This would be a typical night out for me for the past 20 years as I have coped with the crippling effects anxiety has had on me. I am a 37 year old guy from the Wilds of Mayo, living in Dublin for around 15 years. From the outside I look confident, having a great time, great job, friends, family etc but no one can see what is going on inside.
My heart races, thoughts are rampant coming at me from all directions, tense shoulders, on edge, my breathe is faster, my fists tighter, looking for the exit, will I bolt now, breathe Darragh, for the love of God relax, no good, drink a pint, no eye contact, drink another pint, easing…
I have lived with anxiety from when I can remember, even at a young age but not to the extent this monster grew from my teens onwards. I was a pretty shy kid, always felt different from the other lads. Wasn’t big into the GAA, got red when being at the centre of attention, had a slight speech impediment that made me stumble over my words and made me even more embarrassed.
The First Time
I remember the first time I felt this wave of anxiety come over me, I was sitting in class, top of the class and the teacher made a point that I must never play rounder’s with the girls again, that I was sissy and go play with the boys. I was around 10 and I just wanted the floor to swallow me up. All eyes were on me and they were judging me negatively, laughing at me and I never felt so alone.
Little did I know that this was just mild as to what I was going to endure in the coming years! Secondary school, I was fed to the lions. I was the oldest in my family, the shy but happy go lucky kid, bit different, full of energy, ray of light coming from somewhere was said, but different. When I started Secondary school my differences were magnified, they were highlighted, ridiculed, despised.
The bullying started small, copying my talking, how I didn’t like football, I was pretty awkward when puberty began so spots, very slim, tall so these were picked on also but then I started to hear the word gay, queer, puff….. I knew I was different and I knew I started to have feelings for other boys but I thought I was hiding this side of me.
I couldn’t fight back, I said nothing, how could I, they were right, I was gay, I hated football, I was spotty and awkward, I agreed with what they were saying to me so how could I fight back. I lost my voice, my strength, my courage, so I just put my head down and for years took the abuse. I wished they had just hit me as the words that were coming at me went right into my soul, my heart. Every single word stayed with me, these words were bringing me to my knees.
This is when my anxiety was getting higher, stronger and more frequent. As I look back and the work I have done on myself I can now see that my anxiety was social, other people made me anxious. After school I went to college, the bullying stopped by my peers but I kept this up instead and boy did I do an even worse job than the bully’s. I crucified myself, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t walk down the street without getting panic attacks, shops or supermarkets were like a war zone, I felt under attack ready to run at any given moment.
I couldn’t look at people, I wore a cap to hide my face, no one needed to look at me, I was nothing, a waste of space. Then pubs and nightclubs, my hell. I just drank and drank to numb the anxiety, I would get this small glimmer of freedom from the negativity, from the anxiety but this was all false and only lasted for moments.
My turning point
The anxiety and pain lasted for years, until one day when I was around 22 I went home to Mayo with my cap covering my face, my head down, my energy so so low. My family knew something was wrong but I just brushed it off. To this day I can still remember in the kitchen, myself and Mum. Mum sitting on stool by the table and she asked me was I OK? I think at that moment I had reached my limit, my heart and soul couldn’t take this, I had kept this inside of me for so long that I needed to let something out and I just broke down in front of her.
I wept, wept, my heart was broke and I just needed someone, anyone to hold me and help me. That day was the turning point of my life, I opened up, told mum I hated myself, hated Dublin, that I was slowly killing myself. She put her arms around me, rang a GP and brought me straight to him. I needed help as I couldn’t cope on my own anymore.
The crazy thing though is that I didn’t know I was suffering from massive anxiety, extreme low self-worth and depression but I thought it was my skin. I was told in school how ugly and spotty I was that I thought once my skin was clear all these thoughts and feelings would disappear, even to the doctor just give me tablets to clear my skin and I’ll be fine. My skin was clear, I just couldn’t cope with the self-hatred that I put all my energy and thoughts into something external, unable to cope with the internal turmoil.
As I said, this was a turning point. I got help, spoke to a therapist, CBT and he helped me retrain my mind. The cap went, my confidence grew, I came out, no one disowned me, slowly and slowly I started to heal inside and start accepting myself, flaws and all. This took years and to be honest I am still healing to this day.
Anxiety is in us all, we need it in case someone jumps up behind us and wants to harm us, but when the anxiety holds you hostage, brings you to your knees then you need a hand to get out of that hole. My anxiety is not as severe as to what it was all those years ago but he is still with me. I do get a slight panic when I go into bars, walk down streets, go on a date because for me it is the judgments I presume people are negatively making of me but now I am able to control these more. I am now able to feel the emotions that come up from these thoughts and instead of following the thought process I breathe, let the thoughts flow in and out and feel the uncomfortable feelings. Then the anxiety will lose its power and the anxiety subsides.
This is a habit I have incorporated into my daily life. I meditate, I just started over a year ago and this has changed my life also. I was on anti-depressants for a couple of years and wanted off these, they were numbing me and I knew to fully heal I needed to feel the emotions inside. I started Japa mediation on the recommendation of a friend and I haven’t looked back. By mediating this has helped me heal the pain, helped me feel more comfortable within my own skin, to fully accept myself and love myself.
Who would have a thought a culchie from the wilds of Mayo who have his life turned around by sitting in a room of people, speaking mantras out loud and meditating, but for me this has worked.
The only advice I can give anyone who is suffering from anxiety, depression, low self-worth, suicidal thoughts is to please reach out to someone anyone and tell them how you are feeling. You are not alone, you are an exceptional human being with so many gifts and your life is so important. Ask for help, this is not a weakness but such an unbelievable act of courage to have the strength to ask for a helping hand.
You do not need to go through this alone, there is so much help out there so today please go and talk to someone even send me an email just reach out. This is the first step of letting some of the pain inside of you go and start fully healing.
You are not alone, you will overcome this and you are such a unique and phenomenal person, your life is going to be amazing.
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