I was diagnosed with anxiety in October 2013 after suffering a panic attack during a lecture. This had been happening since I started secondary school, but had been put down to asthma (although the test was negative). I didn't have a traumatic childhood and I have loving and supportive parents, so never even thought that I could have a mental health problem.
During my early teens, I was bullied a lot, although I had a large, supportive group of friends by the time I left school. When I was 16, I had a bad time with a guy, which really shook me up. I decided that I needed a new start and got a scholarship to go to an independent school for sixth form. I studied hard and had a good group of friends, although I really struggled to find the willpower to make an effort with them. I spent a lot of my study periods working alone because I found it exhausting to be around people all day. I then started my degree. The complete change of scenery was good for me as I didn't feel that I needed to fit in, and that I could be as independent as I wanted. After an initial week of homesickness, I made a lot of friends.
Anxiety treatment - taking medication
I was started on 50mg Sertraline, which takes 3-4 weeks to get into your system. I somehow instantly felt better as soon as I started taking it, although looking back, I now see that this was probably a general lift in mood because of the relief of having a proper diagnosis which made sense.
Over the Christmas period, I began to realise that the Sertraline wasn't having the desired effect. I was becoming irrational and very hard to live with. I spent most of my time in my room and had absolutely no desire to make an effort with anyone. My Sertraline was then upped to 100mg, which I'm just starting to feel the effects of. My GP has urged me to use the counselling service at the university, but I don't like talking about how I feel, and don't think I'm ready to try.
I've recently been started on 40mg Propranolol (1 to 3 times a day, as required) because I developed a tremor in my hands and have been generally shaky for the last few weeks (so much that I can't hold a drink without spilling it). I've found that it makes me a little sluggish, but has helped to lower my heart rate and calm me down. I've been able to spend more time with my friends and socialise more. The effects wear off after 4-6 hours, but it makes everything a lot more bearable. The only issue I've had are some hallucinations just before I go to bed.
Family and friends
Telling my parents that I had been diagnosed with anxiety was difficult, as they didn't really see it as a proper condition. They initially urged me to get a second opinion. Since then, I believe my parents and friends have noticed a change in me, and that I'm a lot more calm and controlled now that I'm starting to get my anxiety under control. I feel fine joking about being on 'crazy pills' and I'm a lot more confident feeling that I'm in control of my anxiety.
There have always been people who just don't understand what anxiety is and how it affects sufferers, but through my experience, I've found that the best way to deal with it is to help them to understand and empathise with you. If you want understanding and support, sometimes you need to put in the effort to educate people.
Where I'm at now
I'm getting on with my flatmates better than ever. I can tell that I'm less moody and easier to be around. My tremor hasn't completely gone, but it's less noticeable. Starting to feel like I was in control was the thing that really helped me to feel better. I ate at the table with my flatmates for the first time recently, so I feel like I'm starting to make improvements.
What I'd recommend to other anxiety sufferers
The main thing which helped me was having a new GP who really listened to me. He always explains all of the options to me, and asks what I would like to try. We talk regularly about realistically what I hope to achieve from treatment, any improvements that have happened over the last couple of weeks, and then our options to combat the problems that are still there.
I find that I feel better when I have plenty of time on my own, but I also tend to go too far and become isolated. I get a lot of panic attacks when I spend too much time alone and my thoughts get carried away. Independence is good, but it's important to spend time with people when you feel you can. Sitting in my room all of the time isn't good for me, so I make an effort to go shopping or take a long walk on my days off. I make sure that I make time for myself and that I set aside time to indulge in my hobbies. Don't let anxiety control you and make sure it doesn't stop you doing the things that you enjoy.
Image of medication used courtesy of e-Magine Art via Flickr under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Image cropped and resized.