I've been around on the forum for a long while and have picked up a lot of experience over the years. Despite ill physical health, I am finally in a good place regarding my anxiety and I have decided I need to put that part of my life behind me. Part of that is leaving finally leaving AZ. I always told myself when I finally beat my anxiety I would tell my story. So, here it is.
My mum had said that I was always an anxious child. Growing up I was always a little more on edge and uptight than my friends, however nothing ever really overt bubbled to the surface and generally I was happy and carefree. At around the age of 15 I started smoking a lot of weed and maybe a year later I started taking a lot of hard drugs. When high I would sometimes experience bad paranoia but I always put that down to being intoxicated so really the 'disorder' in me still wasn't unleashed.
Things gradually got worse but I couldn't really put my finger on it at the time and I couldn't really see the wood for the trees. When I left school at 18 things started to go downhill. I don't clearly remember what happened, but I remember a growing feeling of unease inside of me. One day I was getting ready for bed and I sat down at the top of the stairs in my house as just broke down in shivering and tears.
That year things were up and down. I did a ski season in France for 4 or 5 months and I was generally okay while I was out there. When I returned home, though, university was looming and my marijuana consumption was consistently growing. I started experiencing bouts of severe derealisation and sudden panic attacks. My doctor put me on propanalol 'as needed' but I remember only rarely taking it. I just liked to have it on me as back up incase things started going bad. Just having it there was all I really needed most of the time.
At university I still made a good showing of things. I was more reserved than others but that was because I had had my wild times during my teenage years and I didn't need to let off steam as others did. Plus I was spending way too much time in my own little cloud of marijuana smoke. I remember often smoking and then immediately having a panic attack. I just kept going though because I was addicted. Smoke marijuana is what I did. It was very much a part of my identity and ingrained in my social sphere.
In my first year of uni one of my really good friends developed extremely severe bipolar disorder with rapid cycling, mixed states, and psychosis. This had a huge impact on me as over the years I was frequently with her as she was having violent mood swings and I would regularly visit her whenever she became hospitalised. I grew to be absolutely terrified of myself developing bipolar and, 4 years on, have only recently overcome my fears that I am going to imminently lose my sanity.
Throughout the first and second year at university my other issues were heart anxiety and feeling horribly trapped when I couldn't easily get to the toilet. I would be in lectures and, despite drinking hardly any water and going to the toilet to squeeze out what I could immediately beforehand, my bladder would feel like it needed to burst as soon as I sat down. I also had a great heart fear and I remember distinctly this peaking in my third year when I took a 40mg propanalol in uni (my usual dosage was 10mg) and my heart slowed down to like 40bpm. I freaked and went to the out of hours doctor who essentially told me to sleep it off. I quit smoking weed and began exercising and trying to pull my life back together.
At the start of my third year of university I started seeing an NHS counsellor and attending meditation classes. This was where my anxiety started getting really, really intense. I started getting intrusive sexual thoughts and believed that I was a horrific sexual monster. I was constantly at war with myself and was convinced I was suddenly about to develop bipolar. When I started seeing the CBT counsellor he said 'oh yeah going crazy is a common fear, with most people, though, it's the fear of schizophrenia'. The thought of schizophrenia hadn't even occurred to me, but it was much more apt given that my moods were (relatively) stable. And so began the most horrific 18 months of my life. I delved so far into my own psyche and pushed myself so hard both in terms of anxiety and at uni that I actually experienced a number of hallucinations and mild, fleeting delusions. I would hear and see things that weren't there, often only very, very fleetingly, but it was by no means a good mental place to be. I couldn't get out of my head that I was going to be in a psychiatric hospital for the rest of my life, unable to function and in a world of fear and confusion. I cannot emphasise enough how bad things got for me here.
The only thing to distract me from the raging battle constantly going on inside was uni work. Somehow I pushed myself and achieved a First Class degree in Politics from a very well regarded British university. To this day I wish I hadn't pushed myself so hard in doing so as it seriously took its toll on me. I saw anything else, however, as an abject failure. I am still paying for that relentless pushing now, more than a year after graduating, as it led to a viral illness and the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.
It's hard to put a finger on when my recovery began, as ever since this all started I have always been battling. I saw another CBT therapist perhaps half way through my third year at university and this might mark the turning point. However there was still a huge amount of agonising, raging fear from thereon. I learnt a number of techniques and to try to 'float' on my symptoms. I started practicing mindfulness which helped in the short term, however I was using it as a tool to rid myself of a feeling and this came back to bite me as it was wielding what is essentially a very powerful tool in the complete wrong way. I always had rejected medication, however, as my fear of bipolar meant that I was certain that should I take an SSRI then a manic episode would be triggered and I would plunge into insanity.
So this all continued, really, for about 18 months to varying degrees of severity. Eventually I learned a number of techniques, however, including proper meditation, CBT, NLP, good nutrition (cutting out refined sugars, gluten etc.) and also I started to take a herbal supplement called Ashwagandha (which I very highly recommend).
The story of my recovery really is very complex and it's much easier to talk about what went wrong rather than what went right. Things happened in fits and starts and then slowly drifted away before taking hold again. I met my current girlfriend who has been an amazing support. I have also learned to reorientate my outlook and found religion in Buddhism. I have begun to take care of myself, and I am quelling the way inside of me through the recognition that all of the scared, painful elements of my existence are actually parts of me that need nurturing and care. I've learnt that all those years I was acting with very little regard to the bits of me that needed my care the very most. When I envelop the things that hurt in compassion and loving kindness, I become a whole human being again.
These days my anxieties don't attack me any longer. If an anxious thought appears, which I guarantee you happens to everyone, I manage it with much skill and experience. Anxious thoughts no longer take hold with me. Nothing reoccurs. My intrusive thoughts are gone. My fear of insanity are gone. All of my little internal battles are drifting away, despite being chronically ill with an incurable, untreatable chronic illness (CFS).
My advice to anyone reading this, those who are in their darkest hour of fear and desolation, is to keep on going. I promise to you, as someone who has, at one point, seriously contemplated 0119 as a result of the immense fear of living, that things will get better. You can be a whole, confident human being again. The war with yourself will end when you learn how.
I'll hang around for a bit to answer any questions. After that I will be on my way so that I can continue with my life.
I wish all of you the best of health and happiness.