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Mental Health Awareness Week ’23: Aimee at Connect

For Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, we’re sharing thoughts, experiences, and strategies from the team across our different services on anxiety, the focus of MHAW this year.

Aimee at Connect

I think I’ve experienced symptoms of anxiety for most of my life, but I didn’t have a name for it until I was at university in my early ‘20s. I found university really difficult. I was a few years older than everyone else, had a young child and wasn’t really having the typical “university experience” that everybody talks about. I found it difficult to make friends and I felt quite isolated. I started to get some strange symptoms before lectures: I would get tingling in my face and hands and I would also get a rash that looked like nettle stings that started off on my hands and usually crept up my neck and sometimes even onto my face. Eventually I went to the doctor as I was worried that something was really wrong with me. The doctor that I spoke to spent a long time with me and talked to me about my symptoms but also about my life and how I was feeling, and eventually suggested that my symptoms might be caused by anxiety.

I spent loads of time reading about anxiety after that and the more I found out, the more I recognised those feelings and symptoms in myself. I also realised how much anxiety was affecting me. Without realising why, I had been avoiding things that made me anxious. I’d had a lot of time off from work and university, and I was also avoiding spending time with my friends and family. I’d dismissed it as me being lazy or anti-social and was quite angry with myself for behaving like that, but recognising that I was avoiding these things because of how anxious I was feeling about them helped me to be a bit kinder to myself and start to look at things that might help me to change how I was feeling.

I’ve tried lots of different things over the years to help me manage my anxiety. I was on a particular daily medication for quite a long time, but eventually I decided that I didn’t feel that it was helping me enough to be worth the side effects that I was experiencing – I think that was a really good decision for me in the end! I tried counselling and CBT too. I didn’t find either particularly helpful at the time, but thinking back, I think if I’d had a bit more choice about the counsellor that I saw, I might have found this more helpful. I had free counselling from my university, and the counsellor was a much older man who I didn’t feel that I could relate to very much, or be completely open with. Maybe if I need to in future, I might give counselling another go but spend some time choosing someone who is right for me. I feel very lucky to have that option now.

My anxiety still affects me, but differently at different times. Last year I think it was the worst that it has ever been. I was in a workplace that I found both very emotionally difficult and also extremely unsupportive. The effect that this had on my mental health and in particular my anxiety, was quite frightening for me. I remember being on the bus on the way into the office and feeling as though someone had hit me with a bat in the base of my spine. My arms and the tops of my legs were completely numb and I couldn’t get my breath. It felt like blind panic, but even with all of that happening, the thought that I was going to be late for work and would have to face my manager was all that I could think about. I got off the bus and phoned my partner, who helped me to calm down a bit and did some breathing with me, but afterwards I knew for certain that I would have to leave my job and look for something else.

Now, a year later, I couldn’t feel more different. I find my workplace supportive and I feel like I can be open with my manager and my team if I am feeling unwell, anxious or burnt out. That open conversation feels really important to me, as it feels to me as though we recognise each other as human beings first and so we can then support each other effectively in our work too.

My anxiety hasn’t gone away, and I’m sure that there will be other times in my life that I’ll struggle with it again, but for the moment, what is helping me is knowing myself well, knowing what my limits are and sometimes pushing myself past them. I feel like I should have the phrase, “Just go, if it’s awful you can always leave” tattooed on me somewhere. I’ve also got a medication now that works for me and that I only take when I need it. Last year that was four times a day, at the moment it’s once every couple of months. That’s a good reminder for me that things can change.