World Mental Health Day: My Story

Triggers: This post includes stuff about anxiety and panic attacks. It's also very long so if you read it all, thank you. 

As it's World Mental Health Day, I thought I would share my story as I think it's important that I do – that we all do. I wasn't going to as I've always found it quite hard to talk about – scared of how people would view me, what they would think, what they would say. Would they view me as weak? Vulnerable? Pathetic? Would they say I was faking it? Would they remind me that it's all in my head, trivializing all that I've been through? Maybe a few years back I would've kept quiet, retweeted a few tweets, shared few posts, however, I've grown to not care about what people might say, what people might think and I've decided that I should share my story. I am not ashamed. I used to be and I don't know why. If anything, me - and all the others with anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and other mental disorders - are brave. So brave. For getting up every day and fighting through it, keeping the hope burning inside us that one day we will be okay. If each of us told others about the ongoing war we were fighting every day, if each of us could find someone who is battling the same enemy, it would help us feel understood, if would help us not feel so alone - not like damaged goods. The more we talk about it, the more we'll be helping not only ourselves but others too. It's 2016, mental health shouldn't still be such a taboo subject now, should it?


My name is Kyra and I have an anxiety disorder.

It began seven years ago when I was ten years old. In England, a year after moving here from South Africa. Early in the morning when I was at school. School hadn't even officially started. It was October, funnily enough. On a Wednesday. I distinctly remember everything that morning seemed to go wrong – now looking back, it seems like everything was set up so perfectly to cause the event that would alter my life so drastically. I woke up late and because I woke up late I had breakfast late, however, my cereal was practically finished so I couldn't finish making more breakfast before my lift arrived (my dad couldn't take me to school due to his work and my mom couldn't drive because she was extremely ill with her M.E./CFS). I didn't have anything to drink and I was bundled up in too many layers for October - trivial things that shouldn't matter but did. I got to school and I was fine because why wouldn't I be? I chatted with friends and the one playfully took my hat from my head and ran away with it and naturally, I chased after her. It was a really nice hat. I was running and running and running in too thick clothes and I was probably dehydrated too. I was running and I was fine and then I thought “ heart is pounding hard. Really, really hard.” - it was beating sickeningly hard. My vision grew fuzzy and I couldn't breathe (because I had just run more than I'd probably ever run before – I'm not exactly what you'd call sporty) and I got tunnel vision, I couldn't hear anything and everything took on a slightly dreamlike quality. “Am I dreaming?” I thought as I stumbled towards my friend. “You okay?” she said. I sat down, then jumped back up. “I'm fine.” I left her there and walked towards the teacher, feeling like I was floating on air, feeling so hot, feeling dizzy and sick. “I feel funny.” I said. She called one of my friends and asked her to bring me water, she told me to sit down and I did.

Everything went black.

I woke up with faces staring down at me. I had fallen off the bench and hit my head hard and I was quite shaken up. I was taken to the office with my friend and my parents arrived. I went to the doctor and he said I was fine, but advised my parents keeping me at home the next two days and see how I'm doing as I might have a slight concussion. I was fine. That all changed when I went to my friend's bowling party the Saturday night. I also had another friend from a different part of England staying with me for the holiday (I think our school broke up that Friday) so I went to the party for a bit as I had promised my friend I would be there but that I wouldn't go too long as it would be rude to desert the other friend who was staying with us. Anyway, I was fine. Until I wasn't. I think it was the lights of the bowling alley, they were dim and it made my vision dim, just like it did when I fainted. Then I became scared, really scared. What if it happened again? I began crying, I couldn't breathe, the noise was too loud and the lights were too bright but not bright enough and I needed my parents but they weren't there and I was 10, I didn't have a phone, how could I contact them? Luckily, luckily, my friend's mom had kept my mom's contact details and she was able to phone her. They rushed over and they tried to calm me down. It was seven years ago, things from that evening are blurry. But I remember sitting at the table while everyone laughed and ate cake and I tried to eat but the cake got stuck in my throat, my heart was still racing, I still couldn't breathe and my skin felt too small, too tight. "Mom. I can't. I can't. I need to go." Ten-year-old faces stared at me, parents stared at me, everyone was confused and nobody could understand. I couldn't understand. I was ten years old and I had my first panic attack and I felt like my body was attacking itself.

I got home. I had another panic attack. For weeks and weeks, I just sat in my house, too scared to move. I woke up with anxiety, I felt sick and my heart was racing constantly and I was terrified all the time. I could barely eat, I could barely drink, I couldn't even go to the bathroom by myself, I couldn't leave my house. My heart constantly slammed against my chest, I felt like I could never breathe, I felt like I couldn't swallow past the knotted wad of anxiety that stuck in my throat. Looking back now, I honestly don't know how I got through it I didn't see friends, I couldn't go to school, I was terrified being separated from my parents. I quit choir and piano and dance club. I felt like I had completely lost all who I was. My days were filled with panic and it was all I could think of, I stopped singing, I stopped laughing. I just stopped, I guess. My mom homeschooled me for about two months but then the school rang us and said I needed to come back to school. Eventually, with therapy and rescue remedy, I started going back to school a few hours. Half a day. Then eventually full day. I remember feeling scared and dreading school the next day but I was told by my school that I had to come, that it would get worse if I avoided it. I remember the lights being too bright and the class feeling too big and the hall where I ate with all the kids feeling too cold and too big yet too small. It was hard. School, something I had always loved, became my worst enemy. 

