How Anxiety changed me for the better

When people look at pictures of me as a toddler, I get comments like “You were so cute”. I had long blond hair, big brown eyes, and cute smile, so what went wrong? As I grew up, I started to become awkward looking; my eyes just looked bug like, my nose became large and crooked, and my adult teeth came in squint. This lead to my rather perceptive peers pointing out my flaws relentlessly. My reactions to being called names could have been better, other than me lashing out and giving them more fuel for the fire. I was a child after all, and I didn’t exactly get the best of advice on how to deal with the bullies either. My mum would say “Walk away and smile, they hate that”, and my Dad would say “Kick them where it hurts”. Neither were supportive or helpful, just conflicting and left me wondering what I was supposed to do. I would try to stick up for myself, but these kids would often be in groups so I would feel too intimidated to do anything. When you are bullied it changes how you see yourself and how you trust/see others. For me, it gave me a huge chip on my shoulder and made me quite a bitter girl. I developed a terrible attitude and I took my moods and frustrations out on everyone around me.

At the age of 11, the bullying made me so miserable I was now going home and crying most nights and I began to dread School. Even my supposed friends were joining in. My Mum took me to the doctor to see what they could do, and I was referred for Rhinoplasty . Around a year later I was sent an appointment for the surgery. I was elated, this was going to fix all of my problems. The day after my surgery, I was allowed to get up and go to the toilet. Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I was quite taken back. I had a huge cast over my nose, which was taped over my cheeks and forehead. My eyes were all puffed out and were a horrible yellow/purple colour. I just hoped this was all going to be worth it. Two weeks later I had the cast removed, and I was gutted. I didn’t look that much different, and I felt the same. My first day back at school, a group of girls approached me and I kid you not, one of them said “Does this mean you’re like Cher now and can’t sit in the sun?” The silly mare clearly thought that plastic surgery meant you get plastic put into your face. The level of ‘what the %*@!?!’ cannot even be described. I didn’t even answer her and kept going. I generated a lot of interest from people after my surgery. Especially from people who never gave me the time of day before. You would think this would make me happy right? Wrong. This just really annoyed me. I’d had surgery on my nose, not a personality transplant. I was the same person. This only made the chip on my shoulder bigger, and my attitude worse. I now hated people and did not care one iota what they thought of me either.

I spent the rest of my teens and early 20’s with a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude. My motto was very much “like me? Don’t like me? Don’t care”. I would just open my mouth, spew out words, and if you were offended? Tough. You just needed to man up. My sister actually wrote inside my birthday card for my 21st that she was unable to find tact as a gift, as this was a running joke that I was never blessed with any. I had no tolerance for anyone or anything. I didn’t like people, and I didn’t care if they didn’t like me. I had managed to build a pretty awesome wall around myself, which protected me from being hurt emotionally.

Then BANG, Anxiety/Depression struck. The floodgates opened and I became exposed and fragile. The slightest thing could be said and I’d break. I didn’t cope with this at all. My wall was gone and with it was the ability to deal with anything. All of these emotions were flooding in daily and I had no way to deal with them. I started to care about how I looked, what people thought of me, how I came across etc. I even cared about the things I said to people, perhaps even a too much. I was having conversations with people, then walking away, playing the scenario over in my head. Scrutinising every word that was said, their responses, their facial expressions, trying to figure out if they liked me or not. It was a very alien feeling for me and I hated it. No longer was I ‘me’ anymore, I had become a stranger to myself. I was now a scared and timid young girl, who was completely lost in her own mind.  I was getting my head around my diagnosis, but I was also having to discover these new aspects of myself, learn how to deal with them, but most of all learn to embrace them. I really struggled with this. I missed my old self. I wanted to not care. Sometimes, even now, I miss parts of the old me. She was feisty, fearless, and somewhat carefree. The old me would never have stood for this ‘Anxiety’ nonsense, she would have manned up and got on. So why couldn’t I just do that? Why couldn’t I just get over it?  I don’t have the answer I’m afraid. I honestly do not know why I couldn’t just ‘get over it’, all I do know is; if I could, I would.

I went to counselling for a few months and I found this really helped me manage my emotional state. I was able to understand where these emotions were coming from and how to better handle them. My counsellor helped me come to terms with my mental illness, the fact I was now different, and the fact the old me wasn’t coming back. Thanks to my counsellor helping me do this,  I have completely reshaped who I am as a person, my thoughts, beliefs, outlook on life, perspectives, wants, needs and more. I also discovered how to be empathetic, thoughtful and just generally care about others. Sometimes I’m guilty of caring too much now, of which I can find overwhelming. I guess you can say I’m still learning how to manage my emotions, and it’s not always easy.

I spent my 20’s discovering the new me, my friend and I call this period of my life, my ‘mid 20’s crisis’, as not all of my discoveries were positive. I have tried in vain to build that wall back up, to try and protect myself as much as I can from being hurt, but it will never be what it was. To protect myself now, I keep my circle small. I don’t let people in, as doing so will only increase my chances of being let down/hurt. This isn’t to say I’ve not made the heinous mistake of letting my guard down from time to time, however, this has only ever assured me of why I like to keep it up. I make sure the people in my circle are open and honest, you know, ‘a spades a spade’ kind of people. I don’t like second guessing what people mean, or trying to read between the lines, just tell me how it is.  I’m already going to replay every single social encounter I have when I try to sleep at night, so being around people I know I can trust and who tell it like it is, means I’m not having to do this half as much.

In spite of everything, I actually have to thank Anxiety/Depression, for the woman I am today. Without it, I wouldn’t have made all of these self-discoveries and changes. I am a long way from the feisty, fierce, and somewhat carefree girl, but I’m also a long way from being content and happy with who I am. Who knows, I may never be fully content. All I do know is; I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, just as everyone is not mine, but I’m confident that I’m a good person, and that, for now, is enough for me.

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