How a doodle helps me chip away at the fear
Blog from Alex, one of our Dudes who wanted to share his own ongoing battles with anxiety and depression:
Before 2016 I'd never experienced any noticeable anxiety before, and definitely no panic attacks. I was a confident and energetic person, open to anything. The issues for me began in my second year of University, where I was experimenting with some heavy drugs, as many students do. It was October 16th 2016 and I had planned to go to a house party after I finished work at a bar, meaning I arrived pretty late, around 2.30am. I decided at the time that I had to 'catch up' to everyone else at the party, so I began to very quickly drink a bottle of wine, accompanied by more cocaine than I'd ever had before in such a short amount of time. I had my first panic attack.
At the time, I thought I was just feeling the effects of the drugs and alcohol, and slept it off. The next day, I went back to work, and I had another panic attack whilst working behind the bar, I had no idea what was happening or what to do so I just finished my shift and went home. Then it happened again. I called the emergency services and explained what was happening, and an ambulance arrived fairly quickly as I had mentioned that I was having heart palpitations which was a concern for them.
I went to the hospital feeling ok, but when I arrived and was left alone in the waiting room I had several more panic attacks, for what felt like hours. They ran some tests, said everything was fine, and gave me some medication to keep me calm.
From there, it was wave after wave of anxiety attacks and I decided it was time to go home to my family and get some real help with whatever this was. After many more attacks, some truly uncontrollable and lasting for hours, a visit to the hospital again and then the GP I was finally diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
The depression kicked in, followed by 8 months of trying to figure out what was going on, with lots of different medications, days spent in bed with no hope for the future.
Eventually, I regained some control of my mind and body through intense exercise, meditation, yoga, and researching and learning about my new brain, which is how it felt. I had a few years of slowly getting back to normal and managed to get pretty much completely back on track, I was back at University and doing well, as long as I kept up my routines.
Then summer of 2019 happened, when some serious family issues took place and sent me flying backwards. The anxiety became worse than ever. I could barely leave the house. Every time I left the house even just to walk down the street I would have a full blown panic attack. I couldn't go anywhere or do anything, really, and this whole time I was running a full-time business from home and trying to manage relationships and general life which of course added to the whole stress of the situation. Eventually, it got to a point where enough was enough.
The family issue that took place in the summer was that my mum had broke her ankle, and very nearly lost her foot. She had two dogs, one of them a Golden Doodle, called Doodle. I decided that I would take the dog off her hands, because she literally couldn't take him out for walks, and it was doing her a big favour. At the time I thought I was just helping her, but I was actually helping myself, massively. Having the responsibility of my new friend meant that I had to leave the house, every day, for walks. Day by day I was able to start walking him further and further and for longer and longer because I knew I had no other choice. It was so difficult.
Some of the hardest mental challenges I've ever faced were when I was just walking to the local park which is maybe a 5 minute walk away. But day by day, it got easier and easier, until I was then able to get back in the car, and drive around the streets for 3 minutes, then 4 minutes, then 5 minutes. Then I was able to take a new route or two, and every week I would set myself a new challenge.
I then did the same thing but with running. I would run for a mile around the block, and then 3 miles to a new park, and then 10 miles around 3 of the local parks, and I was able to progress in these ways. I would also always have the dog with me, apart from for the 10 mile runs I would drop him off after 4 or 5 miles once he'd had enough.
During this time I also went through counselling, which was a huge help. So all in all, I spent about 6 months sat at home with crippling anxiety unable to leave the house without having panic attacks, and then COVID hit, and I've been mostly stuck at home for another 12 months like everyone else. However, COVID has allowed me the time and space to really work on myself, and I've still been able to go out for walks and runs and drives most days, following the rules of course.
The anxiety is still very much a source of limitations in my life, driving anything past 3-4 miles is still a challenge at times, if I'm having a stressful day then I may struggle getting to sleep, if I have some bad news of any kind that causes worry then the dog walk that day may be difficult, but the key I've found is to never avoid anything. Always say yes, and deal with the consequences afterwards. By never avoiding, it means that you slowly chip away at the fear of something, and while it's so hard sometimes to do what it is you fear, it's really important and definitely worth it in the end to just do it anyway.