Despite the support and care of my teachers no one truly understood. My friends didn't understand, they tried, but we were only ten. I didn't go to the parties and I didn't go to school full time and I didn't go on school trips. I felt very, very lonely. I tried rejoining choir but it made me too aware of my breathing, too aware of my heart, too aware. I couldn't do it. I got slightly better. I went to secondary school for a few months, I got on a plane and I moved back to Cape Town. For the first year and a half back in South Africa I was fine. I was at school, I had friends, I still couldn't really be away from my parents much but I was better annnnnd then life was like lol no.

I went to the orthodontist because my teeth were so skew and they made me quite self-conscious and I've never liked doctors/dentists (WHO DOES?!) but it was made worse by my anxiety. Sitting in a chair with a racing heart and thoughts and fears of having panic attacks running in my mind, I was already anxious. My fearful state was enhanced when I heard the orthodontist say “Oh...that's going to be a problem.” I was like oh darn it, this can't be good, but it can't be that bad, right? Well, he then went on to tell me all the problems I had with my jaw and the jaw surgery I would need to correct it, how he would have to PHYSICALLY BREAK MY JAW and I wouldn't be able to eat solids for six weeks (when he said that I was like HAHAHA LOL BYE) and it made me pretty anxious but not panic attack kind of anxious. That was during the week (I think) and that Sunday I was saying prayers with my parents and I'm not sure what it was, maybe it was because my chest felt a little bit tight and I was praying and I was very much “in my head” so I became super vigilant about my breathing (due to the whole fainting thing I'm very, very aware of my breathing and my heart which is kiiinda annoying) but then before I knew it I was gulping in air and I couldn't breathe hard enough or fast enough and my chest started aching and I had a panic attack. As I was saying my prayers. Oh, the irony. 

I didn't go to school the next day, I was too scared. Of what, you might ask? Scared of fainting, scared of a panic attack. Panic attacks can feel like you're about to faint, so it's a vicious cycle, I guess. However, I went the Tuesday, I was fine. I went the Wednesday and it was bad, it was really bad. I was in class and the lights seemed too dim and the teacher's voice sounded far away and I had a panic attack and I'll never forget how bad it was. My whole body felt like it was burning up and eating itself, my skin felt numb and tingly, I was drawing in breaths but I couldn't freaking breathe. My chest was so, so tight and I was crying and my throat ached from trying to get oxygen into my lungs and I felt like I was going to pass out and my legs were weak and it was so incredibly awful. I went home. I tried again the next day. I was fine for most of the morning but when we had to go outside for a break, out of nowhere my chest started feeling tight and I couldn't breathe.
Teacher, please may I call my mom? I'm feeling really anxious, I need to call her.”
Why are you anxious?”
I don't know, it just happens. Please can I go inside and call my mom? I need to go.”
You're not going inside until you give me a reason why you need to call your mom. You probably just want to go inside because it's cold, is that it? You're faking it.” (Thanks, thanks a lot.)
Not until you give me a reason.”
I was so sick of that. I still am. Give me a reason why you're anxious, why are you? Why do you feel like you're dying right now, Kyra? It just happens. I can be fine then the next minute I feel like I'm having a heart attack. It. Just. Happens. I was starting shake, shivers were racking my body, my heart was pounding and my throat was dry. My mind became foggy and I only had one purpose: to call my mom and get the hell home.
Okay ma'am, can I go to the bathroom to get some water, maybe that will help?” As if that would.
I went to the IT room and I told the teacher (thank you so much for understanding, I can't remember if I ever thanked you, but thank you. Truly.) that I was having a panic attack and I needed to go home. Right now. A lot of you are probably thinking why couldn't I have just stayed at school until the panic subsided but I was so terrified of fainting, so terrified of the sensation those panic attacks brought – the aching chest, the aching throat, the pounding heart, the dizziness, the light-headedness, the disorientation, the tingling, the numbness, not being able to breathe - I just wanted to be home. With my family. Who were the only people I felt safe with because they understood. Luckily the IT teacher and a few of the other teachers were so, so lovely and they allowed me to ring my mom, and my mom and brother picked me up a short while later. After that, my parents began homeschooling me. I was thirteen. It was two months after I had started this blog, actually.

