Names have been changed
I was 13 when I first became aware of my anxiety and what it was, but looking back, I’d had it from around Year 5. It wasn’t obvious at first. I just knew that I could get quite panicked, and that certain things would set me off. Over time these feelings got worse to the point where they became quite debilitating.
I became known as ‘the cry baby’, because there’d be days when I’d just burst into tears for no obvious reason. I’d feel increasingly tired and reluctant to go out to places with my family and friends, turning down invitations to birthday parties and things like that. I barely wanted to go out at all.
At times I’d really want affection, craving hugs from friends and wanting to be around them. At others, when I wasn’t feeling so great, I’d actively push people away and distance myself from them. Looking back, I now recognise that this was a defence mechanism.
Things became worse at secondary. At the school I went to, mental health was a taboo issue that no one wanted to talk about. Teachers just glossed over it, telling us that we were too young to really know what was happening to us. I assumed a kind of ‘counsellor’ role among my peers who were going through similar things themselves, because they felt they had no one else to talk to.
In year 8 a friend told me things about her personal life that I soon realised, even at that age, that I wasn’t qualified to be helping her with. We approached our head of year, who directed us to the deputy headteacher. She then gave us a lecture about how she understood the stresses of school, but that we ultimately had to make sure we were prepared for our exams. The conversation veered away completely from addressing this girl’s problems, to how important it was to get the right grades.
At the time, I thought that doing this ‘informal counselling’ for friends would be helpful for me too, but when I got to Year 11 I reached a peak, where the weight of bearing everyone else’s problems as well as my own got too much for me. It was a lot for one person to carry. It was around that time that I ended up calling Childline.
It was a selective school where quite a lot of pressure was put on pupils. A close friend of mine had mental health issues that resulted in her being admitted to a specialist unit. When she returned she was told that her problems were too much for the school to deal with, and was kicked out just before we took our exams
At my primary school the staff were more attentive. They’d contact my mum if they saw I’d had a ‘strange day’, for example, but I do think they could have helped even more by asking questions more often. Kids are much more likely to open up to a teacher after talking to them for a while. If they could have set aside more time for that to happen, it would have been great.
There are still days when I can feel the effects of an anxiety attack. It’s not ‘gone’, but I can function with it and get on with my life. I can recognise when my anxiety is getting bad, remove myself from situations I can’t change and generally stay more positive.