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Young, Sick and Invisible

My illness has shaped me,
But it does not define me.

Guest Post: 'Anneli's Story.'


Hi there, I'm Anneli. I'm a mental health and disability blogger, podcast host and aspiring journalist. I live with my best friend and Labrador and spend most of my time offering support to people online who are dealing with mental illness.

I have generalised anxiety disorder and am recovering from PTSD. Generalised anxiety disorder is a debilitating mental illness that makes getting through each day incredibly difficult, it produces intense feelings of worry, but also physical symptoms such as chronic pain and fatigue.

I was diagnosed at 16, so I'm not sure how different my adult life would be without the diagnosis - but a big difference for me between a good day and a bad day is that I am a very friendly and energetic person but anxiety can hold me back both mentally and physically from doing everything that I want to do.

I was able to work full time until earlier this year, when I decided to take a career break for my mental health. I say "able" to work loosely though, as I think reducing my hours sooner would have been incredibly beneficial to my overall wellbeing and pushing myself to go it full time brought me to what I call an "all time low" but in reality was a kind of breakdown.

It's actually pretty difficult to pinpoint, but I had my first panic attack (that I recognised as one) at age 16, but my relationship with mental illness has been a roller coaster. While I always had feelings of anxiety, they have manifested differently over the years - they started as panic attacks, leading into an eating disorder and later grew into night terrors. My mum died suddenly at 39, when I was 19, which significantly affected my ability to form healthy bonds with people for a while and I was in an abusive relationship for almost 3 years from age 23, which resulted in the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis. I've also had an ongoing battle with self harm, which I'm hoping I've kicked for good, but can't be sure of.

The GAD diagnosis felt very much like a relief because it helped me to rationalise the panic attacks and tackle them as any other illness, but the PTSD diagnosis was more difficult to stomach. While it made total sense to me and I knew it was the right diagnosis, I did find it harder to adapt to the new triggers and symptoms.

The internet has been a lifeline. Back when I was 16 there was much less information available, but it was ultimately how I managed to normalise my symptoms. These days, I have built a solid support network both online and off and I find it absolutely critical to sharing information and virtual hugs, particularly over Twitter (@pigletish)

I don't have "flare" ups in the traditional sense, as I'm not dealing with a disability, but I certainly have days where I wake up and feel absolutely crippled by my mental illness - sometimes the reason for these bad days is obvious, but often it is not.

Physically anxiety manifests itself most often as intense fatigue (it feels very much like having a flu), but also regularly causes a fog like sensation in my head and a heavy crushing sensation on my chest.

Pass - it depends totally on too many factors. An actual panic attack lasts around 10 minutes, but they can come in waves like one after another for periods of hours. A bad anxiety day doesn't always actually mean having a panic attack though and has just as much impact physically and mentally, a really bad day can leave me feeling bed bound.

I try to be as in tune with my body and mind as possible, and to just really focus on what I need in the moment. Letting anxiety in and letting emotions out is absolutely key to coping as repressing your feelings in any way can be really damaging and dangerous. It's much easier to ride along with it than to fight against it.

Health anxiety is a huge trigger for me, any kind of medical worry can send me into a total tailspin. I'm also triggered by any kind of unresolved social issues (thinking a person is upset with me is a huge problem for me) and by thinking about the bigger picture (I really have to approach life in bitesized chunks or it quickly becomes too overwhelming to handle). Depending on my general wellbeing, there are still certain food related triggers and triggers related to my Mum's death that are really hard to cope with too.

Medicating anxiety is difficult and doctors have very mixed opinions, I worked closely with my GP on making this decision and very much took his advice on it. I'm not medicated although I do have Beta Blockers that can be taken as and when needed. Counselling and Talk therapy have been very effective for me, and I practice self care religiously. For anyone reading, this is an important and very personal conversation that should happen between you and your GP and you should go with what feels right for you.

My biggest tip would be to talk to as many people about it as you can, silence is really really dangerous to your health. There are some articles about how to get the conversation started over on my site

While the impact of living with mental illness is huge and mostly negative, I am grateful for all the wonderful friends that I've made and wouldn't have found had I not been living with my conditions.

It's totally stopped me from living a normal life, particularly when it comes to social events and hanging out with friends. I only really feel comfortable at home or out in nature, and find bars, restaurants, cinemas and traditional social settings are a minefield for me and are really daunting and difficult to navigate.

I am very lucky to have a group of wonderful people in my life who are incredibly understanding, as I do often need to change plans to suit my illness and sometimes even cancel altogether.

To stay positive I write about my illness and also host an awareness podcast called Pigletish Talks, it's been so motivational to connect with others and to see how many people there are out there living with the same illness as me. I'm definitely a more understanding friend and find it very easy to empathise with others, and that's made me able to connect with people on a far deeper level. The abusive relationship that I have endured has meant that dating is absolutely out of the question for me, it's far too triggering and my needs are very complex - but I'm sure that given more time to heal, I'll be back on my feet and looking for love.

I have a naive hope that I, along with other great mental health campaigners and advocates, can change the way the world sees mental illness and fight the stigma that surrounds it. I want everyone to live in a world where they can be totally comfortable to say "This is me. This is what I'm going through" and know that they will be accepted.

- Medicines described in this blog are prescribed to this individual by their Doctor. Always consult your Doctor about what is best for your needs before taking any medication -

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