Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Amelia Mulcahey, a digital marketing freelancer and a master’s student investigating how Native American experience is incorporated or erased in British historic storytelling. She is also an avid cosplayer.
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I came to university a dyslexic, straight-A student. I worked for hours trying to silence the impending sense that I was going to fail and that the teacher who’d told me dyslexia was an excuse for laziness was right. I already had anxiety; I just didn’t know it yet. My first panic attack happened after a date. I’d had to slide behind the car door and slam it against him to escape. It wasn’t until university that I finally snapped. For the next half year, I had three panic attacks a day. I was finally diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder. Like far too many women at university, two years later I was raped. PTSD would be added to what was now like a greatest hits of mental health conditions. My symptoms became more focused. Those racing thoughts and the feeling of constant terror were now directed at calculating how far away that man on the bus was or whether that other man just looked at me. This is an exhausting activity when you live in a city with 10 million people.
When I am having a panic attack, I start to feel dizzy and nauseous. Then I sink to the floor and hyperventilate. Once the hyperventilating has finally ended, I begin to choke. It’s like my whole throat closes up. Afterward it feels like I have been hit in the chest. However, outside of the panic attacks themselves, there are everyday symptoms of anxiety. I bloat and feel nauseous and because of the tension in my body I get back and rib pain.
Imagine you have just watched a scary movie alone in your room. Your adrenaline is pumping and you jump at the slightest sound or movement. Your thoughts are racing through every possible way you could escape if there was something hidden in that dark corner, under your bed, or down the hallway. Well, imagine if that feeling hit you while you were having a coffee with friends, watching TV or just walking about. The hypersensitivity extends beyond making every sound ring in my ears, to a constant monitoring of the people around me. When my anxiety spikes, it feels like an attack on me or the people I love is imminent. It’s not just a worry that something bad is going to happen, my whole body is prepared for the fact that it will.
This is not easy to write about, just imagining a worst day can make it seem like the walls are closing in. It’s the day when I lose the battle against the negative thoughts. These nightmares don’t stay in my dreams, they creep into everything. I sit at my desk and my neck starts to tighten but instead of drowning, I am surrounded by confused co-workers.
I have so many. The first step for me was accepting that I had a mental health condition — that it’s long term and has to have a long-term solution. You must talk to people: online, offline. Someone will have a wacky technique that might work for you. Exercise is a game-changer — whether it’s running, swimming, a 15-min abs workout video or punching your pillow and screaming. It’s all about burning off adrenaline and spiking that serotonin. I would recommend antidepressants, though make sure your mood is monitored. If you are in a good head space as I am now, there are some great herbal options such as CBD oil. But when it’s all awful and you just can’t move? Well then I crawl under my big weighted blanket and watch “Queer Eye.” After the Fab 5 have told everyone to love themselves a few times I can at least tell my negative thoughts to take a hike.
That asking for an adjustment for a mental health condition is sensible and brave, what it is not is lazy or as one of my bosses put it “inconvenient.” To add the greatest value, you need to feel safe. I work from home and instead of taking Saturday and Sunday off, I take Saturday and Wednesday off so I don’t get too tired midweek. I recognize that this flexibility is a privilege but if you can make some space to be kinder to yourself please do. You have so much value to add.