Hi Shannon thanks very much for writing for my blog, I know you personally and you have near the exact same struggles as myself and taught id love for you to tell your story…
Just want to say a quick thank you for asking me to be your first guest blogger, never done one of these before but i’ll give it a go ha. Well, my names Shannon O Sullivan, I’m 23, from Tralee. I finished college with an honours degree in Health and Leisure fitness professional just over a year and a half ago. I work as a personal trainer and gymnastics coach, also studying an online nutrition course.
My hobbies differ a bit from usual people. I spend a lot of my time lately with my head in the books, or at the gym or else cooking ha. I keep to myself a lot (which ill explain as we go on), and have a very small circle of friends.
When did you first find out or discover that there was something up with your mental health?
Well, I always knew there was something going on. I spent most of my life hearing people refer to me as being quiet or shy or asking me why my face was going red (which happened a lot, and still does), was I getting embarrassed (because that doesn’t make you worse at all!!). I couldn’t understand why I was like this all the time and why situations that most people deem as ‘normal’ were so difficult in my eyes.
It wasn’t until 1st year of college that I figured out I suffered from anxiety and that there was actually an explanation for the way I felt and behaved. I remember being physically sick with nerves starting college. A week or so in we were told about a presentation we had to do towards the end of the semester. I’ll never forget the feeling of my stomach dropping and feeling like I was going to throw up, I can still remember exactly how it felt. We had two lectures for this module, fortunately one of these lecturers, Maeve Frawley mentioned how she could remember that daunting feeling of having to present in front of a group for the first time. I remember she told us a bit about her ‘anxiety’ and how nervous she was doing them at first as well, but that by the time we got to fourth year they would be a lot easier. When she mentioned about this anxiety thing, I felt like I could really relate to what she was saying about how it felt and how she felt in certain situations. However, at this time, at 18 years of age was the first time I ever even heard about anxiety as a ‘thing’ and not just something you feel for a short period and then it’s gone again. Other people actually felt the way I did, that there wasn’t actually something wrong with me. Maeve is someone I have looked up to since first year, and will always look up too. To see someone with anxiety achieve what she has achieved and be ridiculously successful in her career helped me realise that I can overcome my fears with it. Maeve was a real inspiration to me, I always pushed myself that little bit because I knew that she had felt this way, and she overcame it and it wasn’t impossible. I could achieve what I wanted to.
Hearing Maeve made me realise for the first time that there was some kind of answers to why I am the way I am. I started to look into anxiety more I discovered, generalised anxiety, social anxiety, introverts, extroverts, there are so many different types of anxieties and they all effect people in different ways. This helped a bit as I began to understand the type of mental illness that I am suffering from and understand my behaviours more.
It took me 18 years before I realised that I wasn’t a shy child, or realise why I always put my mom on the phone when school friends rang or why I felt so awkward around most people, including family. 18 years of not once having being told through education that people suffer from these types of things. I remember waking up nearly every night for years, I would cry for an hour, two hours even three hours before id build up the courage to go down to my mom’s room to wake her up. Even when I got into her room I would just stand there afraid to wake her up (which used to creep her out a bit when so woke up and I was just standing there haha) It took me hours of crying to convince myself to wake my own my mom up (because I was too afraid of getting in trouble or that I was doing something wrong) so I could have company, comfort, because honestly I was afraid of being on my own, my own thoughts scared me. I couldn’t understand why I was sitting in bed with a random feeling of fear turning my stomach, lump in my throat, balling my eyes out. I didn’t know what anxiety was, I didn’t know what it felt like or what it does to your body. I just thought that I was an annoying little child constantly waking her mom or her brother so I could stay in their room. I truly believe the education system failed me here, I was 10+ years old (also effected me younger) and I had to go through this, not knowing what the hell was wrong with me.
can you describe what it feels like to suffer from anxiety? i know your told me you have alot of social anxiety?!?
