My Confidence Journey

Good Evening Munchkins!

Today I have felt a sudden urge to sit down and have a proper chat with you guys about confidence and my past experiences with anxiety (they do interlock somewhere, I promise you!). I have no idea where this urge has come from but I feel like explaining everything to you so that those who may be going through the same thing realise you’re not the only one and also for myself so I can look back on this and think ‘I got there’. As I’ve said with these types of blog posts before, I’m not asking for sympathy, I would never do that, I just want to enlighten you on my life prior to this chapter and maybe even help one or two of you. If you would like me to write any follow ups of this just let me know and I would be more than happy to do that for you.

Growing up, I was naturally very shy; both my parents were this way and I guess it was kind of expected that I would be just the same. I was also very aware as a child (that quickly faded!) and was very bright so I did know a lot in terms of what was going on around me. I could sense very quickly what people did or didn’t want me to hear, what they meant when they were saying stuff etc. and I guess these factors were used against me as my anxiety proceeded to take over my life. I think these aspects also meant that a lot of people didn’t think I ended up developing social anxiety because they thought I was ‘just shy’. I can’t really remember when the turning point was but early on in my school life I started become increasingly nervous before going into school (sometimes even faking illness) and just feeling like I couldn’t do it without someone there to look out for me (i.e a parent). I struggled to make friends and during Year R can only remember having one main friend and a few others I had gone to nursery with. This ‘main friend’ later became my bully, but that’s another story for another time.

Throughout Year 1 and 2, not much changed; I can remember being a bit more sociable and becoming a little more confident with my teachers but I was still very much a recluse within myself. I had gained a few more friends and was starting to become my own little character. This was nearly 10 years ago though, so it is a bit of a blur! As far as I can remember, I was fairly ‘normal’. I had learnt my daily routine and I was very content with this.

When I started in Year 3, my younger brother started in Year R (it was a primary school) so that routine I had loved was suddenly replaced with this new one that I was expected to accept over night (which I subsequently did not). This then started a 2 and a half/3 year episode of anxiety that, looking back, was pretty full-on for a 7-9 year old. I can remember my first day in Year 3 being ridiculously and unnecessarily stressful; it was full of sweating and shaking and the lump-in-the-throat moment you get before you start crying – there were a lot of those over the next few years! I think this initially started because of mine and my brothers sibling rivalry and I always believed my Mum loved him more than me and found me more annoying so would leave me at school and I would be abandoned and lost forever. As I say, I was very alert!

I can’t really remember how long this was happening for until I had my first panic attack, but I remember the actual thing so clearly. It tended to start if our teacher had kept us after the bell (even by seconds) but this time it started 10 minutes before we were due to leave. I was shaking and sweating and I was tapping my fingers on the desk just to try and pass time and distract myself but if anything it only made it worse.I think I also started tapping my foot. I also started biting my lip/side of my mouth which is still something I do now, so I guess was just a nervous habit. I also remember the lump in my throat just appearing and just increasing in size as the seconds passed and it really did start to hurt. Those 10 minutes seemed like years and it was just really freaking me out. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep and ignore what was going on. I wanted to leave and run out to whoever was picking me up that day just to ensure they had me and they couldn’t leave without me. I had all these thoughts in my head as well as whatever we were actually doing in the classroom and all the different distractions I had set up for myself; it was like my brain was a machine that was being over-run and everything was just about to fall apart. I’ve felt that a fair amount in my life since that point. I just felt very lost and enclosed in my own head and that scared me a lot.

As I was quite shy, I didn’t talk to anyone about this (that I can remember). It just became a part of my routine (I like routines) and my daily life. I had no idea what was going on in my mind, I had no idea what anxiety or panic attacks were and I did feel like I was the only one who was going through this. I did feel very isolated from everyone else who could just go and get on with their lives but I would make up literally every excuse under the sun to make sure I left school on time. It did scare me because no one else noticed, I obviously didn’t tell anyone and no one did seem to care. Looking back, it’s just insane what I had to deal with.

I don’t really know what stopped these panic attacks or reversed the initial turning point. I think it was settling into another new routine (my Dad started picking me and my brother up once my Mum had got a full-time job and this somehow settled me) and just feeling suddenly secure. I think the onset of puberty also helped for some reason – my hormones must have affected my emotions and my outlook and during this time I did become more confident and I started talking to a lot more people that I normally wouldn’t. I do think if I’d reached puberty later, a lot could be different in terms of my anxiety so I guess that saved me but obviously that’s not a good cure for everyone.

When I was in Year 8, my anxiety kind of flared up again and I started having a few more panic attacks; never to the extent of when I was a child but I’d forgotten about that time in my life so it was just like the first time all over again. I think this started again because I would overthink everything and that is still my biggest enemy. It was around this period I actually went to my doctor and that was basically a waste of time because he told me what I already knew without supplying me with any treatment. He never diagnosed me, he literally just gave me more information about generalized anxiety. This is still something I’m kind of annoyed about because I never got the answer I went for and it kind of set me back, thinking I was stupid when in fact I wasn’t.

Coming back to present day, I now have a few panic attacks every so often but it’s not as overshadowing of my life as it used to be. I had one the other day when I was out for a birthday meal for my Step-Mum’s sister, so the whole family was there (like 15 people) and I just sat the in the corner the whole time not talking to anyone, just feeling ridiculously stupid. Now I know what’s happening, it’s a bit more reassuring that I’m not constantly questioning myself and if I’m crazy or not. My symptoms now include my heart racing (and subsequent chest pain which can get quite bad), shaking, sweating, feeling sick, feeling like I’m going to cry, not being able or want to communicate, my voice shaking – stuff like that. I’m hesitant to go back to the doctor or any doctor because of my past experiences and because I don’t really want people to see me as a caution or a warning or anything like that. I don’t have panic attacks all the time but it can get quite bad in the moment (or at least it seems that way). I wish I could give you a better ending to this little segment of my life, but it does kind of flare up at certain times; this just seems to be one of those times.

Between these periods of mental health joy, however, I have accomplished some things I never thought I would. For example, I went to a one-day festival at the beginning of May which was just insane and with the arrival of my new step-family, I’ve had to meet and talk and learn about a lot more (new) people. These are very different examples, I know, but they’re still very significant in my life and things that 10 years ago scared the life out of me. I have come a long way but sometimes I do have my setbacks (though that’s just life). I’m proud of my achievements and focus on these times and look forward to more of them, instead of constantly thinking ‘I would, but I’d have a panic attack’ which is how I used to run my life. Always focus on the positives and what you have and can do! There is nothing stopping you other than yourself!

And there we have it! A bit of a different blog post, but as I say, I just wanted to vent to you guys! Just know that if you have anxiety or suffer from panic attacks, it’s not always going to be that way. This may be a phase or the calmer times may be a phase, but that’s okay, just concentrate on the positives. If you have any further questions about my own experiences or anything you may be concerned about regarding this topic, please don’t hesitate to ask me; I love helping people and if I can then that’s my job done and I can also be happy!

Thank you so much for reading and I’ll see you soon,

Rachel xx

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