Breathe.

“Take a deep breath”, “you’re fine”, “1, 2, 3”, “there is nothing to worry about, calm down”. These are some of the mantras I repeat to myself before, during & after an anxiety attack. I concentrate on my breathing exercise – in through the nose count to 10 out through the mouth count to 10 & repeat. This doesn’t always work and I usually last until the count of 5 before full panic sets in. My name is Sarah-Jane Stevens (SJ for short), I am writing this to tell you a little about me and my annoying side kick, Anxiety.

Yep, Anxiety sucks; and yep, I’m giving it a capital A!! It’s this crippling feeling that consumes you. You can’t breathe, your heart pounding like it might explode through your chest I won’t even mention the gross sweaty underarms that usually occurs at the worst possible moment. There’s nothing you can do but ride it out & pray it’s a quick one.

When I try to visualise my Anxiety I always see the Ocean – The sandy beach is my safety spot. The emotions the waves, they can come in gradually like the tide, some are seen from a distance and you know something doesn’t feel right and you can prepare yourself for the tide coming in. Other waves come crashing into the shore with no warning. This is what I call my Tsunami SJ. Where every negative thought I ever had hurtles towards me, consumes me.

My Tsunami is when the panic sets in immediately. Complete panic. You’re trying to gulp for air but nothing is helping. Not the routine breathing and not the mantras. A paralysed feeling courses through your body, then the trembling sensation begins and my teeth start to chatter. If you’re really lucky, the nausea kicks in which is the cherry on top.

When the tide goes out and you’re washed back up on the beach the crying begins, the feeling of embarrassment creeps up, self-recriminations and the constant question of what the hell is wrong with me?! But there are no answers so you wipe your tears, put a smile on your face and walk out the door to start your day. All good; nothing to see here.

I was pretty much an average kid growing up in SA – home life was great. Parents happily married, one annoying older brother and of course my gorgeous dog Freddy. Completed SACE & went on the UNI. There wasn’t anything to highlight I had an Anxiety issue as a teenager. Of course, there is always teenage drama but Anxiety wasn’t a word I knew, yet.

Anxiety became a word for me (not that I knew that then) when I began seeing my ex-boyfriend around 5 years ago. I don’t want dive into that too much, however I will say the relationship was toxic. Over the years I became less and less of myself. I felt worthless and was an Anxiety head case. It bordered on depression. It caused grief for my family and It took me a long time to build the courage to end things. For the better of course. I’m not going to lie; it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I felt tied to him and I felt, as he would always say “that I was nothing without him”.

I think that my DNA was probably susceptible to Anxiety but my negative relationship triggered it. I should probably thank him because I am now as strong as I have ever been. I am confident; I no longer rely on someone to make me feel beautiful or feel worthwhile. I rely on myself, and that is the best piece of advice I can give you. Rely on yourself. Rely on only you to make yourself feel beautiful; I do understand we are our own worst critics. I am not saying it is going to be easy but you are worth it.

I constantly remind myself that I am strong, I am worthwhile and worth looking after (an amazing teacher from my high school would always tell me this). Surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you, with a job or hobby or a sport that you love. Do things in your life that fill you with joy and peace. Keeping busy has been a life saver for me. Distraction is the key to a healthy mind set.

Anxiety lies in all of us, however it affects people differently. Some of us can shake off the feeling and go about their day while others feel crippled by it. To the cool, calm and collected people whose anxiety is on the lower threshold, please be patient with us.

For those of us who struggle. I wish I had an easy fix for you. I know that not everyone understands or can appreciate the turmoil we go through. But I do know that I am not alone in this. I have learnt that it is important to talk and share the dark thoughts that cloud my mind and to not waste my life worrying about what may be, what could happen – to take every opportunity life gives me.

I hope that sharing this little piece of me can give others the courage to seek help when they need it. Sending out all of the positive and LOVE vibes to you all. Be kind.

Love,

Sarah-Jane S.