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My Life Jourey - Living with Anxiety

This page created 18  May 2007
By Grant

I was born into this world premature. After specialist care and inner resolve to battle through I was then under the care of my very loving parents. My family was building up around me over the years with four brothers and one sister. I am third in line of succession.

I am very grateful to Mum and Dad today for a wonderful upbringing. I always remember having a very happy childhood, but do remember being very shy, quiet and somewhat nervous with little confidence.

I have never forgotten sports days at school. I was absolutely petrified of lining up and competing, being observed and really did everything I could to get out of that and many other situations. I also remember our class being transported to woodwork shop at another school. During this time I realized that I was struggling to keep up with the others, and when it came to measuring things and doing practical things around others I would get really shaky. I relied heavily on one of my friends to help me out. That was just another experience that I dreaded.

I didn’t know why I was like this or why I was unable to talk to my family or friends about what was going on. I’m sure I did say things, but how many parents or friends would have known or understood about anxiety back then, and would have just thought of it as fairly normal growing up stuff. I really don’t remember. I’m sure that I thought I was normal but the other kids were just better at hiding their symptoms than me.

Approaching my early teens, I started to become aware of myself in comparison with others. I felt that I stood out because I was small. At the age of about 12, a boy made a comment to me at a local park about how I walked and this has been one of the main factors that have contributed towards some aspects of my Social Phobia.

When I got to high school I also started to get bullied as well. All these things started to affect my confidence and self-esteem.

From that point on, walking anywhere became difficult for me. Whether it was getting off the bus and walking away as the bus left, walking around school or walking with friends and family, walking in town, walking up to people I know. Walking anywhere became a constant reminder- “how am I walking?” This way of thinking became so ingrained, that just the thought of, and then the action of walking would make me anxious. My legs would tighten up to the point where sometimes I would have trouble walking at all. My inner talk would be going flat out - “How am I walking, am I walking funny, will people notice me walking differently?” and so on. I put up with this for many years skilfully doing things and hiding symptoms.

I joined the workforce straight out of high school employed as an Automotive Parts Assistant at a Nissan Franchise in Christchurch. At this time I started drinking socially with friends on the weekends and regularly on Friday night with work colleagues. The only time that I felt I could walk properly was when I was drinking alcohol and became relaxed. I had no problems at all. So alcohol really did help me in social situations. I used to binge drink quite heavily and regularly but I knew that I could not apply this to my daily life.

Through this period, I started to experience personal challenges that life would bring me. This was on top of what I had to deal with in the workplace with my ongoing symptoms that became my constant companion. I progressed from phone, to counter sales, to sales representative, to Parts Manager. I do not regret the opportunities I was given and am proud of how far I went as I backed myself in the knowledge and skills that I had learnt through training etc, and felt that I could do the job. The further I progressed up the ladder the more I was going to open myself up to scrutiny. This I knew.

In my role as Parts Manager, the stress and the extra demands that the position entailed would prove to be my undoing. I know that I made some mistakes and could have done some things differently. I managed to stay in the position for a couple of years before having to step down due to poor health and continued to work in the department. I was then treated for depression. My health started to decline further and I felt I could not keep going. I was totally burnt out and left stable employment of 12 years.

After a short break I did some part time work for a friend in Invercargill. I tried to keep going, taking steps to improve my health and my situation. I undertook study for a year and gained a National Certificate in Travel and Tourism levels, 3 and 4. I wanted to be a travel agent. The events around 9/11 certainly changed my perspective on that.

In that same year my doctor sent me to the Anxiety Disorders Unit at Princess Margaret Hospital where I was assessed with hyperventilation syndrome. I did have some success with treatment for this.

I was starting to lose focus and perspective on my life and did not know what to do. I know my family and particularly my Mum and Dad were very concerned about where I was heading. They wanted to help and talk to me, but I would close up and try and deal with things myself.

Then an event, which had a profound effect on me, occurred. My Dad was diagnosed with cancer and died 3 months later. My Mum, my Sister, and I had a major role in dad’s care. This is something that I will always cherish. But I also had a lot of regret and guilt and wish that I had been able to open up to dad and that we had spent more time together. I did try to talk to dad before he died.

