I've been coping with anxiety and depression for around 4 years now and what has been a roller-coaster of emotions is beginning to show a little light at the end of the tunnel. So hopefully my revelation can shed some light on your tunnel too!
After a strong bout of denial and a relenting quest to find something or someone else to blame for why I was so ill all the time, my subconscious pointed me in the direction of my mental health. I had reached breaking point and eventually I admitted to those close to me, including myself, that I wasn't okay.
But it's okay to not be okay! It didn't feel okay at the time, it felt like I was weak and I'd been defeated, but the only way to tackle a problem is to understand what the problem is.
It's like back in maths class, when you fell asleep and the teacher asked you to answer the question that you didn't hear… unless you were a mind reader, you had no chance!
Compare that to your mental health. If you aren't paying attention to what your mind and body are trying to tell you, then finding the answer becomes exceedingly difficult.
After admitting I wasn't okay, I was like you now… I referred to the internet to look for the “cure” that would fix me up and make me “normal” again. I just wish somebody had told me sooner, it doesn't exist! There is no quick fix or fancy gadget you can buy on Amazon that will stop you from having anxious thoughts (trust me… I've looked!)
The road to coping with anxiety and taking control over your anxious thoughts is different for each individual, but there are lots of steps to take which may work for some and not for others.
My experience of this started when a friend reached out to me and told me that I wasn't alone and there were others going through the exact same thing that I was. He wanted to share his experience and give me some advice that helped him on his journey.
After losing interest in his hobbies and his health due to anxiety, he found himself in an increasingly familiar dark place. Most days were a struggle to find the motivation to leave his bed, let alone to look after himself, but one day he found the strength to show some interest in his past hobbies.
He claimed it was like riding a bike… except it was literally riding a bike!
Cycling had always been a passion of his and he was rejuvenated by pushing himself to get back on his bike. He urged me to join him one day, claiming it would be the kick-start I needed to clear my head and find an escape from the seemingly constant anxious thoughts that were bubbling away in my mind.
So I did, I thought to myself “this is it, the cure!” I bought myself a bike, a helmet and some flashy cycling gear in a cloud of excitement and went cycling with my friend.
I don't know what was more difficult… trying to walk the next day or realising that I was still plagued with anxious thoughts.
I was so sure that this was the answer, it had worked for my friend, so it was bound to work for me, right?!
It didn't… I was so distraught and lost all hope of living an anxiety-free life, which I now know was a completely irrational reaction. It was my first attempt and I was just unfortunate that it didn't work out for me.
What I came to realise was that cycling worked for him because it was one of HIS previous passions, not mine. So I took some time to think back on my early teen years, before anxiety attacks and depressive bouts were a daily occurrence, and remembered that I was reasonably passionate about running.
After some self motivation I convinced myself to go for a run one day and my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner. Admittedly, I wasn't as fit as I used to be, but for a short time my mind was clear. I wasn't worried about work, relationships, the future or what people thought of me.
I've been running regularly since and it has brought with it a multitude of benefits. I feel healthier, my fitness levels are rising and most importantly, I've found something I enjoy doing that allows me to clear my mind of the usual intrusive thoughts.
Taking this time to clear my head has had a noticeable effect on my mental health and daily mood.
Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of bad days and the underlying cause is still present, like I said there is no quick fix. But I've proved to myself that I can still enjoy life, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.
I'm feeling better about myself and my situation and this has allowed me to take further steps to taking control of my anxiety, steps that I previously couldn't take willingly.
My advice is not that you go and buy some new running gear and complete a 5k every day, as I know the thought of that will probably disgust some of you… because it disgusted me! My advice, and I strongly recommend you do this, is that you spend some time looking back on your earlier years and see if there were any hobbies that you took joy in. Whether it's a sport, a musical instrument or collecting stamps! The aim is to find yourself a pastime that you can enjoy without the familiar doubts and fears that make life with anxiety unbearable.
Some things to keep in mind throughout your journey are:
- You may not enjoy the same things you did when you were younger. People change and your idea of fun might have changed over the years.
- If you don't enjoy something straight away then keep at it, it might take a while for it to grow on you.
- What works for others may not work for you. You are your own person and have your own individual traits. This doesn't make you any worse, it just makes you different.
- Enjoy yourself. Taking control of anxiety is an ongoing battle and can be daunting so take the time to just have fun.
I found the light at the end of the tunnel after 4 years of internal torture and there is nothing stopping you finding the light too.
Just keep at it, embrace the little things and you'll realise that you can take control of how you feel again.