Day 12 of my 40 Day Challenge…
Today, Katie has shared about her experience with anxiety. This is something which affects so many of us, but very often goes either undiagnosed, or we simply don’t talk about it. Thank you Katie for taking the step to share this with us.
Anxiety in the body…
Until it affected me, I had no idea that mental health could be so linked to the physical. I’d had several evenings of feeling nauseous, achey and irritable. I felt extremely cold, despite being swamped in layers of fleeces and I assumed I was coming down with some sort of virus. I began to find it odd that this was occurring so regularly but never amounting to anything, and I’d feel fine in the morning- if I ever eventually made it to sleep. I’d begun to feel very uncomfortable and tense in public settings, always having one eye on the exit, even in mums and tots groups I’d been part of for years or at church which used to feel like home. This was so out of the ordinary for my personality, I honestly started to wonder if perhaps I had a brain tumour!
Then one night, I felt so cold I was violently shaking, and the nausea was so intense that I was retching in futile over the toilet. I felt like something invisible was crushing my chest and I couldn’t catch a full breath. It sounds silly looking back but at the time I honestly wondered if I were dying! I knew something was seriously not right, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. My husband discovered me in a state in the bathroom and I’m not sure how he figured it out, but he asked: ‘Do you think you’re having an anxiety attack?’ From that moment it clicked- yes, yes I was! Once I’d got a bit of a handle on the breathing, the other symptoms eased significantly.
Now to me, anxiety meant ‘over worrying’, and although I was finding work stressful at that time and juggling being a mummy, a wife, a teacher and myself, I wasn’t actively worrying about these things. They weren’t at the forefront of my mind, I wasn’t constantly thinking about it, as I imagined they would if I were ‘anxious’, but they were obviously heavy on my subconscious. I struggled to focus my mind, but that was the only symptom that to me felt ‘mental’.
I went to the GP a couple of times. The first time I was told I wasn’t depressed (which I knew), and to ‘keep an eye’ on things and ‘see how I go’. The second time I was given sleeping pills to combat the unbearable insomnia that came with it. This, for me, became an effective way of managing the anxiety, as most of my unpleasant symptoms would come in the evening and I could usually feel it building. I’d simply pop a pill and head to bed and I would feel fine in the morning. For the next year or so I would carefully manage (or avoid) evening commitments and social situations and I also discovered alcohol to be a trigger, so avoided that too.
It felt quite unsatisfactory however, to be treating the symptoms and not the cause. I was managing, but I certainly wasn’t living life to the full, and I didn’t feel like me. I began to wonder what had triggered these events. By tracking my episodes on a calendar I realised there was a regular ebb and flow and with a little Googling I was led to realise that the Mirena coil contraceptive I was using had links to similar symptoms.
I returned to my GP, who dismissed any correlation between the coil and the anxiety, but reluctantly agreed for me to have the coil removed. Initially, after removal, my anxiety was through the roof and I wondered if I’d made the right decision. Again I turned to Google, which led me to discover something referred to as ‘the Mirena crash’: seemingly it was common for anxiety to rocket in the first few weeks after removal. However after a few months the anxiety began to sync only with the time of my period and the symptoms began to reduce. 9 months on and my anxiety is minimal and only rears its head 2-3 days a month. I’m finally feeling myself again.
It’s been a tough journey, probably as much for my husband as for me- he’s bore the brunt of most of my frustrations and carried the load when I have been unable to function. I have been very well supported by close friends and family and I have made a real effort to be open and talk about my anxiety and ask for help when needed, as I feel that mental health should not be the taboo that it is. I think the most difficult thing has been the shift in identity that it brought. I am naturally fairly extrovert, but social interactions became hard work and exhausting, and sometimes I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. It felt very frustrating that it was ‘all in my head’ yet I couldn’t just switch it off. It’s also frightening to think of how many women might be struggling with mental health issues that could in fact be triggered by the hormones we routinely dose ourselves with for contraception.