time, was affected by the smallest things people said to me. I still am. I didn’t choose to be overly sensitive, but it is a trait I have. I see sensitivity and vulnerability as a gift. This allows me to show emotion, even with the stigma surrounding men and being vulnerable. I cry, I get upset, but this is so healthy for me and should be for anyone. Therefore, think before you say things to people. You have no idea what they are going through. I have learned to be less affected by what people say, but I cannot prevent myself from feeling upset all the time. From small acts of kindness to thinking about what you are going to say before delivering it. These are just a few things people can do to show love and kindness in a pressurised, magnified, scary world.

Due to going through these events and living with an anxiety disorder, I am forever a stronger person than I was before. Yes, I have made mistakes and not looked after myself and others, but I am a much stronger person now from before. And I believe that because I can get through it, anyone can. It is about not letting your anxiety control you and knowing how you cope is okay. Your anxiety doesn’t define you; YOU DEFINE IT!

To find ways to support your mental health, see Find Support.

My name is Luke Sullivan and I live with an anxiety disorder. I further have lost my Dad to suicide. I want to share my experiences on living with an anxiety disorder and how I deal with day to day life.

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