• Generalised anxiety disorder with panic attacks, health anxiety, mild-moderate depression and disordered eating tendencies. I appreciate this is nowhere near as severe as many of you especially to start with/is more anxiety than depression, but wanted to share my experience anyway.
• I'd always had low self-esteem as a child. I'm Dyspraxic so it made it harder to socialise and pick up on social cues, body language and in my case often fail at common sense. To this day I still feel uncomfortable in certain situations which most teenagers would be comfortable with. I also needed physiotherapy until secondary school to improve fine and gross motor skills, as well as speech therapy. I’ve never been particularly good at practical stuff. Because I wasn't very good at sports as a result, I didn't try much/sometimes skipped P.E., became overweight and unfit as a child and ended up being laughed at for that. More damagingly I was called 'retarded' and ‘spaz’ because of the way the Dyspraxia was interpreted by my peers. This made me increasingly socially awkward and under the general belief that people reject ‘fat’ people and definitely those who aren't seen as 'cool', so I spent the majority of my childhood indoors playing videogames or with my family, had very few friends.
I felt unsatisfied by all my achievements in life since I have to compete with my extremely intelligent brother who was a potential Oxbridge candidate and my sister who’s a formidable Performing Arts student. I still feel a bit inadequate compared to them, moreso then. Academically I was one of the brightest and disciplined pupils in my year but I developed into a perfectionist; results became the only way to judge my self-worth, and any slip-up would make me feel like a waste of space. This made it harder and harder for me to create new friendships as well as maintain existing friendships, and sometimes to talk to my family.
On a positive I compensated by passion in singing and acting, took singing lessons and started reading a lot, which left me with much love for drama, culture and literature.
• The first girl I asked out in Year 6 (ha) did so because 'you're not fit', in Year 7 we had basic fitness tests like the Bleep Test and Road Run which I failed miserably and was mocked in the changing rooms for, I had a real self-esteem crisis following these. After this I spent most of my high-school years obsessively trying to get fit while tending to the intellectual perfectionist inside me and it was exhausting trying to juggle them, I saw friends in school but often neglected them and my own desires to fulfil these. How I was feeling was covered by a) needing to be the best academically and b) turning energies to improving my body (first swimming, then Cross-Country, finally being in the gym and lifting) or active all the time.
For being sociable I really tried to be a nice guy which I guess worked but I was a gullible doormat a lot too and taken advantage of a few times. A few friendships were based around me being a clown and making them laugh by doing stupid stuff or saying silly things. For being attractive tried to sound as smart as possible around people and especially girls; probably came across as a ponce. At home I practised on MSN where I refined my intellect so that I'd come across as much more mature than my years and how I felt inside. I started talking to a girl who was a friend of a friend online and became very attracted to her but felt too insecure to ask her out or even really talk to her or other girls in general. I felt out of place with my mates half the time
On the face of it I had a lot going for me, I was a straight-A student in Arts and Humanities with talent for singing and acting, but really I still felt empty. The void was never filled so at the end of the week when I'd end up overeating and become frustrated by the fact I wasn't getting invited anywhere while my friends were all going out to town for the day and the like.
In reality this was nothing that bad, but it showed I had an unhealthy attitude to life and set the stage.
• Last three years
• During Year 10 and 11 lots of crap happened, there were various problems with my friends, the parents of one divorced and he ended up anorexic, another developed schizophrenia, another's granddad had a stroke and it hit him hard, there was a schism between them all over the anorexic and two went off as 'best buddies' for a while, they fell out and one of them became dependent on drugs then attempted suicide because his mum kicked him out of the house. It was really a lot and I started seeing life as something that can bring a lot of misery.
• The final straw was when my own parents divorced as I was doing my GCSEs, even though I could tell something was up for about a year before because Dad had lapsed into depression. Later had some episodes where he got angry, hurled abuse at Mum, smashed things, ran away once etc. The only place I really felt safe was no longer there. My brother also moved out to university after passing A Levels top of his year with 6As, and my sister got a job modelling and trained to be a dancer, leaving me the ‘piggy in the middle’ with nothing all the more.
• Dad left, went to live with my nan again for a while and I tried to help him recover from it along with helping all my other friends with their problems.
