I had never experienced anxiety before. It crept up on me slowly, then ran at me quickly. One day, standing in my kitchen, my heart began to race. My body was shaking and my eyes blurred. I had to sit down on the floor and cover my face. From then on, I started to become more and more anxious. A number of factors contributed: my impending dissertation deadline, a lack of alcohol, the uncertainty I faced about leaving Canterbury. I was given beta-blockers, both for the physical symptoms of anxiety and for migraines.
Because I had never experienced anxiety, I had always found it difficult to understand. I had no difficulty accepting that anxiety and/ or panic attacks must be horrible to go through. But I didn’t quite “get” it and when other people told me about it I sympathised but couldn’t quite walk in their shoes. Part of this blog is a call to empathise with mental health problems. But without experience, it is hard to fully understand what another person is going through. Since finding myself in the throes of anxiety (and still, I will never truly feel what it is to have an ongoing anxiety disorder) I have started to realise how painful and horrifying it can be. I have also begun to recognise my own limitations, in terms of being able to empathise with someone experiencing what I never have. What I can’t do is experience everything, and therefore fully empathise with everything. What I can do is be open about my own experiences and try to make it easier for people to understand them. Sometimes the important thing isn’t that we empathise, but that we try to. My experience of anxiety is, thankfully, still limited. But I will always try to understand how it feels, and to remember that if I want to be understood, I also need to be understanding.