I think that my anxiety started when I was at school. There was no particular trigger that I can recall and I’m not sure when my childhood shyness and nervousness turned into full-blown anxiety, so it was probably quite gradual. In reality, I thought my feelings were normal. I truly believed that everyone had the same thoughts that I did. I hid my anxiety relatively well in public so I thought others just did the same.
Discovering Something Wasn’t Right
At 17, I began to realize that my thought processes and feelings were not common to most people. One day, my friend and I were mulling over our day out shopping – the purchases we’d made, the lunch we’d eaten etc. It was a simple, run-of-the-mill debrief. During our conversation, I mentioned that I was embarrassed about something I’d said to another girl and asked her what she thought.
My friend couldn’t understand why I could be embarrassed and she assured me that our other friend won’t have given it a second thought. She asked if I always worried about things like that so I opened up to her. For the first time, I realized it wasn’t normal to feel the way I did, at least not as often or as strongly as I did.
Having my eyes opened meant I then struggled with thinking I wasn’t normal. I guess anxiety does that to you! It wasn’t something I thought I should bother a doctor with; I didn’t realize that your mind could be ill too, just like your body can. Had it been a decade or so later I would have searched online for answers.
I would have discovered that what I was suffering from was called anxiety. Perhaps I would have even been able to narrow it down to social anxiety disorder. Instead, I battled every day in my head with ways to fix my problem. Knowing it was a problem almost made it harder than when I thought I was the same as everybody else.
There were two major turning points in my journey to dealing with my problem. The first was during an A-Level class when, unexpectedly, my teacher asked me to stand up and talk about my homework. This led to my first panic attack, which in itself was horrific and devastatingly embarrassing for me, but ultimately led to me going to a doctor. I began counseling and things got better for a while.
After completing my exams, I had a lot of free time and my anxiety seemed to change paths. Not having anything to keep me busy, I began worrying more and more and I barely slept. As results day approached, I was surviving off 4 hours’ sleep a night. My mind was one big mess. I decided to go back to the doctor and this time was given medication.
The Second Turning Point
I took that medication for years with very few changes and breaks. I tried to come off it a few times but always ended up feeling worse and began taking it again. I just wanted to get on with my life and didn’t mind popping pills. I let go of all of the other supportive therapies and purely relied on my tablets to get me through. By the time I’d reached 30, a whole 13 years after I first learned I had a problem, I decided I’d had enough.
My life was stable and consistent and I figured that it would be a good time to wean myself off meds forever. I was ready to deal with my anxiety properly for the first time in my life. I followed my doctor’s advice carefully and did everything I could to help myself. To my surprise, I dealt with it much better than I had in my previous attempts to come off medication. However, the anxiety and insomnia started creeping back in and I knew I needed to address it before it took hold again.
With the Internet now available to help me, I found an alternative to the medication I’d previously been taking: CBD in its oil form. It is thought that serotonin, a chemical in the human body, plays a huge role in mental health and wellbeing. Not having enough serotonin can cause depression and anxiety. This is why taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) as a medicine for so long had worked for me.
Through my research, I discovered that CBD has a similar effect that alters serotonin signals in your body. I was apprehensive about trying it but was desperate not to go back to being medicated.
For around a month, I played around with different doses of CBD and in the end, found one that suited me. Surprisingly, it was a middle-ground dosage that I went for as the higher doses and concentrations didn’t seem to work as well. Now, I take around 20-30mg of CBD per day in the form of an oil that I drop under my tongue and leave for a while before swallowing. I began taking it in the evening at first, as I thought it might help me sleep better.
However, I found that the time I took it didn’t make any difference to its effects. In terms of battling my insomnia (and for me, the insomnia was a direct result of not being able to switch off anxious feelings), CBD doesn’t help. By that, I mean that it doesn’t cause me to fall asleep or make me drowsy. Instead, it reduces the intrusive thoughts I have that stop me from falling asleep. It wasn’t until I looked at my progress after a few months of this routine, that I could really see how much I’d benefit.
Ever since I decided to come off the prescription medicine, I have worn a fitness tracker. For me, it served as a reminder to look after myself and get appropriate exercise and sleep. After a few months using CBD, I noticed something. I could see a clear downward slide in my resting heart rate. I had worn this tracker for a few months before starting the CBD and my resting heart rate had stayed pretty static during that period. It wasn’t excessively high but it was definitely higher than it is now.
In addition to this, I was sleeping better. I felt it myself, but my tracker also recorded it. Before beginning taking the oil I averaged 5 hours of broken sleep a night. In the months since my fitness tracker has shown less awake time during the night and I am getting more than 6 and a half hours of sleep nearly every night.
I have been taking the CBD morning and night and I will continue to do so for as long as it suits me and I feel the need to. What I love about this product is that I can ‘top up’ if necessary, something I was unable to do when on prescription medication. If I feel particularly anxious or know I have an event coming up that will make me anxious, I take an extra dose. I’m happy in the knowledge that I am taking a product that is plant-based and is something I can monitor and adjust myself. I feel more in control and that, by itself, helps keep my anxiety at arm’s length.