Ha, I don’t even know where to start. I read a quote before about anxiety, “it’s like standing in an open cage. To everyone else it seems like you can escape, but to you there’s this invisible block that keeps you there, what I wouldn’t give to make that block disappear”. That’s a pretty good explanation. You can see the world moving around you, people doing every day things like there the most simplistic things in the world, yet your standing there struggling to ring a friend, or reply to a facebook message, or go into the shop to pay for something, because those things are suppose to be easy right? But there not!. Anxiety limits you it stop you from hanging out with your friends which means you lose many of them, you over drink at parties because you can’t socialise when your sober, you can’t ring anyone expect for those one or two people you are comfortable with. Anxiety means sleepless nights days before a big event or a presentation is coming up. Its crippling, and its beyond exhausting. I remember third year in college, between presentations, group activities, group teaching, swim teaching work and everything else, I used to end up having to go home during the day to nap. Not because I was up all night partying (had my head screwed on in 3rd year) or staying up late but before any type of interaction my anxiety would spike, days even weeks before presentations, and this spike took all my energy out of me.
Social anxiety on the other hand has had a major impact on my life. Why I chose to do a course that has maximal people interaction is beyond me ha. But anyways in my 4 years in college I made easily around 5 friends, and this was the type of course where almost everyone were friends, everyone hung out together and had the craic together. I didn’t enjoy college the way everyone else did, I went in did my bit and went home that was it. If I went out on nights out it was with my friends I had for years who were in different courses in town. I could count on my hands the amount of times I socialised with my course outside of college hours. I was nowhere near as outgoing and comfortable as people in my course were. I heard it all in college and outside of it though. I was ‘snobby’ ‘shy’ ‘up myself’ every type of bullshit word people could come up with as if I was acting like that on purpose. I used to avoid eye contact in the hallway on the streets in the gym everywhere I will do everything in my power to avoid social interaction. Not because i’m snobby or a bitch but because it’s hard, interaction is so hard for someone with social anxiety. Especially interactions you aren’t ready for. If I bump into some one unexpectedly I get flustered, I get shaky and I go a nice tomato red colour. Which some people are used to, but those who aren’t just look at you awkwardly or they point it out and you just stand there dying inside with the embarrassment. That’s one thing that really makes my anxiety go sky high, my face goes red so easily even the smallest bit and I can feel it straight away, cheeks burning, embarrassment sets in, stomach turns, heart rate increase and you just do everything in your power to remove yourself from that situation as quickly as possible. Social anxiety effects you all day everyday and there is only so much you can take. Talking to people, being around people and especially being around groups is seriously draining. Due to this I like to and have to spend a lot of time on my own to re-energise myself. I go through bouts of being very very tired at times, this is especially when I don’t get time to myself. But how do you explain to your friends, your partner, your family that your exhausted from being around people, including them? How do you explain to someone that you need a break from the world, from smiling and talking and being near them and you need to be alone for a while? Most people don’t and won’t ever understand this especially those who love you. There are bad days, where I just want to be in bed all day, curled up in a ball in my pyjamas crying in crippling pain as my heart sinks and I can’t see past it, Anxiety?, is this my life? Am I always going to feel this way? It isn’t fair, why me?, why can’t it be easier? So many questions go through my head and I always come to the conclusion that i’m always going to feel like this. Anxiety is a part of my life, but when you’re having one of those bad days you forget how good the better days feel, you forget that there are good days and you actually won’t feel like that all the time!. But it is hard, feeling happy is difficult, its difficult because with anxiety and social anxiety sadness can become familiar and comfortable. Sadness becomes a natural thing and happiness sometimes can be seen as the unnatural thing in your life. Sadness makes your body ache, it plays with your mind your thoughts, it poisons precious life moments, friendships, relationships, but it’s still addicting because you know what real sadness feels like, it’s a familiar part of your life and happiness isn’t the most familiar feeling you get.
The worst thing about social anxiety is it honestly makes you feel pathetic, wanting to make an appointment over the phone but actually not being able to, not being able playing charades or any type of fun games with your friends, not kicking the ball around on the beach because you couldn’t cope if you did something embarrassing, not being able to stand up for yourself, wanting more friends but not able to meet new people, being nervous around those closest to you (very rarely 100% yourself), and so much more. I even find it hard to answer some ones question, i could get asked my name or my age or what I work as and full blown anxiety kicks in, there is always a fear of saying something stupid. This is why we get branded as shy or snobby, we chose minimal conversations with new people, it’s hard to keep a conversation going for some of us.
You get walked out so easily, people don’t even realise they are doing it, a lot of those with anxiety are very good listeners and will always put your needs before theirs, but there’s always some who will take great advantage of this, but when you need a helping hand they are nowhere to be seen.
what do you feel triggers it off? in general?!
