‘My name is Lily and I am a young person who has been suffering with an anxiety disorder for most of my teenage life. At 12 years old I had my first panic attack. It was during a citizenship lesson and I remember everything down to what my teacher was wearing, the song that was playing and the smell of the classroom as we had just come out of food tech. It wasn’t triggered and I didn’t know what caused this toe-curling fear throughout my body, which made the whole event a lot more terrifying.
I asked my teacher if I could be excused from the class, as I wasn’t feeling well. I paced the humanities corridor with my heart beating at what felt like 1000 beats per minute. Then, my stomach started twisting, my throat became stuck in that stage where you feel as though you are about to cry and my breath became harder to catch. My ears started to strain from the inside of my body (as if my brain was an orchestra and I was the conductor) and my eyes started to fuzz before being rushed to the outside of the school where my teacher calmed me down and made me drink a glass of water.
I thought I had a terrible disease that had gotten so bad my body was dying. Those 10 minutes of panic changed my life and soon it became a pattern for that to happen every time I was in that class. Then a string of these types of events became more common until I was unable to attend school without having to leave lessons every 15 minutes.
It began to affect me outside of school one such episode was when I was out in London one weekend. I had been doing something that I’d enjoyed since I was a little girl, walking around Carnaby Street and getting something to eat with my Dad and brother. I couldn’t understand why I felt as though I was constantly on the edge of a cliff with someone repeatedly shouting at me to jump off (the someone being my anxiety and the cliff being my panic attacks).
I told my mum about this constant worry that I was dying and she spoke to me about my families’ history of mental illness and it was her decision to get me seen by specialists. I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder with a sign of moderate Depression at 14 years old.
And so began a cycle of seeing Clinical Psychologists, NHS doctors, countless therapists and psychiatrists whom all offered me different advice with an equally disappointing outcome. There was nothing that they could do.
This led me into a deep depression where I started to think that because nobody important seemed to care about my anxiety there was no point in attempting to get better. I started self-harming. Thankfully this didn’t last long (around 5 months or so) until my parents decided to, despite advice from my school and CAMHS, take me straight into Northwick Park Hospital to get some immediate action put in place. I was 15 years old and it was the worst my anxiety and depression had ever been. I left the hospital in the early hours of the morning with my parents determined to get me help.
I am so beyond thankful for my family. Members of my extended family started talking to me about their experiences with mental illness and most of them seemed as though they had overcome the challenges that were thrown in their way.
At this time, family became even more important to me, as I had lost friends who blamed my lack of interest in them on my anxiety and claimed it was something I was doing for attention. If you have a friend suffering from any kind of mental illness DO NOT say it is for attention. We already feel as though the outside world views us as people who indulge in self-pity please do not make us believe this even more.
The things I have missed out on due to my anxiety consist of: holidays, parties, my own birthday, baby showers, my GCSE exams, school trips, family get-togethers, prom and so many more.
All these ended in a similar way, me alone in my bedroom wrapped under the duvet with my mirrors turned back-to-front to face the wall and my curtains drawn. I was taken out of school and took 7 months to try and find something that worked for me. It was hellish and included doing lots of things I didn’t want to do (like travelling on public transport, leaving my house, going to see friends). Not to mention at this point I had been on anti-depressants for over a year and still the dosage was being messed around with.
This time a year ago I was just starting at an online school and I had no idea if my anxiety would ever improve. I am sat here now as a 17 year old Lily who’s taking her GCSE’s this summer, going to the gym twice a week, doing volunteer work at my old primary school. I’m constantly doing things outside of my comfort zone like going to museums and art galleries. The other week I travelled on the bus for the first time alone and I went to the shops to buy a pot noodle! Now some people hearing this may think, “well, I was doing that when I was 9 years old that kind of stuff is easy!”. To those people, I say good on you. Good on you for not having to suffer to the extent that I, and so many others, have. Truly, be thankful. But to those of you that can relate and understand how difficult it is to start recovering from a mental illness (whether you have experienced it yourself or somebody close to you has) you deserve to be heard.
I really hope to prove to people that things will get better and life can taste sweeter. It’s so easy for someone to say, but coming from someone who used to turn their nose up at that phrase, just try to believe me. Now things aren’t yet amazing; I’m still struggling every day at dealing with my anxiety and some days I wake up knowing that it’s going to be a tricky day. But just because it’s a bad day, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad life.