The following two photos in this post were taken just under 24 hours apart (a week ago), these are to help show you the realities of what it's like living with anxiety.
This photo was taken after my first day at Tafe, it had gone well and I was feeling on top of the world. I posted the selfie on Facebook with a positive caption and it got multiple likes within minutes. Yes the anxiety was present but it was at a low level compared to what it had been in the morning.
This photo was taken the next day after the biggest panic attack I have had in years. I look broken. all the make up that I had put on in the morning had been washed away with my tears, my face is puffy and my heart is still racing. I'm in my car in my driveway after driving home from campus after the attack.
In both photos anxiety is present, while it is more obvious in the second it doesn't mean that it's not there in the first. Every day I do things and make decisions surrounding my anxiety, what I can cope with and how it will affect me long term; I can't work full time, I have less stamina than most people as I spend a lot of energy keeping my anxiety under control in new situations, I need routine, I bite my nails (severely I might add) and fidget a lot, I take medication daily and see my doctor regularly to make sure its at the correct dose, I see my psych every 3 weeks, I need more support in new situations to start off with, the list could go on and on...
I started Tafe last week, I had been unemployed for almost 2 years and figured it was time to study something to upskill and hopefully get employed. Monday went well but on Tuesday I had a panic attack. I felt like I was drowning while trapped in a box and I was thankful to make it to student services in time before it got worse. I had been feeling fragile all morning and even apologised to the lecturer that he would be getting the anxiety version of me (do we need to apologise for having a mental illness?) but at 11.00am something changed, none of my strategies were working and by 11.30am (which was when break started) the attack was coming whether I wanted it or not (I didn't!). I'm so thankful to the staff in student services who were amazing and helped me calm down and assured me it was ok and they always saw panic attacks during the first week. Once I was calm enough they helped discuss my options and helped book an appointment with a careers counsellor the next day (I thankfully didn't have class on Wednesdays).
As soon as I got home I took the medication I reserve for extreme anxiety situations which helped my heart stop racing and shut down my anxiety ridden brain, I finally got hold of my psych and texted a few people just because I needed to process what had happened and get their view on it. I was feeling like a failure and just wanted to run away from the situation. I posted the above photo to Facebook because I felt that I needed to show people just how bad anxiety can be.
Normally the day after I have a panic attack I spend the day hiding and recharging, but this time I couldn't. One of my friends is heading over east to live and we had a final catch up before she left, I also met with my bible study leader who was concerned about me before I had the careers counsellor appointment in the afternoon. It was really full on and the complete opposite of what I would normally do.
The careers counsellor meeting went well, the student services officer I had seen on Tuesday also came with me. We discussed what I was interested in, why I chose the course I did (desperate for employment? I enjoyed IT in high school?), what I thought set off my panic attack (the course too full on? Lecturers overwhelming me?) and my employment and volunteer history. I wasn't particularly keen to do another IT course and I admitted I found the class load really overwhelming plus all the additional work I would need to put in which I wasn't expecting.
We ended up discussing my volunteering history including how much work I do for ReachOut and what attracted me to that. Because of that we settled on a Cert. 4 in Community Services, there were no places at the campus I was currently enrolled in but there were places at a campus 20 minutes away, so I decided to transfer into that course instead.
I will say that the current campus I was on had no parking and starting at the end of the month we would have to pay for parking. Even getting there at 8.00am didn't mean you got a parking space and you would have to park quite a distance away (off a main road) and walk, which didn't help my anxiety at all.
The load for this course is also a lot less (despite it still being a Cert. 4) and only 2.5 days, so I'm on campus 12.00-4.30pm Wednesdays, 9.00am-4.00pm Thursdays and 9.00am-3.30pm Fridays. Which is totally doable and leaves Mondays and Tuesdays free to do catch up work, psych appointments, ReachOut work and self care (or retail therapy haha). I will also have 4 weeks of prac instead of class in May but that's only 3 days a week which is manageable for me and how many days I want to work.
This all happened a week ago and a week later I am in a completely different place than what was I was this time last week.
I've survived my first day of Cert. 4 Community Services and LOVED IT, I honestly didn't think I would be so excited about studying something. While I am feeling overwhelmed by the assignments I'm also so excited to get into them (remind me when I have them all due!). I really like the lecturer I had on Friday (I only started Friday) and I'm told the lecturers I have on Wednesdays and Thursdays are also good ones.
I've set up an appointment with student support services tomorrow on my new campus which will be good. I would much rather have things put in place now to prevent panic attacks and my anxiety getting in the way than wait and it effect my studies. I'm not too sure what will be put in place, but I would like my lecturers to know that I have anxiety and to be understanding when I have bad days. I also want extra support during my prac as that's going to be a source of anxiety to some stage.
I saw my psychologist today and walked through the attack with her (starting from when I woke up, to the attack happening and what was going on in my brain when it was happening) and she told me there was NOTHING I could do to prevent it from happening. I did everything right and followed the strategies exactly, sometimes these things just happen and its ok. She also thinks this course is perfect for me and did admit she had some concerns regarding the Cert 4 in Computer Systems Technology. She did point out that I was in a stressful workplace for 6 months and didn't have a panic attack at all which is saying something about m old course and it not being right for me.
The reality is that I will always have anxiety and I work SO HARD to keep it under control and manageable. So while I might not look anxious or show the physical symptoms of anxiety it is there, I might just be having a good or ok day or I'm doing such a good job at hiding a bad day so you won't notice.
I'm what anxiety looks like but I am one of many who have anxiety and live with it on a daily basis. There is no picture fits all when it comes to mental illness and that's ok. Remember just because you can't see mental illness doesn't mean its not there.