December 19, 2019, by Simon Langley-Evans
Engaging with Anxiety.
This blog entry is a very personal and anonymous autobiography exploring what it means to live long-term with anxiety and how local mental health support groups, counselling and other solutions can help once you take the initial step to engage with them.
I have always been a worrier
– or a “worry wart” as my mum used to say when I was younger. I would fixate on small things and get worked up about them. There wouldn’t always be a pattern, sometimes it would be fine, other times misplacing an inanimate object or a past accident would become the end of the world. It took many years to realise that this wasn’t exactly “normal” and that you can live differently.
I’ve always been bad with exams, the sick feeling in my stomach, the persistent worrying, the ‘end of the world’, my whole future life depending on decisions and the outcome of certain events. At university, no matter how much work I did it was never enough. My second year was particularly bad, a combination of a bad relationship, work stress and daily headaches. Crying for 5 hours a day was not unheard of. I had a friend who said to me that I should just “get over it”, they couldn’t be friends with me anymore or support me. Mental health takes a toll on everyone, especially the person that has it but also those around. It must be frustrating to see someone like that every day, but it’s not a choice. People with mental health do not choose to be like this.
I came to Nottingham for my PhD and things were much better.
A PhD does require a lot of self-discipline, but it is much more relaxed. Supervisors do make a big difference and mine was particularly good, or at least well suited to me. I still had my bad days however, due to personal circumstances. I remember one day in my first year I dropped a piece of expensive equipment. I was so worried about having damaged it that I couldn’t stop crying. I told my supervisor and they were fine, “things happen and it’s better to report it”, but I still couldn’t get over that feeling. Even now I am extra careful around that equipment and any expensive equipment. I think it restricts what I decide to do with my research, my mental health shapes my life.
After my PhD, I moved University. I was apprehensive about the move and it wasn’t a place I had any desire to live in. The year and a half I spent there was hard. My job was stressful with a boss who was a task master, in a topic I was much less comfortable with. I spent more time working in a laboratory, a place that has always given me imposter syndrome. I got frequent headaches that would last for weeks. I developed eating problems that led to severe stomach pains and restrictions on what I could eat. The unhealthy relationship continued to be unhealthy. I became more attached to small objects which comforted me and replaced meaningful personal interactions. I wasn’t sad to leave.
Why didn’t I talk to anyone?
Mental health is very much a solo expedition. Unless you are fortunate enough to meet someone, who has a very similar form to yourself, it is almost impossible to explain the thought processes behind your actions and what it truly is to be you. If you have mental health, you become a master of disguise. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, let alone put on a brave face and interact with the world. Self-control just to keep it all inside not to freak-out everyone around. Sometimes it’s easier to keep it inside and hidden, even from yourself, than risk letting it out.
I returned to Nottingham. I got what I wanted, somewhere I was more comfortable. I had a house, something I had been working towards for a long time. But things weren’t better, and I wasn’t better.
I joined an informal mental health support group in the School of Biosciences.
Other than a one-time failed trip for some counselling, it was the first time I had actively sought some help or support. Part of this was because when you have never known any differently, it is hard to think that there could be something else. I attended a few sessions and as well as giving a non-judgemental place to relieve some problems, it was also comforting to know that there are others around that are fighting their own personal battles. Give it a try, you have nothing to lose and there is always a possibility for more in life.
After that, everything changed. The unhealthy relationship disintegrated. The friends and family I assumed would be there to support me were not the support I needed, and I became alien to them. I was left with a house and bills I could barely afford. Work became unimportant. But there was one silver lining, I had finally met the one person in life that could understand me and my mental health, and sometimes understood me better than I did myself. They showed me another way to be, fighting against all the bad thoughts to live in the good. With their support I went to the doctors and now take anti-anxiety / anti-depressants for my problems. This was the correct choice for me, and I have noticed vast improvements. Nobody knows that I take them other than my partner and two friends, but they help and that’s all that matters.
I still get irrational thoughts.
I can’t stop them, but it’s easier to recognise and I can get over them quicker. I have bad days, not as many and not as bad as before, but things are manageable now and I have a reason to get up in the morning. I got a dog and he does more for me than any counselling session ever could.
Just remember that you are not alone.
A study in 2018 indicated that up to 45% of academics suffer symptoms of mental health, and 33% of students had thoughts towards self-harm. Almost every other person you come in contact with may be fighting their own personal battle with Mental health.
You do not need to suffer.
The University runs mental health support groups, counselling services, and there are mental health first aiders for a friendly chat.
If anything within this post resonates with you personally.
There is a wide range of support available both within the university and from external sources, for yourself, or to help someone else:
- Samaritans –https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us
- MIND – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/
- Rethink Mental Illness – https://www.rethink.org/about-us/contact-us
- CALM – https://www.thecalmzone.net/