“Don’t let the fear of what could happen make nothing happen”
There are a few reasons as to why I wanted to do this update. Firstly, because it’s been a while since I’ve talked about it in depth and my last proper chat about it was in 2012, and as you can imagine, things have moved on since then. Secondly, my anxiety is talked about sometimes in a more traditional media sense and it’s not always factually accurate and quite outdated so I thought it best to come straight from the horse’s mouth (is that the saying?).
Back in 2011 I wrote a post here on my blog all about my anxiety and how it affected my life, in the hope that someone else could find reassurance in my words and that in turn, I could take some comfort in what others had to say too. After such an overwhelming response, I decided a year later to bite the bullet and discuss it on my youtube channel, which at the time had around 700,000 subscribers. I hadn’t seen anyone else talking about their experiences with anxiety openly and although it scared me to do it I wanted to help others and to share my experience. At the time, my anxiety had appeared to have been the same since the age of around 14. I knew it like clockwork. I knew which things to avoid, I knew which situations would set me off and more than anything, I was aware of the things I was missing out on because of it. Missing out on things had become so normal throughout my late teens and early twenties, that I didn’t seem to care anymore. I think this was one of the many reasons I didn’t seek help to begin with. I thought I had it under control by avoiding absolutely everything that would trigger the attacks and anxiety.
As my channel grew in size and new and very exciting things started happening, I became very aware of the fact I was going to be missing out on potentially life-changing opportunities if I carried on living my life in the same way and it bothered me. A LOT. I was meeting a lot of new people who all appeared to have their shizz together and I became so aware of the behaviours I’d installed so deeply into my subconscious mind that I didn’t really know where to start. Why was I settling for this way of living my life and letting anxiety become my main point of call? I started work on my anxiety in 2013. Having lived a very normal life in the countryside, Suddenly I was required to go to meetings in London, meet and work with new people (some of which were celebrities), film videos in front of camera crew (which was a million miles more nerve-wracking than you think having only ever filmed in your bedroom on your own) and suddenly a lot more people were stopping me in the street to say hello and have a photo. Life turned 180 degrees. Everything moved SO QUICKLY. Some weeks I’d feel on top of the world, and other weeks I would be rocking back and fourth in tears on a train on my own on my way to London to film something. Although I never really talked in depth about my anxiety and the rise of my channel at the time, it was something that was extremely challenging to balance. Knowing I could stay at home and not run the risk of a panic attack, or pushing myself because I WANTED TO DO IT. The amount of times I’ve stood outside my own launch events crying and struggling to breathe and not being able to step back inside (let alone other peoples). The torture I’d put myself through trying to sit through my brothers film at his premier, something I wanted so desperately to sit and enjoy with every bone in my body and my mind just wouldn’t let me. The book signings and meet and greets that required all my mental strength to get through without ruining the experience for anyone by me having to run off. Even something as simple as shopping in my local supermarket became something I was nervous to do alone in case someone stopped me for a photo. Suddenly the little things I never had to worry about, were big things and with my channel still growing, I knew these would need to be tackled head on.
Although I never made it aware how bad the bad moments were, around the end of 2014, they were particularly awful and I was done being “Zoella with anxiety”. I started having weekly therapy sessions without fail and decided to learn to manage my anxiety behaviours once and for all. I knew the basics of anxiety, I knew what happened physically, I knew that my mind believed it was in danger but I didn’t know how it had all been set up. I truly believed anxiety was happening TO me like an outside force entering my mind. I was angry at it and I blamed it. The truth is that anxiety is within you. YOU are the one bringing it on even though you might not be fully aware of why. This for me, seemed like common sense but it just hadn’t clicked in this way before. With the help of my therapist, we worked out where the thoughts had been set up. I worked hard week by week to make changes in my behaviours and actions in order to undo all the work I’d done over 10 years to cement my anxiety. I learnt about it in a whole new way and I wanted more than anything for it to work. For me to feel the benefits of not having my anxiety rule 85% of my brain on a daily basis. It’s extremely tiring, having thoughts controlling every aspect of your life. Where you go, what you do, what you eat, who you hang out with and how you get places. It absolutely consumes you in every way possible. Over the past two years, I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve had weeks of being on an anxiety free high, for it to all come crashing down and feel as though I’d made no progress. I knew that therapy was not the quick route, but I was also aware that it was extremely thorough. Pulling off the head of a weed, won’t stop it from re-growing eventually. It also doesn’t mean it won’t come back bigger and more damaging than before. I wanted to tackle the root, and with that, I also acknowledged this was going to be a bit more of a lengthy process. A decade of anxiety is never going to be resolved in the click of a finger. It’s something you have to work bloody hard at. You have to push yourself, you have to know when something is too much and you have to give yourself a massive pat on the back when it’s going right, even when that’s baby steps.
