Although there are many aspects to anxiety disorders, one of the most debilitating can be panic attacks. We have spoken with Kayleigh Johnson about her experiences with anxiety and panic attacks, and she has given us an insider view of how it has affected her everyday life. We hope that Kayleigh’s story can show how anxiety can affect anyone, from any walk of life and how her courage in the face of this condition can be an inspiration to us all.
Tell us a little bit about yourself; what do you do and where are you from?
My name is Kayleigh Johnson, I’m 24 years old and from a small town in the Lake District. I went to university in 2008 to study Journalism and graduated in 2011 with a 2:1 degree. Since then I’ve gone on to work in the marketing and social media industry and have also started my own beauty, fashion and lifestyle blog: Couture Girl.
When and how did you first realise you had an anxiety disorder?
I first realised I was suffering with an anxiety disorder when I was around 17 to 18, but I didn’t fully understand it until I was around 20. However, I’ve been suffering with anxiety in some form since the age of 13 after my Grand-dad suddenly passed away. That was my trigger, but at the time I was too young to understand what was happening to me and often thought I was going completely mad.
Do you have any defining moments that helped you decided to seek help or for when you began to feel like you had the disorder under control?
I only decided to seek help for my anxiety last year after going through a really rough time with panic attacks that escalated to the point where I didn’t want to leave the house, see anyone or do anything. I was moping around feeling down every day. Even going to work was becoming a massive struggle as I was having panic attacks every day. I felt like enough was enough, so I went and spoke to my GP and booked some CBT sessions. I’ve not really had any moments where I felt my anxiety was under control as I’m very up and down with it. I can have good weeks and very bad weeks, depending on what’s happening in my life at that moment in time. If I’m stressed with something else going on in my life, my anxiety is usually at its worst.
How do you find other people react to you when you talk about it?
Although most people have been sympathetic and tried to understand, a lot definitely don’t understand the disorder fully and when I tell them I suffer with anxiety/panic attacks, they just think that means I’m a worrier and can sometimes get a bit worked up, which definitely isn’t the case. There’s a difference between being a worrier and suffering with a mental disorder that makes you think so irrationally and get into such bad state of fear that you think you’re going to die. They also don’t realise that it’s seriously debilitating and effects my daily life. Just getting up in the morning can be a struggle for me but because I have no other choice and don’t want to let this disorder get the better of me, I get up and carry on regardless. Not being able to go somewhere or do certain things because of my anxiety really holds me back and even little things like spending the night on my own somewhere is hugely difficult. These are the kind of things someone without anxiety wouldn’t think twice about and I think it’s things like this that people don’t understand. Anxiety is hugely a complex thing and there are many things that cause it and reasons it happens. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself or done some thorough reading on it, it’s a very hard thing to truly understand. However, this said, I’m very lucky in the respect that I have a great support system around me from my family and friends and if it weren’t for them, I think my life would be quite different.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced due to mental illness?
My biggest challenges would be the fact that my anxiety stops me from doing very simple things that shouldn’t be a problem. I hate being alone anywhere and always think something bad will happen to me if I am, I get very worked up if I have to meet new people as I believe they’ll judge me (this stems from being bullied when I was younger, or so my counsellor believes) and going on long journeys is also another trigger for me. A lot of my anxiety also stems from my fear of health/death, which was triggered when my Grand-dad passed away. This means I avoid reading anything about illnesses in magazines or the news, and if I hear someone talking about anything like this I instantly go into panic mode and have to get out of the room. These are the kinds of irrational behaviours anxiety disorders cause. I wish my brain didn’t think this way but it does and I often think to myself ‘I wonder what it’s like to be normal?’ That’s the worst part for me, knowing I’m being irrational and wishing I didn’t have these scary, anxious thoughts, but not knowing how to make them go away.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone suffering from an anxiety disorder?
My biggest piece of advice would be to never give up! There have been so many times when I’ve thought ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but at the end of the day, there are SO many people out there that suffer with this horrific illness and there is support available when times get hard. Whether it’s speaking to your GP, seeing a counsellor or even just having support from your family and friends; you will get through it. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel and it’s really important to remember that! That’s why I decided to share my anxiety story on my blog. I hope it can help other people out there who might be in a similar situation and need the encouragement and motivation to keep fighting. Don’t let this horrible illness win!
Kayleigh has shown how seeking help for anxiety disorders can start to change your life, despite sometimes feeling that your thoughts are fighting against you. As Kayleigh points out, you are not alone and there are many people writing about their experiences with anxiety, with strength in numbers and seeking the help that is right for you, your battle with anxiety can be won.