Lizzi talks about the complexities of being a confident and outgoing teenager who also suffers from severe anxiety and depression.
I’m a complicated mix. Half of my brain wants to chat to new people and put myself into exciting and different situations, especially now that I have just joined university, but the other half of my brain constantly worries about “what if?”.
What if something goes wrong and you get hurt? What if they don’t like you and think you’re weird and then make up rumours about you? What if they judge you for who you are, even though you’re trying to get better? So here I am - studying Law at Cardiff University whilst on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication and sleeping tablets. So how did I become stuck?
I admit I was an anxious child, but it was only in the first year of A levels that my anxiety began to spiral out of control. I began having regular panic attacks, quitting clubs that I once loved and falling behind at school. I stopped meeting my friends because I felt like I didn’t deserve them, and I didn’t want to move from my room, let alone make conversation with them. I should have realised that I wasn’t okay. Instead I ploughed on.
By the April I’d began self-harming. In the time leading up to this, my feelings were like static on televisions that were out of service, hurting myself broke through that by giving me pain to feel. After several months I knew I needed help.
My family were crucial to me recognising that I wasn’t okay. They kept making me eat, even when I didn’t want to, dragged me out of bed to do simple tasks so that I would feel a sense of completion and hopefully be kickstarted into doing something productive. Instead of this being the end of my story – it was really just the beginning.
I spiraled and by October my doctor prescribed propranolol, a common beta blocker that would slow my heart rate down when I felt panicked so that it wouldn’t send me into the fight or flight response. Whilst this worked for a short period of time it didn’t help when life became complicated. Already struggling from a relationship break up, I became head student at school. I couldn’t keep up with the exam and preparatory work that was required of me and so I, yet again, fell behind. This time I reached out for help, I mentioned to my friends that I was struggling to cope and I spoke to my doctor about how I was feeling. She recommended that I stepped down from the head student position and just focused on my exam work. The school moved a few of my duties onto my deputy head student. Instead of this making me feel better, I felt worse. I felt guilty that I was just passing off my problems to someone else and making them unhappy in the process.
On top of all of this, I had just started seeing a new boy. I didn’t want to show him how much baggage I had, so I put on a brave face around him and pretended that I was okay. My mum suggested telling him what was going on in my life and much to my surprise, he took it well and liked that I was honest. We began dating. My increased levels of serotonin helped me to feel much more positive. I was happy. Until we got our mock results back. Despite being on track for my predicted grades (ABB) I achieved a BCD which was nowhere near the grades I needed to get into university.
I started having intrusive thoughts that wormed their way into my head. It’s almost like having someone put a television right in front of your eyes and turning the sound up so loud that it is deafening. These were beginning to happen more frequently and were much more intense. I stopped sleeping after my dreams developed into chronic nightmares. I started having breaks from reality - not knowing if I was alive or not, or whether I was in a dream world, alive or dead. These were the most scary. I constantly felt like I was falling, that similar adrenaline and fear had become my constant daily life.
As well as a referral for CBT therapy, the doctor prescribed me sleeping tablets (zopiclone) and anti-depressants (fluoxetine) to combat these feelings. They began to work after a couple of weeks, even though the side effects were enough to put me off taking them. Things like nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps were a commonplace throughout this time but I carried on taking the medication.
My boyfriend said I’d became emotionless and distant, almost like a shell of myself – a common side effect of anti-depressants. It caused many arguments between us. Things began to look up as I started getting therapy and seeing my doctor on a near weekly basis. There were still some nights where my family and my boyfriend didn’t think I was going to wake up in the morning, but I always did.
My A levels passed with a lot of stress and tears. Afterwards I began to feel a bit better, I put my mind into my job and just took every day as it came, completing little tasks in order to feel motivated. Simple things like showering, brushing my teeth and putting clothes on became a regulated chore that needed checking on. Eating and drinking became an endless source of arguments in my family as I wouldn’t eat for days and then binge eat on others. Slowly I improved, leaving the house more and meeting a friend once a week to check in. I would also walk the dog and go on a few runs to blow off some steam. These things helped in the short term, but I still felt the same in the long. I self-harmed again, using an iron to burn the skin on my forearm because I felt like I was just hurting my family by constantly being stroppy and upset. Picking fights with my sister for no reason and getting upset at my parents for the most trivial things made it harder for me to cope with what was going on in my head as I felt I had pushed everyone away from me.
On results day, I found out at 0745 in the morning that I had got into my first choice university. I had got my first choice accommodation and I was on the course I wanted to be on. I was excited and relieved that I had actually managed to do it and I was still alive.
I’m now one week into my university experience and, although it hasn’t been an easy ride, it is going ok so far. Despite tears and anger, I’ve used self-harm prevention techniques (removing anything sharp from my room) in order to prevent relapse. I am still on all the same drugs and probably will be throughout my university experience. I’m also in touch regularly with several mentors, mental health advisors and doctors in order to make sure I stay on an even keel which is really helping. Sometimes, especially during Freshers’ Week, I feel a bit left out of events, as I am unable to drink due to the drugs. However, I’ve found solace with a flatmate who is in the same position. We watch movies together, plan day trips and regularly check on each other to make sure that we are okay. Having support like this is essential at university and I am so glad I have found it early on. My boyfriend is also at the same university so he checks in with me every day, so, along with the phoning home and arranged visits between me and my family, I am fully boosted by people around me.
If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that having a goal is an important thing to think about whilst having anxiety and depression. However, remembering that it is okay not to achieve that goal straight away is the most important thing. Be patient and be kind to yourself. Things take time and that’s okay, just keep holding in there. I shall leave on my boyfriend’s favourite saying “everything will be okay in the end, if it’s not okay then it’s not the end”.