We often experience challenging moments in our lives that can leave us feeling anxious and helpless. These encounters can be big or small, but never-the-less they are defining points in your life that should not be ignored.
I had the opportunity to hear from five women who have dealt with traumatising experiences and anxiety in different ways. Their stories have been shared in the hope they can reassure you that we are all in this together and if you have been involved in a similar situation, you too can find the help you need. Whether you can relate to these stories or not isn’t the point, opening up about insecurities or problems you may be dealing with could provide you with relief and support to help you through.
Please note that these stories may be distressful for some readers, as parts the content is from personal accounts of trauma.
“I felt overwhelmed by the thought of not being strong enough.”
It was about 3 am when I finished work that night. Already I had weird sensation something was wrong, but I tried to push those feelings aside as I stood waiting for the night bus. I noticed the man in front of me put his hood up as he stepped inside, but I carried on texting trying not to pay too much attention. When my stop finally came, I hopped off and walked quickly to get home.
Suddenly I felt the pressure of big arms wrap tightly around my body. A hand slapped aggressively across my mouth, blocking out my screams. Scrambling in terror I tried my hardest to push him off me, nothing seemed to work, and I felt his grip lock around me even more. Not knowing how to escape, I ended up biting so hard into his hand he released his grip.
“Next time I’ll stab you!” I heard a voice yell behind me. For a moment my body froze, barely being able to move as I tried to process what just happened. Somehow, I managed to pick up my feet and run home, with a bust-up lip as the only evidence of this horrendous encounter.
After being attacked my anxiety grew so deep, I had to sleep with a knife beside my bed. Walking down the street became exhausting, as I was constantly watching my back. I decided to start training and learning the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the thought of not being strong enough, being too physically weak to fight off a man. However, this knowledge and strength taught me to face my fears head-on and eventually led me to learn fight skills and self-defence.
Men will never understand what it’s like to be small and physically weaker. It’s not just the power in their bodies; it’s in their mindset. I never want to feel overpowered again, especially by a man. This experience taught me of my insecurities and how to face them, keeping me constantly aware but also the confidence to live without worry.
“I had no idea I’d just experienced my first panic attack.”
At the time I didn’t realise I suffered from anxiety. These episodes I was having was a mystery and started getting more frequent as I grew more aware of them.
The first time it happened I was a teenager. I felt my heart beat through my chest, exhilarating to a speed which caused me to go lightheaded, and I was unable to catch my breath. I could barely stand, so I prepared myself to faint but instead I was able to gently lower myself to the ground. It lasted for a couple of minutes, I hugged my knees to my chest and focused on breathing until it passed. My heart suddenly fell back into its normal rhythm, and instantly I felt myself again. Not having a reason for this occurrence, I had no idea I’d just experienced my first panic attack.
I went to the doctors, seeking medical advice for my “heart problem.” I was told these palpitations were a cause of depression and anxiety. I
was quick to deny these allegations as I didn’t believe this was true, and after a quick ECG scan, I was sent away. Never having received the results back from the doctor, the assumption of having a mental illness left my mind without a second thought. The panic attacks, however, became more intrusive lasting anything from seconds up to 7 minutes at a time. They started happening in social environments, while I was in class and even when I was brushing my teeth.
These attacks lasted for years and followed me into adult life; I learned how to channel my breathing to help slow down my heartbeat and calm my mind. It became essential for me to manage my stress levels and let go of any insecurities that were affecting my anxiety. As I became more accepting of myself, I noticed these episodes became less common until eventually, they stopped altogether. Looking back I wish I had realised sooner what I was going through. Maybe if the doctor hadn’t been so quick to dismiss me, I could’ve received the correct help, or voiced when I felt overwhelmed so someone would understand. It will forever be there, but I’m confident I can handle myself and trust everything will be okay in the end.
“I realised I didn’t know what I was doing and I wanted to know what real control felt like”
I don’t ever claim to have had an eating disorder, but there was a time when I struggled with my relationship with food and my body. As a dancer, I was always conscious of my appearance; I was under constant pressure to stay in shape and look my best at all times. At first, I innocently cut out the bad foods in my diet, but as time progressed I quickly became captivated with counting calories and every bite I consumed.
I was never overweight to begin with, so as the weight fell off I didn’t see much of a change. A few people I was close with started to notice I was smaller, but I became good at convincing them (and myself) that there was nothing to worry about. I was already under a lot of stress, but I felt I had control over every aspect of my life, therefore blinding me of the anxiety that was building up. All I wanted was to look good, so after dancing, I would go to the gym and write down everything I have eaten that day. I thought I was being organised, but after a while, I started obsessively planning meals on a calorie counter app and made sure I would add my exercise so I could see proof I was burning more calories than I consumed. It wasn’t before long that I made sure I was eating less than one thousand calories, but it was too little for my active body causing me to binge every few days. The guilt of overeating led me to take laxatives to distract my mind of the fat that was forming inside me. Eventually, I lost my period, which should have triggered some alarm bells but instead, I remember thinking that was one less thing to worry about. The fact I didn’t have a period meant I was skinny, and that was, in a way, an achievement or at least some kind of result.
