I was a really happy kid. Blessed. Life was easy. I did well at school, was involved in heaps of extracurricular activities, was well liked and had good social connections. But in Year 11, anxiety hit like someone flicked a switch.
One day I was standing at recess, eating grapes and chatting to friends when all of a sudden I was hit by the most intense feelings of nervousness I had ever experienced. It took over my whole body.
I first heard the word “anxiety” when talking to a teacher. We had already been talking about things like the pressure I was putting on myself at school and I don’t think she was surprised when I told her how I was feeling. It was only when I talked to her that I managed to connect this experience with the word “anxiety”.
With my teacher’s support I told my parents. I basically just sat them down after dinner and told them. My parents and teachers helped me talk to my GP, who referred me to a private psychologist. At the time everything was so new, and I didn’t really know anything about mental health.
Throughout my journey I have had about seven different diagnoses, including depression and psychosis.
Depression was thick and heavy. Instead of moving through air it felt like you are going through something much more viscous and dense. Simply moving required much more effort.
For me, mania was the opposite of depression. I had a lot more energy and needed a lot less sleep. It was as though the speed of my brain had been increased by 150%. Everything was brighter and clearer and it all just moved so fast.
My main experience of psychosis was thought insertion. There would be thoughts in my head that I could “tell” were not my thoughts. These were often thoughts to hurt myself for whatever reason. It is really scary when you can’t trust your own mind, especially when the professionals don’t really know how to label what you’re going through either. My current (and official) diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder.
The biggest step that helped me was talking. I was talking to my teachers, my family and friends as well as professionals. I always knew that I had people that loved me and that were willing to listen and help however they could. Even when I was most despairingly suicidal, I still knew that people were there for me- it’s just I didn’t feel like I could be there for them.
While I no longer see a psychologist on a regular basis I have to see a psychiatrist once a month for my medications. Having the pre-scheduled appointments is good because I will never have to make the call of “should I get help now or just wait it out?” It’s also good to just take time to re-check things out every month.
I know I’m struggling when…
I feel overwhelmed and my body tells me I need a break. Whenever I have a bad week there is always the tendency to think “is this a relapse?!” While keeping tabs on what could be the emergence of new symptoms, I don’t want to freak myself out. I can have a bad week just the same as anyone can have a bad week.
I try to pick myself up by…
spending lots of time just chatting (usually with my boyfriends, Mum or best friend) to unload. Sometimes you don’t realise how heavy something is until you let it go, so having a constant open dialogue is really important.
Now I take care of myself by…
listening to what my body is telling me and trying not to be too hard on myself if I need a week where I sleep a bit longer or take more breaks. I monitor my stress levels carefully. If they seem to be going too far in the wrong direction I know I should reach out. I also use apps to track my mood and sleep, so I can see any worrying trends as they’re emerging.
What would you say to a young person who's struggling right now?
“Whatever you’re feeling right now, there’s a mathematical certainty that someone else is feeling that exact thing. This is not to say you aren’t special. This is to say thank god you aren’t special.” - Neil Hilborn