Anxiety took over my life – but now I've reclaimed it
If you started to suspect that you have issues with anxiety, how long would you leave it before you to talked to someone about it?
Would you wait until you’re finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning or when you start to fall behind in your studies or at work? How about until you can’t be bothered to spend time with anyone or even to eat?
As someone who lives with anxiety, and who has ticked off everything on this list and more, I know that taking the first steps to feeling better is easier said than done.
My anxiety began when I was 16 years old and heading to college.
I had to make a new group of friends, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. It made me panic, and the anxiety slowly started taking over my life.
Eventually, the day came where I became too anxious to leave the house. That day then became another, then a week and suddenly two months. When my friends were texting me because I was skipping college, I was too anxious to pick up the phone.
I would literally just sit in my room all day staring at four walls. Anxiety made me feel uneasy and worried about something at the back of my mind, but I couldn’t figure out what I was actually worried about.
Your mind won’t acknowledge that there’s nothing bad going on; it runs away with its thoughts and tells you to be paranoid, and then you lose control of your actual ability to think.
Because I have autism, it’s also hard for me to show my emotions to other people.
When I was going through this period, I didn’t confide in anyone until my mum forced me talk to her. She stepped in because parents want what’s best for their children, and it was hard for her to see me not being able to do anything on a day-to-day basis.
She then had a mental health team come out and assess me with a one-to-one conversation, and I was assigned a mental health social worker. It was an oddly pleasant experience, because they were understanding of my feelings and I was finally getting the help I hadn’t known I needed.
It was through the social worker that we heard about The Prince’s Trust; a charity that helps young people improve their confidence and develop the skills they need to get their lives back on track.
I knew that unless I did something to help myself – and quickly – things would soon get much worse. Mum persuaded me to join The Trust’s six-week Fairbridge course, which is a programme for 16 to 25-year-olds that involves a mix of group activities and one-to-one support to develop your skills and confidence.
At first, I was terrified, because I had to join a new environment – but everyone was so welcoming, and I couldn’t believe that others understood what I was going through. It was like a weight off my shoulders.
We did a lot of team-building and group activities, such as kayaking, rock-climbing, cooking dinner together and problem-solving, which helped me learn how to trust other people again, something that my anxiety had prevented me from doing for so long.
Having regained my confidence, I got a job at Primark, where I still work part-time, but more importantly, I decided to go back to college – because I wanted to make something of myself.
Law was my career inspiration; as someone who had struggled to find her own voice in the past, I wanted to learn how to be the voice for people who find themselves in difficult situations.
Starting a law degree did make me feel anxious, but it doesn’t feel like it did before, because this time, I am in control.
I now know how to deal with my anxiety. One of the most useful coping mechanism I learnt was writing down all my worries for the day, and then figure out which one I’m most worried about – and tackle that worry first. I like this structured approach to breaking down your anxiety.
Two years ago, I would never have thought that I’d be able to go to university and study for a law degree, but now I know it’s within my reach. I want to be a part of the Crown Prosecution Service one day – I love criminal law.
I do sometimes worry about my anxiety returning. But if I ever have a hard time again, I now know that it’s OK to ask for help – and that’s exactly what I’ll do.
It takes courage to tackle anxiety.
You have to give yourself a chance to be pushed, like I was by my mum, and by all the brilliant people at The Prince’s Trust. Sometimes, there’s nothing stopping you from moving forward except for yourself.
If you’re struggling, please remember that you don’t have to be alone in this – there is help out there, and it’s yours for the taking.
Charleigh is the winner of the Delta Air Lines Rising Star Award at The Prince’s Trust and TK Maxx and Homesense Awards. She will receive her award at a ceremony at the London Palladium on 11 March.
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