Meantime I tried to help myself by concentrating on my own life as a teenager who'd made it through to sixth-form college with great GCSEs but I got more jealous of friends doing more ‘mature’ things like drinking, being in relationships, their interests maturing, driving etc. while I stayed at heart a child and a fish out of water. I spent more and more time on MSN or browsing Facebook bored and ended up being closer to two random girl I’d only ever met online (one of which suffered domestic abuse and was now a young mum).
The diet then binge cycle got worse and I masked my problems with drinking, didn’t revert to severe alcoholism but did get smashed with people frequently just because I felt I had to and the effect lasted for weeks after at this point. I felt I had no free will and was trapped to do as people wished me to even though it made me feel awful, because I was afraid they'd stop asking me to come.
I tried to find my voice taking part in the school music production and enjoyed the acting side but the social anxiety came out especially with the drinking at after-parties and I felt like I didn’t belong. Some of them were back-stabbers and talked about me behind my back, so I learned a tendency to not trust people, at least my age.
The pressure of helping Dad combined with A Levels/worry about getting into uni/gym obsession got too much and I burnt out.
My AS results weren’t as good as I hoped and I decided I was an idiot, needed serious self-improvement and to stop messing about with ‘stupid time-wasting hobbies’, and stopped seeing friends and going to the gym to focus on my studies and studies alone. I stayed up late and became over-exhausted trying to finish essays because everything took twice as long being Dyspraxic but I couldn’t have it not be great due to perfectionism. If work needed to be done I’d have to do it or I wouldn’t let myself eat or go to bed; I didn’t realise this was what I’d told myself at the time by my actions but in hindsight it’s true.
• Health suffered dramatically; shortly after starting A2s I started having severe panic attacks, lost sleep and developed insomnia, lost lots of weight. I felt food was distracting from work and even more threatening when not exercising, so I’d throw away meals or only eat half and pretend to have had the whole lot. At this time Mum had found a new partner and was barely ever in the house, not cooking for me or leaving a microwave meal which I couldn’t be bothered eating; Dad was more supportive initially as after a year he received treatment for his depression, bought his own house and found a new girlfriend. Mum is far, far more supportive now than she was but in fairness she couldn't help until I told her something was wrong.
Just before the panic attacks started I’d been harassed in the street walking home from my friends’ houses late at night, verbal abuse, eggs thrown from cars etc. and I expected to be stabbed, shot, beaten up or at very least intimidated almost every night.
I’d been in several near-death experiences trying to help the so-called “friends” over the years, and one time in AS they decided it’d be fun to stick burning pieces of **** on doormats and ran off as I was round-housed to the face by a kick-boxer they’d pissed off. It was too much, I’d become extremely uncomfortable walking home, and later walking everywhere. There were lads in the Lower Sixth who abused me more personally in the library and confronted me on the train. It bugged me but wasn’t a real problem until the chest pains and anxiety started.
By September this had moved into paranoia, believing I’d die walking home at night; again not helped by chest pains.
Nearly developed an eating disorder over the idea I was about to have a heart attack and needed to ‘lose fat’ to stop it (actually underweight making it worse), lost tons of muscle from no longer training but walked obsessively/ate as little as possible instead, because I became convinced there was something wrong with my heart and scared myself out of exercising. Became precoccupied with death and flipped between wanting to crawl into bed and die, or worrying that I’ll die as soon as I went to sleep so couldn’t sleep. Went for first ECG in 2010, came back I was near athletic status due to eating so healthy; ironically my physical health had soared from my mental health declining. This didn’t last.
They discovered a benign heart condition but that had to be investigated, during which time my anxiety escalated, I stopped exercising entirely and started eating again but could only eat ‘healthy’ foods (stopped eating fat at all, with the exception of fish and a handful of nuts every couple of weeks) got very unfit, suffered severe anxiety. Couldn’t gain actual weight all the same because I was stressing and refusing to challenge myself to eat while coursework was being handed in. Too scared to even walk to the shops sometimes and see my friends, almost stopped seeing them completely, now everyone views me as some victim; the embarrassment of becoming even more like a kid than I already was from managing anxiety made me more depressed. The effect that becoming entirely introverted has on your social life is terrifying, and for a time I think I had no friends because no-one could sympathise, they thought I just needed to ‘get over’ the divorce. Especially considering the amount of immature 'macho' ideals such as 'man up' and peer pressure to look hard in teenage boys.
