Anxiety and panic attacks blighted Calli’s life for years, but after therapy, and starting a blog, she’s on the road to recovery, and is helping to end the stigma around mental illness
My first memory of anxiety was when I fainted in my local hairdresser’s. I had no idea why, other than I got too hot and flustered. It happened again during a violin lesson, after I got stressed when I couldn’t read the music notes. I didn’t identify this as anxiety at the time, as I didn’t really know what anxiety was.
It was about six years ago that things started to make more sense. It was the summer before I was due to start high school, and I’d been experiencing symptoms of anxiety before every long car journey.
At the time, I didn’t know what it meant or why it was happening – I just wondered what the odd feeling in my stomach was. It became more clear on a trip to the zoo with my sisters, my niece, and my sister’s friend, when the car broke down.
We pulled over at the side of the road and the feeling in my stomach began. I started to feel very hot and flustered. I asked my sister if I could step out of the car for some air, but she wouldn’t let me. We were on the side of a very busy road, and it would’ve been really dangerous for me to go out, but at that moment I didn’t care, I just had to get out of the car.
Later that same summer I had my first panic attack when my mum suggested we go to a theme park. I got that horrible feeling in my stomach, clammy hands, became hot and flustered, and I began hyperventilating, which eventually led to a panic attack.
My mum, who had experienced her own mental health problems, told me that I probably had anxiety. To be sure, we went to the doctor, who confirmed it.
For the past two years, I’ve been on a very long road to recovery after being mentally ill for five months. I’ll be honest, I’m still not fully happy with my mental health.
In those five months, I fell down a hole so deep that I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out. Every time I’d have a moment where I felt sad and low, I’d think: ‘It’s just a phase, this won’t last forever.’
These months of torture began after I started a new job as a chef. Sadly, I only managed three days and had five panic attacks. It was unbearable, so I left.
It was around this time when I was out of work and my brain had nothing to focus on, that I became aware of my OCD. Every night I’d go downstairs and begin a series of rituals – and I was aware this wasn’t a normal thing to do. After a bit of research, I soon realised I had OCD.
You can’t predict when a bad mental health day will happen, and you certainly can’t predict a long period in your life when you become mentally ill, but I felt as though the five panic attacks I had during that short period of time affected my mental health massively.
In September 2016 I began cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which really helped me to feel better about myself. CBT teaches you about why you get anxious, and ways to calm yourself.
Something that also helped me was setting up my blog – ‘Looking Through Rose Tinted Glasses’. It was originally created to be a place where I could write and share my baking recipes, but now it’s also a place to write about mental health.
Allowing other people to share their mental health stories on my blog is a great way of getting people to read and understand how everybody’s mental health is so different. It’s a good place for me to write about my experiences and offer advice.
It’s extremely difficult to do something that makes you anxious. It’s like being stuck in a vicious circle
I called my blog ‘Looking Through Rose Tinted Glasses’ because, ironically, that’s what I do every day. I have a processing disorder called Meares-Irlen Syndrome, which means I find it difficult to process visual information, and the glasses I wear to help this are rose-tinted!
Now? I’m a lot better than I was a couple of years ago, but I recently fell down that same mental health hole once more. It was as if the ladder that was supposed to help me had broken, and had dropped me halfway down again.
I’ve had various jobs but hadn’t worked regularly since December 2017. Last year I started a new job, working two days a week in a clothes store. Of course, I was anxious about starting, but not as anxious as I expected. I managed to do my first day, but at the end of my shift, instead of feeling pleased with myself, I felt fed up.
The next day, I drove to work, and that’s all I could manage. I was feeling so anxious and sad that I couldn’t physically get out of the car. Returning to work was a lot harder than I thought.
I spent most of the day before my next shift feeling incredibly anxious and crying a lot. The next day, the crying started again. I started walking to work, got to my local park, and that’s all I could manage. I sat on a bench and, oh boy, did I cry.
When you have anxiety, it’s extremely difficult to do something that makes you anxious. It’s like being stuck in a vicious circle. In my case, I need to have a job, and I need to make money, but because going to work makes me feel so low and so sad, it’s easier not to go. But if I don’t do this thing that makes me feel anxious, I can’t get better mentally and make progress in my life.
I’ve learnt a lot of ways to help my anxiety over the past six years. I have different coping mechanisms, including writing, using what I’ve learnt in therapy, or using herbal remedies to help me feel less anxious.
Looking back at my life these last few years, I can say that I wasn’t like your typical teenager. Maybe, in 10 years’ time, I’ll look back on my teenage years and realise that I didn’t achieve as much as I’d have liked. But that’s OK. People go through stages in their lives where things don’t quite go to plan, and it just so happens that mine was as a teenager.
As we reach the final few months of 2019, it’s amazing to see how different my life is now. In 2018, depression took over my life, and the anxiety that came with it just made everything so much harder.
Now, I’ve helped with the shortlisting for the Mind Media Awards. A year ago, I would never have imagined I would be asked to do this. Also, now I write about soaps, continuing dramas, and mental health portrayals in the media. I’ve used my experiences to my advantage, and get to write about mental health to get more people talking.
Don’t let anyone tell you that depression won’t change you as a person, because it will – it will make you a better, stronger individual.
Rav Sekhon | BA MA MBACP (Accred), says:
Calli’s inspirational story highlights the debilitating affect that living with anxiety and depression can have on our wellbeing. Her bravery and strength are admirable. With counselling support, she is facing her difficulties head on, and this has led to her being more able to manage them on a daily basis. Experiencing depression and anxiety doesn’t have to have a negative connotation – it has the potential to empower you, and lead to positive change.