I’ve changed a lot in the last five years, and this is something that I am particularly proud of. I have worked hard, gained confidence and made friends that changed my life, but one of the most important things I’ve done in these five years is learning to understand and be open about my mental health problems.
To put it shortly, I struggle with anxiety, and had for a very long time but just didn’t know it. I thought it was normal, or that I was just pathetic for being unable to handle things the way everyone else did. It wasn’t until I reached 17 that I started to think maybe there was something wrong, and only a year ago since I finally plucked up the courage to ask for help. If there’s one thing that all of this made me realise, it’s just how important it is to talk and be honest about mental health.
It took me so long to realise that something might not be right because no one was talking about it. At 15 I didn’t know what disordered anxiety was, let alone that it could be something I was experiencing. I just thought what I was feeling was something I’d grow out of, and when I didn’t I started to have questions. You see this time five years ago, I was dealing with the weight of three years worth of emotional and verbal abuse from my peers and someone who I thought was my best friend. I just thought It was a normal reaction to all of that.
But then came the thing that made me realise it wasn’t. In November 2011, I befriended two people who would change my life more than I ever thought possible. They took me in and introduced me to their friends, who made me realise that I wasn’t completely unlikable and deserved to be treated with respect. They introduced me to the person who would later become my boyfriend, who outside of my family, is the most important person in my life and has helped me so much. With these new friends my shyness faded and my confidence grew, my self esteem took a little more work but I got there, yet this frequent terror over everything still remained.
It started to cause problems. I was getting older and was being given more responsibility, which was terrifying. It was causing communication issues with my family, my boyfriend. I’d done a little bit of research on anxiety but not much, and I was pretty sure by this point it was what I was experiencing. But I only knew this from studying psychology, nobody at school was talking about mental health.
Then I get to university and see all this openness; mental health awareness week, counselling and wellbeing services, support and discussion that I’d rarely seen before. It made me more open, I started talking to my loved ones more about how I felt rather than trying to cover it up, I became passionate about fighting the stigma surrounding mental health and had no problem talking about my own experiences. Second year I used the counselling service at Anglia Ruskin and they put me in touch with someone, which has helped me and prepared me for my final year, which will be the most stressful one yet.
In those five years I found myself, and a lot of that was through my understanding of my anxiety and learning how to manage it. I’ve still got a way to go, but I know that I’m going to try my hardest to make that progress. The one thing that my experience has taught me most is that we need to talk about mental health and keep talking about mental health so that people like 15 year old me know they are not pathetic and that people like 17 year old me can talk openly about how they feel without shame. Speak up and know that you are worthy of love no matter who you are and how you feel.
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