Finding your ladder; A story about anxiety

Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, were some very brave individuals will be telling their stories about how they deal with important issues and for the readers of this website who might be struggling I thought it would useful to share my own experiences.

I suffer from an Anxiety disorder. Since 2011, I have battled something that in a nut shell makes me panic, feel unable to relax and can make doing some of the things you might find easy, really hard.

To somebody who doesn’t suffer from this, I know it can be hard to understand. The way I explained it to my brothers was imagining you were on a really fast rollercoaster or watching a scary movie; your heart races, stomach tightens and your mind goes at a million miles a minute as you fear the worst. Now imagine, feeling like that all the time and never being able to shake it off, that’s the difference between me and somebody like them.

At your lowest moments, you can become absorbed by anxiety which means you will always think about the worst case scenarios and you panic that you can never climb out of the position you find yourself in.

However and this is the moral my story that I want anybody who is in a similar position to take, there is always a ladder available to you, no matter how deep the hole is.

In 2012, I felt really battered after months of suffering from anxiety and a sense that I was never going to get any better after trying several programmes and nothing seemed to work. Then a ladder came, I was accepted to speak at a conference about my PhD research for the first time. I sat up, wrote my paper and I kid you not rehearsed it about 20 times in my living room. I felt that energy that my anxiety has sucked from me returning and I slowly started gaining confidence. Then, I got a call from BBC Radio Ulster who wanted me to come on to Good Morning Ulster on the day of my paper to discuss my arguments (Unionism and North-South relations if you’re interested).

Cue palpitations and more anxiety consisting of what if I mess up? What if my supervisors are listening in?

Here’s the thing, all the worst case scenarios in my head if I had paid them in any serious attention would have forced me to pull out of the conference and the radio programme. But I went on, delivered my arguments to Mark Carruthers and received some lovely comments from my colleagues at Ulster University about how I did and then I delivered my paper in front of academics from across the UK and Ireland.

In the weeks and months that followed slowly but surely I began to feel better.

That breaking free from anxiety for just a spell, led me to write a piece on the same topic for the News Letter, which then brought me to the Journal.ie which then led me to Slugger and the rest is history.

I still have problems with anxiety and there are days where things like going on holiday are a struggle for me.

But my anxiety does not define me, nor should your anxiety define you.

Find your ladder, whatever that maybe, for me it was writing about politics and doing a bit of Yoga along with discovering Camomile tea on the side helped too.

Another thing, trust others to help you. I struggled to tell some very close people to me about what I was going through, but when I opened up the response was nearly always “what do you need & how can I help you?” Anxiety is a very lonely process, but there are others out there who suffer from this who on the surface you’d have no idea about, don’t be afraid to open up.

In conclusion, be patient with yourself and other people too. You will have some tough days (I do) but your better ones will far outweigh your negatives. So, take a deep breath, take small steps forward and find your ladder.

Here’s to your success and hopefully this has helped some of you.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs