I think this is the first time I’ve written about mental health on this blog, so its a bit of a tricky post to write. I want to start by saying that by saying I’m ‘grateful’ to my experience with anxiety I’m not diminishing the impact it can have on people’s lives – it can be utterly shit, and people suffer from it in many different ways. Instead, I’m trying to highlight some of the ‘good’ things that have come out of anxiety for me – always look on the bright side and all that!
For a little bit of context, I first remember having anxiety badly when I was in year 7 or 8 – I was suddenly scared to leave my house or parents, struggling to walk to school and function when I wasn’t with my parents. I ended up having counselling for a year or so and then kept it under control until the last couple of years when it got bad enough again for me to see another counsellor at college. In my experience, when you’re struggling with anxiety or depression or anything like that, it can be so hard to motivate yourself to try and get better – it can be difficult to get out of bed, to see a counsellor, to listen to what the counsellor is telling you. One thing I’m incredibly proud of is that I’ve almost always been open to trying to get better – and one time when I was struggling to care I was able to recognise that this was different to how I’d felt before, and that I needed to see somebody.
But onto the title of this post – why I’m grateful to have had an experience of anxiety, especially as young as I was. Granted, it probably would’ve been preferable to go through life with no mental health issues at all, but I’m sceptical that anybody has that experience.
One major thing anxiety and counselling taught me is strategies – for overcoming the voice inside my head, for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and for doing the things that scare me. When I was 11 or 12 and first having counselling I remember saying to my mum that I wish I could just be ‘normal’ and not need to see a counsellor, and to be able to do things without being so scared all the time. My mum responded with something that’s stuck with me ever since – she said that at some point in their life, everybody is going to be faced with something like anxiety, or having to really push themselves past their comfort zone, and I was just learning the strategies to deal with it earlier, while I was lucky enough to still be in the ultra-supportive environment of my family. That helped me to feel more ‘normal’ and to understand the value of learning how to look after your mental health early in life. Similarly, having all my strategies sorted at a young age meant that when I came to some really stressful periods – like in the months preceding my final IB exams a few months ago – I was able to control my stress and nerves pretty successfully. I’m also l going to uni in two weeks and I’m nervous, but I know that I have enough strategies to confident that I can deal with my nerves.
Another reason I’m “grateful” to have anxiety is because it has (in my humble opinion) made me better at helping my friends. I’ve discovered in the last couple of years that actually quite a few of my friends have had mental health issues of their own, and my early experience of it has helped me support them – I can show them that you can learn to live with and overcome it, can suggest strategies and can be a shoulder to cry on that actually kinda understands a bit of how shit they feel. Its also helped me to discover just how many of my friends have also had experiences of anxiety or counselling, because it helps me to understand that its OK not to feel OK. I’m also really glad that I can use my experiences to help my friends, because isn’t that part of a good friendship?
Anxiety has also taught me that I’m an incredibly determined person and I’m capable of so much more than I believe I am. For example, when I was experiencing probably my worst period of anxiety since year 7, in early 2017, I was also due to be going on a week-long college trip to New York without knowing anybody on the trip – and the girl I had made friends with at the pre-trip meetings had to pull out a week before due to illness. Safe to say, I was terrified, but using a combination of my old and new strategies I went on, and enjoyed, the trip. I now use that trip as a reference point whenever I’m feeling anxious about something – if I can go to New York for a week not knowing anybody, I can do X. Similarly, I know I’m strong enough not to let my anxiety hold me back from making difficult decisions – despite all the unknowns and scary things of leaving the familiarity of my school and my friends and the knowledge my family had of A-levels, I chose to push myself and go to college to do the IB, which turned out to be absolutely the right decision. I ignored all the voices saying it would be easier to stay at school where my head of house knew about my anxiety and where I was with people I’d known for years and instead went to college – something I’m incredibly proud of.
So those are the main reasons I’m oddly grateful – or maybe have made peace with the facet – for my experiences with anxiety. Have you had anything positive come from your experiences with mental health?