The day of the funeral was the hardest day in my life, but I was still able to get up and do a tribute to Dad.

I then did a computer course but could not complete it. I could not cope. I was referred to emergency psychiatric services and was diagnosed with severe depression, Social Phobia and Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia. I had what appeared to be my first full-blown panic attack while at the course. I was given drugs to help me cope and sleep, to little avail. I actually felt worse. I had some general counselling where I was ok for a few months. I still don’t know today why I was not referred for specialist treatment. I almost fell through the cracks.

I was barely functioning in any area of my life. I was becoming depressed again and more unwell and was starting to avoid going out, socializing with family or friends, becoming more obsessive about my health and started to display obsessive behaviour and thoughts.

Diagnosis
In early 2004, I was referred to the Anxiety Disorders Unit, and placed on the waiting list for an assessment. Finally after a long wait and feeling suicidal, I was admitted for assessment.

I was diagnosed with severe depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Agoraphobia with Panic attacks, and elements of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It was a relief to finally have a proper diagnosis, and as I look back on my life so many things make sense to me now. I knew that I was a complex case, and I was not going to let this opportunity for treatment, and the chance to lead a better quality of life pass me by. I do like a challenge, and when I set my mind to something I always try to give 100%

Treatment
My treatment started early in 2005. I received specialist care from many sources in the Anxiety Disorders Unit including Psychiatric care, Physiotherapist care with massage therapy and muscle relaxation techniques, and group and individual therapy. Some of the topics covered included Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Graded Exposure Therapy, relaxation and breathing techniques.

I have now been discharged from the Anxiety Disorders Unit but still receive counselling to further expand my knowledge and understanding and help with general areas of my life.

My Personal Perspective and Growth
I believe I was born with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and can see now that maybe I had early stages of Social Phobia developing. Recently I put an article in the Agoraphobia Support Group Newsletter, in which a study showed a link between premature birth and anxiety. Of course there are many other factors to consider as well.

My Anxiety Disorders have affected every area of my life, including work, travel, and relationships with my family, friends and partners. I feel that I have always been held back to a degree, always feeling that I could never really be the person that I wanted to be. Knowing what I know now about my predisposition to anxiety and depression certainly did not help my cause in any of these areas. But now things are changing.

Since my treatment started, my life has turned around. It has taken a lot of hard work and commitment. I am feeling the best I have ever felt and continue to grow from strength to strength. My self-esteem and confidence are growing all the time. I joined the Social Phobia Support Group straight away and then the Agoraphobia Support Group. Both of these support groups have also been instrumental in my ongoing recovery and development. I now do volunteer work for the Agoraphobia Support Group after many years of not being able to work, as well as being on their committee. I recently joined the Social Phobia Committee as well. I really enjoy this commitment, as I like to help and encourage others to progress in their own journeys.

This year I have been involved in two documentaries, one on Social Phobia, and the other on my Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I would not have done that a year ago! I have also travelled out of Christchurch for the first time in 6 years to a conference on Anxiety in Auckland, and have joined a local Tai Chi club. This is doing wonders for my anxiety and muscle tension.

I still face challenges with my anxiety, but the more and more I face these challenges the easier it is becoming.

I believe it is all about confronting our fears. I have learnt now how to control my anxiety more effectively rather than let it rule my life. I am in charge now. It feels really great.

Thank you
I would like to thank the many people who have had a part in my treatment. A special thanks to my therapist. Thank you to the staff at the Anxiety Disorders Unit, Mental Health Education and Resource Centre (MHERC) and associated groups, facilitators of the various support groups, and members who have supported and encouraged me on my journey.

Thanks to Sha mae and JC bear, our two Tibetan Spaniels, who have also given me unconditional love and always make me feel happy and make me laugh. Thank you to all my friends and my instructors and members at Tai Chi for their encouragement and support.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge and thank my mum and my family for their understanding, love and support.




Committee Member/Office Volunteer

Agoraphobic Support Group ( Canterbury)

Email: agoraphobic.support@xtra.co.nz

Website: www.agoraphobia.org.nz

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