Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Health Update

Just over two years ago I raised £4,500 to do my A Levels at an online school, InterHigh. Some of you might be wondering... why? And some of you will know exactly what I'm talking about: my chronic anxiety and panic disorder, which forced me to leave the mainstream education environment at a crucial time. My old school had funded a place for me at InterHigh to do my IGCSEs, but once they were over, that was it - if I wanted to continue and work towards my A Levels, I'd have to pay. And I did. Came out of it in August 2017 with a string of As and a B.

I used to talk about it a lot, and since raising that money I kind of quietened down because people don't like talking about money or mental health. And because at that point I had to combine both, I started getting a lot of hate messages - a lot of support, too, but the hate was overwhelming. In addition to that, I'd started becoming what I can only describe as typecast. Whenever anyone wanted something from me, it was to do with mental health, and I wasn't given the opportunity to do much else. I have always done what I can to raise awareness of mental illness and I'll continue to do so, but no one wants to be known solely for their illness.

For people who've joined me in the last two years, here's a list of blog posts about the whole thing in chronological order if you feel like hearing the story from the beginning. I can't bear to re-read these blog posts because they're so personal, but they're there if you want them.

My Experiences with Anxiety and Panic Attacks (16th June 2013)
Where I open up about my illness for the first time. Trigger warning: it's very long and very detailed, and was written when I was at my worst.

14 Things You Shouldn't Say to Someone with a Mental Illness (15th July 2015)
Someone annoyed me so I wrote a blog post. I am basically Taylor Swift.

EVENT REPORT: YALC 2015 (20th July 2015)
I went to Comic Con and it was a sign of progress.

How I Deal with Anxiety and Panic Attacks (30th July 2015)
Two years after I went public with my mental health, I had a few strategies up my sleeve. I was still struggling, but things were ever so slightly better.

I Need Your Help (13th August 2015)
In which I began my A Level fundraising campaign which went on to be covered in the Independent, the MailOnline, MTV, Sky News, and many more far-flung unexpected places.

WE DID IT! (22nd August 2015)
One week and a day after the campaign launched, we hit our goal, and a few weeks later I started my A Levels at InterHigh.

Some Thoughts on Anxiety and Progress (30th August 2016)
I was making a lot of progress, and I was halfway through my A Levels.

Trying Something New, Overcoming Hurdles, and Hanging Out With YOU! (11th January 2017)
The start of a life-changing year...

So, assuming you now know what happened: here's a long-overdue update! I'm nervous about posting this because it's personal and when you don't talk about something for a while, people forget, and when you do finally talk about it, it's like you're talking about it for the first time all over again. So if you didn't know: surprise, I was ill, I still am, hi, hello.

The beginning of 2016 was bad for me. I wasn't happy, to put it lightly. Everything was hard, and it wasn't just my usual anxiety and panic attacks - it was even worse than it had been in the beginning, and we thought that was bad. Literally no one knows how bad it got in those first few months of 2016 because I haven't discussed it and I'm not going to - all you need to know is I decided to try the one thing left that I hadn't tried: Advanced Hypnotherapy.

On 29th March I had my free initial consultation with my parents and the hypnotherapist. It was pitch black, freezing cold, and in an old building tucked down a narrow, winding cobbled side-street. It felt weirdly secretive, as if it was the old days and I was the sickly child of some royal who needed to keep me away from the public eye. (Literally no one treated me like this, I'm just dramatic. Let me live.) It was lovely inside, though: a calm environment where we discussed my struggles and what I wanted to get out of hypnotherapy. He explained how it worked, how many sessions people usually had, how much it would cost (£280 or thereabouts, I believe). I told him everything I'd tried previously: online counselling, offline counselling, psychotherapy, online CBT, offline CBT, herbal medication, exposure therapy...

And he said he could help. I was sceptical. I'd heard of Advanced Hypnotherapy before, something which hadn't worked on my mum (spiders) but had worked on my aunt (smoking). This guy specialised in anxiety, though, and had great reviews. He too had struggled with anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, and suicidal thoughts - and come out the other side, having made in-depth studies into hypnotherapy and promptly used it on himself. No matter how sceptical I was at first, I also felt relieved. Here was someone saying that they could help me, that they had helped others. I was more than happy to give it a try - after all, what could be the harm? Everything's worth a try, especially when your illness is preventing you from going to school, getting a job, even hanging out with friends or doing anything remotely spontaneous. My life had been on pause for a few years.