Handed over to CAMHS in Feb 2011, began treatment for CBT especially on health anxiety. GP monitored my weight while NHS Drop-in nurse at college was there to talk with me when I felt too scared to see my friends. Beforehand all the GP had put my chest pains down to was heartburn (although it's true that mental illness can cause such confusingly alarming symptoms).
This worked in treating my fear of exercise (slowly built back into it ang got a bit fitter and generally happier over summer), saw a dietician at the local ED Services and was encouraged to eat again/my food fears were diminished but the fat prejudices and fear of being unhealthy or even a bit unfit remained a little. I kept bugging my doctor with a million concerns of high blood pressure/diabetes/high cholesterol/risk of stroke etc., still do when feeling low. CAMHS tested me for autism and OCD but it came back negative and was all put down to a bi-product of anxiety. Fluoxetine was recommended to me on more than one occasion but I decided to try and manage my symptoms without antidepressants, and I personally feel that was the right choice for me.
By some stroke of luck I managed to get into university with decent grades and a scholarship, and I was thrilled. I’d originally hoped to move away from here because I was so sick of it but was rejected by most of my choices. Tried to break the social anxiety/work perfectionism during Freshers but it failed, anxiety and food fear escalated again, lost sleep, I spent my first semester in the library working or just on the Internet, and was told by tutors I was working unnaturally hard for a freshman. Again I felt I had no choice because losing my scholarship or getting any less than 2.1 wasn't an option. Around October I began having panic attacks again, attempted suicide (running into road and jumping onto the underground railway), had another ECG, saw ED Services yet again because I started frequently binging. I’ve probably ruined my health although I’m still quite skinny so people say it doesn’t show.
I think it was around the time Mum became extremely depressed from how I was feeling and went on Citalopram that I decided my attitude had to change-I could see massive bags under her eyes-and really tried to work on what I’d learnt in CBT. For a while I was convinced I’d caused it (I had but it wasn't my fault) and started binging more as punishment, began to mildly self-harm then (no cuts because I didn’t want people to know and help but self-beatings to make bruises). Seriously contemplated taking my life again, but at some point the CBT clicked in, I thought it through and told her how I was feeling.
Since then I’ve become more assertive, independent and a little more relaxed about things in general. I’m still a bit unfit, binge every now and then and have some extreme concerns regarding food and my fitness, as well as being worried about what the binging has done to my health. I’ve stopped focussing on being thin and focussed on getting fitter and stronger through building muscle, it seems to outsiders and some friends or family members as obsessive but I find it helps and the fitness lifestyle encourages me to care about myself more as a necessity. For now it’s a healthy compromise with eating.
I’ve been referred to Primary Care and treatment has just begun for the remaining difficulties regarding my self-esteem and healthily expressing my identity. I have a long way to go regarding self-care such as sleep hygiene and self-talk to manage my anxiety but I’ve had far fewer panic attacks and no serious sleep problems for a while (at least not those that weren’t self-induced). I’d like to get more confident, but I’ve re-established my old relationships and made some new friendships too. I’ve restarted doing the things I love such as reading, music, films and singing, but I look less for pseudo-‘intellectual’ stuff for the sake of it and for much more natural interests these days. I’m hoping to join a DramaSoc or BandSoc next year, and to not be quite as hard on myself regarding work but go out and have more fun, get to see the place better.
I’m also watching much more comedy and looking for the funnier, brighter side of every situation because positivity and respecting yourself while not taking anything too seriously is crucial to overcoming depression, as are learning the means to assert yourself rather than be passive/aggressive, and be mindful of the moment (best practised through meditation and mindful walking).
I’d like to thank both of my parents and all of my family for being a pillar of strength throughout, as well as all the staff in college who supported me. A special thanks to those few friends who stuck with me through the hard times, even when I went really crazy.
I generally feel far happier about life, and can currently live without my worries wrecking it all. They are definitely there that can’t be ignored, but I won’t let them destroy me.
It is a long slippery slope but there is always hope