My name is Charley, I’m 28 and for the past 4 years I have been suffering from Anxiety and Panic Attacks.
I am also a wife, sister, daughter, teacher, head of department, mentor, gym goer, choir member, tv addict, country music fan, baker, home cook, drinker of chardonnay and someone who loves to laugh.
Having anxiety does not define me, it does not control me.
I have always been a worrier, someone who plans for the future and loathes any situation that takes me out of the driving seat.
But four years ago my wonderful dad, who had worked hard every single day of his life, who had always provided everything myself and my three siblings could want, was made redundant.
My parents lived in the home that my mum grew up in, and although I had moved out 2 years previously to live with my fiancé, I still cherished the house that had been home to four generations of my family.
However, with dad out of work it was evident that we would not be able to keep the home and so myself and my fiancé moved back in to help pay the mortgage, this also served the sensible purpose of allowing us pay off some debt my fiancé had procured BC (Before Charley) and save up for a wedding and home of our own one day.
My story isn’t a unique one, and lots of people have gone through far, far worse, but for me, it was a brutal time.
My parents started a catering company as they refused to go on benefits and at the time the job market was a nightmare.
In the year running up to this I had lost 6 stone and moving back home to the house where I had originally learnt all my bad eating habits was tricky.
I had only been at my new school for a couple of months as a Science Teacher and was still finding that tough, even my mother in law to be had serious issues that we needed to help with, as the mortgage expired on her property and she needed to find a new house.
Although I love getting to be a daily part of my family’s lives by being in the same house as them it also made me feel like a child again and I felt ashamed that my life was going backwards when the people I went to Uni with were moving forwards, getting married, buying houses.
My daily thoughts were some along the line of – am I doing a good enough job at school, am I doing enough financially and practically to help my family, are we going to manage to ever pay off the debt, am I ever going to be skinny enough, am I being more of a burden to this household then benefit, what are we going to do if we lose this house, what are we going to do if my mother-in-law to be can’t sell her house, are my friends going to stop wanting to be friends with me, am I good enough.
In some sort of twisted coping mechanism, I decided that the best thing to do would be to make myself insanely busy, creating social occasions 2 or 3 times a week, working for my parents company whenever I could, and I also decided to run a 4 week trip to Ecuador for the older girls at school.
I also took on anything anyone asked me to do, and actively sought out as many challenges as I could.
One Saturday morning I had to bake 3 cakes before going to my first ever performance with my new choir at 12pm where I was also doing my first solo (see… insanely busy).
When I got up at 6am some of the ingredients were missing, which put me behind schedule and 10 minutes before I was due to leave the house I had my first ever panic attack on my bedroom floor whilst my fiancé desperately tried to figure out how to support me.
For the next month I woke up every morning with a pounding heart and this certain feeling that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the day. I wouldn’t ever be able to pinpoint what it was about the day that made me so certain that I wouldn’t cope, I just knew that I wouldn’t.
I had panic attack after panic attack, keeping them as secret as I could. My fiancé knew what was going on but I begged him not to tell my parents, worried that it would only burden them during an already incredibly difficult time.
Obviously, my parents knew something was up but it wasn’t until I almost had a panic attack under my desk after school has finished one day that I finally realised I needed to talk to them.
I just felt that if I worked hard enough I would be able to fix everything for everyone else. It was my job and responsibility to. I was the oldest child, it was my job to help my parents, it was my job to get my fiancé out of his debt, you name it, I felt responsible for it.
I SHOULD be able to fix everything if I just try hard enough. But the future looked so desolate and nothing I did seemed to make it any better.
Just before Christmas I admitted that I wasn’t coping and my family encouraged me to talk to them about how I was feeling and not to bottle everything up, I have since learnt that trying to hide how I feel is a massive trigger for my attacks.
In January I was prescribed Beta Blockers and started CBT therapy. I resisted going to the doctors for a while, thinking that they would tell me that I wasn’t anxious enough to get help. But it turned out that I registered as having the highest level of anxiety possible!
That was four years ago and since then my mental health has been up and down but overall I am better than I was.
It took me 6 months but I am off the Beta Blockers. I have only had 2 attacks in the past 6 months. Only 1 in the 6 months before that.
I work in an all-girls, selective school. This has a massive impact on who I am and what I believe in.
I made the decision to be upfront about my mental health issues because I could see young women around me struggling like I was and I wanted them to know that you can get better.
My openness has sometimes been to my detriment but thankfully I am fortunate enough to work within a school that recognise mental health issues and are incredibly supportive of me.
In August I finally married the love of my life, we are currently in the process of buying our first home and my parents are still in our family home!
I am now the Head of my Department, leading a team of 10 teachers and 4 technicians. All of my team know about my mental health struggles and are incredibly supportive.
The message I want to get across today is that having anxiety does not need to define or limit you.
Since being diagnosed I have been promoted twice, one of which was for a brand new role where I had to carve out a job description for myself.
I have been a Maid of Honour for one of my best friends who got married two weeks after my own wedding.
I have taken 35 girls on a 4 week trip around rural Ecuador.
I have gained professional qualifications in Middle Leadership. I have lost another stone. I have completed a 5k run and the Pretty Muddy run. I have run training courses for primary school teachers.
I don’t list these achievements to show how amazing I am, I’m not, I’m just a normal person, but if I can do these things then so can anyone else, regardless of your mental health.
All of these things made me anxious, all of them have made me doubt my decision to keep putting myself in challenging situations rather than ‘take it easy’ as some people had suggested.
But I am not that person who is going to let life pass her by, I want to stand up and make myself count.
I want to make the most of everyday.
Sometimes that means having a panic attack, sometimes it means giving myself nightmares about snakes (a symptom of my anxiety), sometimes it means making my life uncomfortable for a while. Fine. I’ll get through it.
My biggest fear is being a burden to my husband and my family, and I know that sometimes I am.
There have been times where my family have asked me to scale things back, and I know why they are asking me to do this, because they are worried about me and want what’s best for me.
So I try to remember that my actions have an impact on them. If things are getting out of hand then I know what to do – take some time out for me, go to the gym, watch some crappy sitcoms that will make me laugh until I cry.
My name is Charley, I am 28, I have anxiety, but I am happy and my life is pretty bloody wonderful.