My first session was on 12th April. It's a long time ago so forgive me for the hazy memory, but if I remember rightly, this appointment consisted of answering questions, telling the hypnotherapist what I wanted to be able to do ('to have a life' were my exact words) and him 'putting me under'. A big part of my chronic anxiety is the fear of losing control, so the idea of being 'hypnotised' kind of freaked me out initially. Would he click his fingers and I'd immediately be in some sort of coma? Would I have any control over what I was saying while I was under? What if I said anything embarrassing? What if I couldn't wake up? He let me express my concerns and calmly got rid of all of them. He reassured me that I would be completely aware of everything, just relaxed. I'd still have a filter. 'Waking up' would be simple because I wouldn't be asleep - I'd simply have my eyes shut. A bit like daydreaming.

And - not gonna lie, I'm pretty proud of this - he said that I was one of the easiest people he's ever hypnotised, if not the easiest. His process of hypnotism consisted of asking me to close my eyes and get comfy, and then he would start talking, taking me to an imaginary place in order to relax me before getting into the deeper stuff. But I'd be gone before he'd even taken me to that imaginary place. We put it down to how much I read, which he said is a form of self-hypnotism. He's right, if you think about it - as soon as you turn that first page, you're in an imaginary world, and you're aware of everything but you're mostly in this fictitious universe. Going under Advanced Hypnotherapy was as painless as reading a good book.

At the same time, he was recording the audio of the session. My homework was to put it on my phone and listen to it twice a day for a couple of weeks, basically being hypnotised by him but from the comfort of my own home.

My next session was on 10th May and it was my last. It was a pretty quick process. I can't remember as much from this one, but he asked me to tell him the first three situations that came to mind when I thought about my anxiety, and tell him what I could see. Then I had to act upon these situations in my mind.

I had my AS English Literature exam the next morning, and we had a little bonding sesh over Shakespeare, which was nice. Private healthcare, kids. Most likely my first and last.

The next day, I threw up on my way to my exam. Anxiety hadn't magically gone overnight, then. And when I was invited to be part of Instagram's #MyStoryUK campaign a month later... I was excited, just like I told you guys, but what I didn't tell you was that I felt sick with anxiety. Again. As usual.

But as the months passed, people said that I seemed different. They couldn't quite put their fingers on it, but something had changed. I was still anxious, but come July I was applying for jobs and doing interviews, when only a few months earlier I couldn't see myself ever managing to have a job. How could I, when I struggled to talk to people or even leave the house? As well as that, I started going to dinner with family members and friends. In October, I began driving lessons. I was asking to go to more places, I started volunteering for a local deaf charity, I met up with friends more, I got an A in that exam, and in December I started a new job which required me to spend 9 hours at a time in a place which had previously been a main trigger for my panic attacks. I gradually became more assertive, I passed my theory test and then my practical, I started going to London two or three times a month for events or to meet online friends. I went to concerts, I went to more job interviews, I chaired bookshop events with authors in front of an audience, I went to Paris, I got a new job, I met my boyfriend, I interned for a week at a publishing house in London...

Spontaneity became my middle name. I wasn't cured, but my life was no longer on pause. I'd specifically said to my hypnotherapist, half joking, that I wanted 'a life' - and I finally had it.

Like I've said before, though, 'anxiety changes, and so do you.' It shifts. In July 2017, I started at the place I work now, and nearly every morning for the first couple of months I would have to push through a panic attack that would go on for an hour or two. A few years ago, though, I couldn't work through it - that's why I had to drop out of school. And now I can. But the thing is, I don't need to nearly as often as before.

Relapses are always going to happen, and I'm not sure my anxiety will ever go completely. I still have a lot of struggles, and who knows what's around the corner? But I've changed a lot since my Advanced Hypnotherapy, and... I'm actually living.

2017 was the best year of my life. 2018 isn't looking too shabby either. Here's to many more good ones. ❤

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  1. I've been following your blog far a very long time and it's so good to see that your mental health has improved. I'm so happy for all that you've been accomplishing and wishing you many more wonderful accomplishments in 2018!

  2. Great to hear from you again. Missed you - regret I am not a fan of Twitter but I still check here every now and again. I have always admired your courage ! Good to hear you still fighting - and winning. I still waiting to read your first published book. John S.