2 years ago I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and social phobia. I had been quite ill for about 9 months, following my partner’s own mental health crisis due to work stress and subsequent refundancy. I had stopped going out, had panic attacks, insomnia, depression, anxiety…..you know the story.
But my mental health problem started much earlier.
Until the age of 9, I lived a pretty happy life, in a new build, large village, satellite to a Midlands town. I was fairly bright and went to a bit of a hippy primary, loved being outside, bit of a tomboy, I had lots of friends.
My Pops got a new job, and we moved back to my parents’ home in West London. I was enrolled in a Primary that was only interested in the 3 Rs and constant testing. I was a country bumpkin in a London school and very unhappy.
I was sent to this school because my cousins were there.Ma and Pops thought I’d settle more quickly, make friends. How wonderful, you may cry.
No, not really. Didn’t get on with them…that’s another story though.
I found the rigid structure difficult to adapt to, the emphasis on competition and the tribal delineation of friendship groups. The rich white kids, the poor white kids, the rich Indians, the poor Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, the Turkish kid, the African-Caribbean kids….no-one hung out outside their group. I couldn’t understand why, if I was friends with Priya, I couldn’t be friends with Hanane or Adam. This wasn’t something I’d ever experienced before.
So I formed my own sub-group, an underclass. There was me, a kid who today would be diagnosed as autistic, a gay kid, a couple of fat kids and two kids from Ethiopia who spoke no English. We had a few others…the odd,poor, smelly, eccentric kids, who didn’t fit in. I was lonely in a crowd. But at least we had a crowd, safety in numbers.
Ma had sent me to this school, to be with family. It was in a different Borough, and took about 25 minutes to drive there in the morning.
On the journey to school I often felt sick. Sweaty palms. My stomach and throat hurt. I’d be desperate for the toilet. I’d get pins and needles and butterflies in my stomach. All classic signs of anxiety…..but the 9 year old me had a better idea. I was allergic to toothpaste. Oh yes. The last thing I did before leaving for school was brush my teeth…so it made sense. I constantly pestered my Ma for different toothpastes. She thought I was being a pain in the arse, and I didn’t tell her why. I now recognise this as my first experience of anxiety. I didn’t brush using toothpaste for months…
Well, let’s cut this long story short( too late) ….
Secondary school in my own Borough, new kid, new tribes all over again.
Move to Cheshire after 6 months. New school, only one tribe, all posh white kids. Felt isolated.
Move to Leicester City after 9 months,homeschooled,then new school, new kids.
Move to new house in County after 4 months.
Became a goth. Bullied.
Move to Upper school. Rejected education. Skived constantly. Few GCSEs gained
Six form college. Hated it. Withdrawn and secretly bulimic. Thought about running away. Too frightening.
Failed Alevels. Got a job.
During this time I was shy, although had some lovely friends, usually the freaks and geeks. I had safe places I could go, cinema, pub, friends’ houses, but I couldn’t manage the big trips to Alton Towers, the weekend away drinking in tents…always terrified.
Things changed when I met George, my partner. He made me feel so tall, so loved. I started to hide and manage my anxiety better. I took Kalms and used Imodium to control my IBS. Abused is a better term. I took them for trips into town, cinema, sometimes for work. I went through packets, I knew all the cheapest shops and chemists, and bought them on rotation, as they’d started to ask questions. …
So I lived like this from age 10 until I had what I suppose was a nervous breakdown. I struggled for months, having constant panic attacks, daily and at night. I couldn’t leave the house alone. I was terrified.
I avoided social occasions, eating in public, I couldn’t get past the end of my drive without a full blown panic attack.
I broke down in front of my GP, he prescribed 2mg valium twice a day. I was slightly calmer, but I still couldn’t function. I’m currently prescribed 20mg Seroxat and I am able to function. I’ve just completed my second round of Talking Therapy and am going to access heavy duty CBT next year, on the proviso that I’m off medication. I am not sure about this…..
I’m not sure how to stop talking…I’m functioning, I’m living. ..I’m going to the theatre, pubs, restaurants, shopping. I’m doing my CBTlite exercises. I’m exhausted.