“My name is Cameron Madden. I’m a 23 year old man who is originally from Scotland but now lives in Pamplona, Spain. For the last 8 years or so I’ve suffered from anxiety. While it has mostly been social anxiety, I’ve had it creep over into other areas as well which became increasingly annoying when I’d just started university.
The reason I decided to write this was that I feel like anxiety is often misunderstood.
People are unaware of just how truly debilitating it can be. For me, it was hard for anyone to tell the difference. I’d always been shy, I’d always been introverted. I’d quite happily stay in my room and read or play my Gameboy when I was younger so as I grew up, even to the point of leaving for university, most people knew me as just being incredibly shy. So as anxiety got added to that list, there’s no reason that anyone would have noticed.
I had my first anxiety attack during an exam at university. I’d never had a problem with exams in school so it came as quite a shock. I had no idea what was going on; I questioned whether it was a heart attack or maybe I had food poisoning which was only now taking effect. I spent about an hour trying to devise a way that I could get out the room without failing my exam. I contemplated leaving over and over and over again but the thought of having to raise my hand, to draw attention to myself and then stand up in front of 60-odd people to leave the room was nearly as bad as the attack itself.
I only told one person about my anxiety during my 4 years at university: halfway through 3rd year I had no choice but to force myself to go see a GP. Again, another issue with anxiety being that I DREAD having to go see a GP. The whole process of making an appointment, sitting in a waiting room full of sick people (I’m also a hypochondriac) and then having to explain to a stranger that my mind is fighting against me seemed like an impossible task. I usually just let health problems sort themselves out. So when I finally saw a GP and explained the situation to him, he tried to tell me I just needed to be more prepared for my exam. If I arrived early, sat down and remained calm then I wouldn’t have this problem. It rattled me a bit that the solution my doctor, a trained medical professional was giving me was basically to relax. I eventually convinced him that I needed something I could take and I ended up with propranolol.
I’d been told to take one a day for a month but I didn’t have anxiety attacks outside exams so rather than taking pills every day, I opted for one of the options that the medicine’s in-box pamphlet suggested: taking one before a stressful situation. This got me through the rest of my university exams and a few flights (after one trip where I realised that being crammed into a metal tube with strangers also triggers my anxiety attacks). Unfortunately my mental health decline was only just starting.
I entered into a dark year of unemployment where I was forced to move back into my parent’s house (not something I take for granted, I’m incredibly lucky to have had that option. It just wasn’t part of my “plan”). I couldn’t work because I couldn’t interact with people at a normal level. How could I cope with stressful situations if I can’t even cope with small talk? I couldn’t even go to the shops without breaking into a sweat. Getting my hair cut left me feeling and looking like I’d just ran a marathon or two. Nobody knew how bad my anxiety was so I spent a year being told how little effort I was putting into getting a job, how I was lazy, lacked motivation or ambition. Little did people know that this was the 2nd time in my life where suicidal thoughts creeped into my mind.
After a year, I eventually found a job I could manage. It took me at least 3 months before I felt remotely comfortable in it and a further 3 before I was branching out into other areas of my work. My job was at Costco and I actually owe a lot of my improvement to the people I worked with who pushed me to go for more opportunities. I got a trip to London and Paris as well as training in tons of other areas. I soon felt comfortable serving people at a checkout which isn’t something I thought I’d ever manage. You can read in more depth about how it helped my anxiety on my blog post on the subject.
The one thing that truly pushed me out my comfort zone (but also had the largest impact on aiding my anxiety in the long run) was a month in SE Asia. I went to Thailand and Cambodia, travelled around with people I barely knew, spent pretty much that entire month doing things that I would previously have avoided like the plague. I have a before and after on my blog if you were curious about travelling that area.
In the end, it may not have cured my anxiety but considering I’ve gone from being unemployed, suicidal and living with my parents to living in Spain, I’d say something must have gone right. When you’re suffering from anxiety I think you need to be pushed way out of your comfort zone once in a while. It will feel like hell and you’ll be terrified but much like the children of Sparta who were thrown into the wilderness, you’ll come back stronger than ever. It’s hard but it’s better to push yourself than have someone else do it out of necessity.”
You can follow Cameron’s story on his blog.
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