Over the past six months, I’ve seen the most improvement in my anxiety. I always used to throw every unsteady emotion into an anxious state and now I’m able to distinguish the difference. I actually know what being nervous feels like now and I embrace it. I’m able to recognise where nerves don’t need to escalate into anxiety. Where feeling uncomfortable in a situation is just that…it doesn’t have to end in a panic attack. I’m very good at imagining every possible worst outcome of every single situation I live and breathe. After exhausting all the worst outcomes, I soon realise that nothing is ever as bad as I imagine it to be and those fears and scenarios don’t seem to inject the same uneasy feelings as they once did. It’s quite difficult to see changes in your behaviour when it’s happening over a pro-longed amount of time but when I think back to how I was two years ago, I’ve come a hell of a long way. Recently in Edinburgh, very spontaneously we went to see a comedy show in the downstairs of a pub. It’s a situation a few years ago I would have considered “an absolute NO GO” for many reasons. I had my reservations, of course, and using techniques I’ve picked up over the years to manage my mind I sat and watched the show. Half way through, I wasn’t thinking about anxiety anymore and I was laughing and having a good time. We’d already had a really long and jam packed day and two years ago, it would not have had the same outcome. I walked out of the pub and Poppy linked arms with me and simply said “oh my god, can we just talk about how incredible it is that you just did that?”, I smiled SO HARD whilst holding back tears and in that moment I was the happiest person in the whole of Edinburgh. Even typing that has made me well up, just because it was one of those moments where I COULD see how far I’d come, and I felt so proud of myself. I can go days now, where anxiety doesn’t even cross my mind and I had completely forgotten what living like this felt like. My therapist recently asked me what percentage of my daily thoughts are consumed with anxiety. Even a year ago, I would have said at least 50-65% and now it’s more like 15-20%. Close friends and family have also noticed the change in me recently and whenever they stop and tell me how proud they are, it’s worth more than any award or achievement I’ve received in the past 5 years all rolled into one. I’m working my butt off to get to a point in my life where anxiety is not the ruler. I know it may never fully go away, but I’d like it to take a seat and put it’s feet up and I’m happy and confident that at some point in the near future, it will do just that. I know I’ll have moments where it flares up if I’m stressed, tired, ill or there are bigger life changes to adjust to, but weirdly that doesn’t scare me in the same way as it used to.
I honestly do think everyone should see a therapist at some point in their life, as everyone has their demons (yes even that person who you think has their life so in order it makes you sick…even THEY have something that they struggle with). We look after our skin, our hair, we go to the gym, the dentist, we focus on eating the right foods but how often do we spend time looking after the one thing that requires us to fully function in the way we do? I’ve learnt so much about my mind and the way it works in the last two years and it’s truly fascinating and makes such a huge difference.
Nobody should settle with anxiety being a big part of their identity, it isn’t. Anxiety is not your life and it’s not who you are, it’s just a small part of you that doesn’t have to be so loud. Everyone has anxiety in varying levels and some of us are better at it than others. If you have anxiety or any other form of mental health issue, you CAN change how much it affects you. Don’t just settle, take steps to improving your life. It may take time, hard work and dedication but it’s worth it in the end. Also remember that you aren’t alone. You are not the only one on this planet feeling the way you do and although at times it can seem as though nobody understands, yourself included, there will be somebody or something that can help. Ultimately, though, only YOU can make the biggest difference by making that first, and often very terrifying first step. I can’t even express to you in words how happy I am that I decided to make that change.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” – Socrates