I’ve ummed and ahhed about posting this for a while… What I’m about to write is pretty personal. Is this a good idea to post? Probably not. I didn’t think that posting this was going to be anywhere near as scary as it actually is. But if there is anyone out there who feels the way I once did, I hope I can offer some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
This is my story.
18 months ago when I left for university, I sat in the back of the car (covered with duvets and clothes bags) with an excited anticipation. I remember how the suburban surroundings dripped away and I was soon looking at rolling fields. My mind was buzzing, creating hundreds of different scenarios to how it would be when I walked through the front doors of my halls for the first time. I was told that this is the place where I would have the best years of my life, that I would be partying every day and I would make friends for life. When I walked into my bedroom, number 10, for the first time, it was hard to hold back from full hysterical laughter.
This was one of those moments where I thought that if there is a God, he definitely just backhanded me around the face.
The carpet was stained, the blind was hanging off of the wall, the drawers had hairs in, there was a large asbestos sticker stuck above the sink (which was leaking), there was no natural sunlight and people had graphitied on my wall. This was after walking past the facilities which consisted of two toilets and two showers. Let’s not forget about the kitchen (as easy as it was to) which situated three freezer drawers, six fridge shelves and a Baby Belling oven (if you do not know what this is, please Google to observe the full horror), those facilities were for ten people to share. At that moment it would have been a pretty easy decision to just turn around and walk out. But, Uni is something that for as long as I can remember I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to throw the towel in that easily.
Bedroom number 10 is a place that changed my life. This is where it started.
The room was large and isolating. I was small and completely out of my comfort zone. Living mainly with boys and bearing in mind that most people were under the age of twenty, the kitchen and bathrooms quickly became grotty. All bedroom doors were fire doors, so they couldn’t be propped open and there was no common area, lending it to look somewhat like a prison. Before long, one of the showers was backing up black water and was shut down. We were down to one shower between ten of us. There was a particular person on the floor who used the whole freezer for their frozen chicken and peas and any food left in the fridge usually got eaten. My plates and cutlery from my kitchen cupboard often turned up used somewhere else in the building and I came out one morning to find my new frying pan bent out of shape on the kitchen floor and half of my belongings chucked out of the window.
It wasn’t long before I started getting grief at night… To this day I couldn’t tell you who was behind it, but I was constantly having my door banged on any time between 1am and 4am. There was an occasion where I actually had glass thrown at my door. It was when these things started to happen that I noticed a shift in myself and I began to change. I started to close in on myself and found it hard to smile at the people around me in the building, knowing that one of these people was behind what had started happening to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d had my very first panic attack. Sadly, they became a regular occurrence. Once the sun was gone, I was scared to come out of my room. The girl that had loved to go clubbing and never wanted to be alone had completely switched into someone else. Now I craved to be on my own, because I was becoming scared of people. After countless nights with hardly any sleep, with people that I didn’t really know and someone harassing me night after night, I was beginning to crack.
At night I couldn’t sleep. I would sit on my bed, watching my door, waiting. The dark became my enemy, because if I did fall asleep then wake up from a loud banging I would feel disorientated when I couldn’t see. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I became afraid of the dark. For the first time in my entire life, I was afraid of the dark. The panic attacks got worse to the point that as soon as I got into my bed I would begin to have chest pains, unsteady breathing and feelings of restlessness and panic. As you can probably imagine, I didn’t get much sleep.
Not having any sleep came with its own set of problems. My eyes began to play tricks on me and I thought I could see things that weren’t really there. I would see balls of shadows moving across the floor, a bit like a large spider, but of course there was never really anything there. This progressed to at night thinking that there was someone else in my bedroom.
The worst thing about all of this is that I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me, so why couldn’t I stop? I was scared all the time. I cried, a lot. I was a mess and a literal fraction of my former self. I was too embarrassed to tell my friends and my family what was happening to me. If I pretended that I was okay, then there wasn’t really a problem, was there? When I was with people, I felt fine. But at night, when I would return to my room alone, it would begin again. I don’t know how else to describe the events, other than being dark and all-consuming; endless nights of self-torture. I genuinely thought that I was losing my mind, although I was later told that a sign that you are in fact not losing your mind at all, is to be aware that something is wrong.
Somehow, I endured the six months. They had once seemed infinite. I’m not sure why I stayed. Some sort of pride barrier made me get back up and carry on day after day, I wouldn’t give in. I guess I was a much stronger person than I thought… I have always been stubborn. I’m not one to admit defeat. But I still look back on how it was ruined. I didn’t reach out and make friends in lectures, because I never went, because I was scared to leave my room. I was scared to be in my room. I was pretty much scared of my own reflection. It was a waste of an existence. It’s sad to think that I lost so many opportunities.
I moved out of halls as soon as my deadlines were over. When I got home, I knew that enough was enough. I could live my life like a coward or I could get on with things, so that’s what I did. I moved into a new area, got myself a job, made friends and forgot about the whole ordeal. Of course, something like that never really goes away. It’s always with you. But it was supressed, controlled and as far as I was concerned, a silent part of me.
However, returning to university proved a harder transition than I had anticipated. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to go and see a counsellor. I needed to know that I didn’t have something seriously wrong with me. Diagnosis – anxiety and panic attacks. Knowing what was going on made me feel that I had more control. I understood what was happening now. I made the decision to change my life, and I have.
It hasn’t been easy and sometimes I have days where I’m scared to leave the house on my own. But I won’t let anxiety control my life and I realise now that to be able to recognise your flaws and to battle your demons makes you a stronger person. I have personally found that the harder anxiety is beaten down, the less it rears its head. So when I’m afraid, I don’t think, I just put my shoes on and I walk straight out of that door. Fear is only what you allow it to be. Your own strength is as powerful as you believe it can be.
I look back on the person I was a year ago, sitting on the floor next to her bed crying, and I want to shake her. Nobody is brought into this world to have to live like that and nobody should be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. If there is anyone out there who is struggling with anything like this, there is an end to it, but it’s when you finally tell yourself that enough is enough. You have the power and control to change your own life and nobody can ever take that away from you. I’ve come out the other side a stronger person and you will too. People that discriminate against anything like this are just ignorant because they don’t understand. The irony is that most people will go through something like this during their lives.
Heard of Johnny Depp, Emma Stone, Kate Moss, Adele, Scarlett Johansson? They are all reportedly anxiety sufferers. To my friends, I’ve always been an outgoing, social person. Only recently I’ve finally told people what I went through and I always get the same response… “I had no idea”. Don’t feel alone. It can happen to anyone. You never know what’s really going on inside someone else’s head.
Never be ashamed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You are not alone.
Until my next brain leak…O&O.