I’m not entirely sure when I started getting better, but after six months I regained my period. When I think back to that moment I knew this was a good thing, it meant that I was at a healthy weight again and my body wasn’t under as much stress. However, knowing I was heavier terrified me, but I tried to remember this is how I am supposed to be, this is normal. Over time, I somehow managed to shift my mindset from obsession to passion. I found I loved researching about workouts and nutrition, changing my view on how I saw fitness and food. I slowly began to desire a strong muscular aesthetic rather than a skinny frame. I realised I didn’t know what I was doing and I wanted to know what real control felt like instead of the facade I had created.
Still, at times I get swept up with the idea of looking perfect, but I do my best to forget about my weight and focus on the importance of health, not only in my body but also my mind.
“The anxiety I had been storing away, burst out at that moment.”
Ever since I was young, I would experience these episodes that would lead me to be hospitalised. The first time it happened was after an operation; it was believed that I had an allergic reaction to the anesthetic used for the procedure, my responses were extreme; however, no doctor was able to give me a diagnostic. As I got older, I was told I had an iron deficiency, and that was the cause of these infrequent attacks I occasionally was subject to.
It was only recently I thought that these episodes could be linked to anxiety. I was in a new relationship, and it was the first time I would be spending a whole week alone with my boyfriend. I was excited to be with him for this length of time with no disruption from anyone else, but as this was so new, I couldn’t escape the worry that was stacking up inside my mind. I knew something was wrong when I suddenly was unable to speak, all I could do was remain still until I felt a sudden urge to get to the bathroom, where I was violently sick and eventually passed out.
The anxiety I had been storing away, burst out at that moment. I realised that over the years I would keep myself distracted so those feelings would never reveal themselves, until one day they would take over my body and leave me in a state of unconsciousness. All my life I was told I was allergic to anesthetic and had deficiencies, but now I know it’s from anxiety. For me, no medicine can treat my symptoms because medically I do not have a mental illness, but acknowledging my stress and weaker moments can give me time to relieve the problems before they get out of hand.
I’d got myself into a habit of covering up my problems with diversions that drove me to exhaustion. This will never be easy to get over, and I feel as though this is a long-term issue that I’ll have to deal with, starting with the little stresses that occur within my daily life. I won’t be able to change my hectic schedule anytime soon, but being mindful of my true emotions and caring for myself is the first step I need to take.
“I still loved him entirely and couldn’t admit my love had hurt me.”
It was the first time I’d ever been in love, I was seventeen, and I met him during rehearsals for a show at my local theatre. From the beginning he had me, it was clear we had a connection and quickly I could feel myself being swept up into the romance that was starting to bloom. We dated in secret and decided to keep our distance during rehearsals so we could focus, but it was undeniable to everyone around that there was a chemistry between us. I was utterly besotted with him and blinded by love, I dismissed the idea of there being anyone else in his life, so it came as a shock when I finally opened my eyes and saw his girlfriend standing smugly by his side.
She was an actress in the play with us, and I had no idea they were a couple. Seeing them together cut deeper than any knife. How could I have trusted him? Although I was bruised, I let him carry on because my love was too strong and I knew, even when he was with her, he was longing for me. Just knowing he cared was enough, I couldn’t lose him, so I settled to be his friend and called off any chance for us to be together.
One night, he offered to give me a lift home. Assuming nothing would happen, I didn’t see why it would be a problem, so I accepted. As we were driving, he went off route and stopped the car. “I love you.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, this display of affection was just what I needed to confirm what I knew all along. As he kissed me, I suddenly felt uneasy when his grip became tight and forceful. I tried to ignore it, but then he started pushing me down, leaning over me allowing his weight to overpower my struggling body. I wasn’t ready for this, I was still a virgin and didn’t want my first time to be restrictive and unwilling. I felt conflicted; I should’ve been happy right? The boy I loved, wanting me wholly, but this was unintended. I just let it carry on even though I knew it was wrong, growing more confused and fearful as every second went by until finally, it was over.
I left with this secret hanging over my head, but I remember it wasn’t long until everyone found out. His girlfriend was heartbroken, and I was met with judgement everywhere I went. Somehow the blame all fell on me, adding to my exceeding misery, but the worst of it above everything was that I still loved him entirely and couldn’t admit my love had hurt me.
I don’t want to remember myself as a victim in this story; I needed this to happen to make me a stronger person. I was young and naive, but this was not my fault, and I shouldn’t feel any guilt for what this person had made me believe about myself. I look at this as a lesson; I won’t ever be taken advantage of again because I know my worth and the people around me love too much ever to let me be hurt again.