For me, a big trigger is not being prepared for a situation. If something spontaneous comes that i’m not ready for, my body just goes full blown anxiety/panic mode. I plan my weeks in advanced, days in advanced, hour by hour. I know exactly what I’m doing every day. If im not ready for something to change on a specific day and it does it can throw me off for that day and days after.
Any type of social interaction as well, I really struggle talking to people even normal day to day conversations or something as easy as saying hi to some on on the street. I remember having to mentally prepare myself for saying here with the role was called out at school. Even something that small was very daunting.
what do your feel works or helps to keep it at bay or manage best?
Definitely opening up about it and having some sort of support be it a friend, family, councillor etc. My anxiety spiked massively in college in 4th year. It was my first experience of major heightened anxiety, panic attacks, confidence dropping, decreased in quality of life. It crippled me, I felt like I would never get out of this hole I was after falling in too, and I was very close to dropping out of college. I didn’t see any way I could possible get through this last year in college, it had never been this bad before. I was lucky though, I had a really good friend who supported me 100% and stood by my side through all the tears, bad days, struggles, assignments, everything. Even gave me a little push when I really needed a bit of a reality check. Without this person I honestly wouldn’t have finished college, and I’ll be forever grateful. Towards the end of my final year, when I was on placement, I went in to meet Maeve Frawley for a chat (Had spoken to her previously about struggling the whole year previous). She had mentioned meeting up for a chat a couple of times because she knew how hard it was to open up about anxiety and with social anxiety I needed a little kick to push me to meet for a chat ha. This was my first time sitting down talking to someone who really and truly understood how I felt, (ironically, my anxiety was sky high at the thoughts of talking about my anxiety haha), after this chat it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders though, I felt so much better. I can honestly say there is no better feeling than speaking to someone who has been in your shoes and understand the struggles from it.
Keeping to a schedule always helps. I plan my days, weeks in advance, knowing exactly what needs to be done and when. I have started to sit down for 20 minutess either at night time or first thing in the morning and planning out my day to a T. This keeps me busy, ensures I have some me time and down time and that I get everything done that needs to be done. Anxiety gets very overwhelming if you don’t keep on top of yourself.
Exercise 100% has saved my ass the last couple of years, I got big into it about 3 years ago and it’s an amazing stress reliever. I exercise a lot in a gym environment, but even just getting out for a 20 minutes’ walk with the headphones in can make a massive Difference to your day. It’s so important to give yourself ‘me time’ everyday to reflect and just think about little things, rather than letting them build up and having a melt down every couple of weeks.
what advice would you like to give anyone reading this blog about anyone struggling everyday life with mental health issues?
Talk!!, friends, family, lecturers, even strangers can have a massive impact on you when they know your struggles. I started putting up a few bits about my anxiety on facebook and instagram about 2 years ago and the response I got was amazing. You don’t realise the support out there until you open up and get talking about it. Also give yourself time every day to reflect and plan for the next day, or even plan a week at a time. Being prepared for anything that’s coming will seriously help!!
This is a weird one but be careful of what you eat and drink, a lot of foods, coffees, energy drinks that increase your heart rate can give you that ‘anxiety’ feeling when you aren’t really anxious but this can lead to your anxiety spiking, especially when there are absolutely no reason for it. This feeling can be avoided. Good nutrition also helps with energy levels, and those of you who suffer from anxiety know how easily it is to get exhausted, junk food doesn’t help with that.
I have accepted that anxiety does and will always play a massive part in my life. As much as I wish I didn’t have anxiety, I really believe it has made me the person I am today and I am pretty proud of what I have achieved considering. Anxiety has made me more determined than ever to get to where I want to be in life and not let it hold me back. I know there will always be bad days, but the good days are awesome and that’s something
The past couple of years my main support has been my Mother, shes seen every little thing I have gone through, which hasn’t been easy on her either. She’s been my rock my entire life, supporting me as much as possible, always helping with the bad days and knows when I just need alone time. Without her I wouldn’t have come this far, she’s been amazing and her support has made a massive difference. She has always and will always be my go too person when my anxiety gets all over the place, and I couldn’t ask for better support. Anxiety doesn’t just effect you, it effects the people around you as well so love and be grateful for your support system!!!. Just want to say a massive thanks to Poshy for getting me involved in this. The impact he has had on the mental health issue in Tralee is amazing and is well needed. I hope that what I have talked about is relatable to people. Those suffering from mental illnesses need to understand that they are not alone, and it does get easier 👌