What ensued was similar to the last time. Panic attacks constantly. Pretty much every few hours. It would be something of a celebration for me if I had only one a day. The panic attacks were so bad, I especially remember how I would gasp for air as if was deprived of oxygen and how this would cause my entire throat and chest to ache and I also remember how my arms and legs went tingly and numb. I remember how I couldn't leave my house. I remember walking into a shopping centre and lasting five minutes before it would start up and people would stare as I wrung my hands or as I began tapping my foot and showing other signs of unravelling as I fell apart before their eyes. I remember collapsing in the car and crying until my throat burned and feeling like such a failure. I remember losing so many friends who told me to just “try harder”, who stopped inviting me out because of my anxiety. It was a long, hard few months. However, I made it through again. I joined dance classes and I actually got in the car with people to dancing and back which is nothing to most people but to me was a Big Deal seeing as I hated being too far from my parents in case I got really anxious. Through this I became extremely close to my friends Kristin, Talor, Cayla and thanks to homeschooling, Amy too (hi, if you guys are reading this) who were and still are so wonderfully supportive and understanding. So things were good, really good for awhile. I even went to a few birthday parties with lots of people and flashing lights and I was fine. 

I had a dance show and then I got really anxious again. I stopped dancing. Which made me sad but I just didn't feel like I could face it anymore, I was too anxious. I'm not sure why. So I threw myself into my blogging, my reading, and my school work. I had my IGCSE exams and it made me incredibly anxious and so stressed and I felt like I kind of exhausted my brain with all the studying and the stressing but it's school, I can't not do school. Stressing about exam halls and exams and people and panic attacks in exam halls and OMG THE RESULTS AND MY FUTURE AND I NEED As AND A*s AND SCHOOL STRESSES ME OUT BUT I NEED TO SUCCEED AND I NEED TO KEEP BLOGGING AND READING AND WRITING AND BE SUCCESSFUL AT THAT TOO AND MORE EVEN 
because it's all I have left. 
The achievement in that is all that I'm worth. 
That's how I felt and because I was in that mindset it made me feel stressed all the time and like I had to constantly be good at everything all the time as if that would make up for my anxiety even though I don't need to do anything to make up for it. That's not how it works. My anxiety made me feel so worthless, so small, I felt like I was failing at life compared to all my former schoolmates who were at school, at parties, functioning normally. I didn't have a ton of friends anymore, I wasn't super popular, I didn't do any of the extracurricular activities I used to, I wasn't at school anymore so I was no longer “scientist of the month” or top of the class or part of this and that. I felt like a disappointment to my family and everyone, really. I've always been a high achiever and I always wanted to be doing something that would make myself and others proud. Even though I don't really view it like that anymore, even though there's no set way I should be living my life, that I'm not failing anyone's expectations (except my own) but I still struggle with it. A lot. 

Whenever I don't get an A/A* grade or if I can't understand something in school or if I get anxious again or if I fall behind on my blogging and reading I get really upset with myself because there's a small voice saying that school and my blog is the only way I can make people proud of me. And it's stupid. I know. And it's stupid getting stressed about school and blogging and reading because it's what I love and enjoy (yes, I'm that kind of nerd that actually loves doing school work) because I'm afraid that it won't meet mine or others' expectations. That doesn't matter, what matters is how many kind words I've spoken that have made a person's day, how many battles I've fought and am fighting and I haven't given up, how many people I've made laugh and smile and feel good about themselves. I know that's really what matters, but on bad days, there's a little voice in my head telling me all that I am not because of one incident on an autumn day in a little village in England when I was 10 years old.

I'm seventeen now. I'm in my second to last year of homeschooling. I moved back to England with my parents last August and I'm doing...okay. I'm not getting panic attacks but I still have general anxiety, I still get anxious around new people and I still can't really go anywhere by myself but I'm so, so thankful that it's not as bad as it was. I plan on finding a CBT therapist soon to help me and I meditate and do EFT tapping to help relieve some of my anxiety. I have good days and bad days. But the anxiety is something I'm always aware of, and I'm hoping that one day that will change. I'm better than I was but not quite as better as before, but I know I'll get there again one day.

I often find myself wondering how my life would've been, how I would've been now...if it weren't for that day. I try not to dwell on it because it always leaves me feeling sad and nostalgic for a life I haven't lived. Despite everything, there is a silver lining. There always is. It's made me more empathetic. It's made me understand that not all illnesses and not all disabilities are visible. It made me find even more comfort in books and blogging and through my love of both those things I met some amazing people and I got to experience wonderful things. It made me more sensitive to those around me, it made me realise how strong I actually was, it helped me find my true friends and my experiences also fuelled poems, songs and short stories that I'm extremely proud of. I don't know why this had to happen, I don't know why bad things have to happen to anyone, but I know that there's a greater plan and I know that these hardships will mould us into extraordinary people.

I know this was very long, so thank you if read it. This was hard for me to write and it may be hard for you to read but I wanted to share my story. We always keep quiet about our problems because we're scared of what people will think, what people will say but it's so important that we share our stories so that we know we're not alone. If there is anyone reading this who has anxiety, please don't be afraid to talk to me. I think things would be so much better if we all spoke about the battles we are facing and if you need anyone, I'm here.