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What were the steps leading up to your diagnosis?

At the age of 29 I found myself in hospital, being diagnosed with a few incurable autoimmune conditions — Crohn’s disease being the most aggressive. Being left untreated for so long and having my body weakened, I received some intensive treatment that would help me in the long run, but also have me on a journey of recovery for just over a year.

It’s a lot to get used to — a big change in lifestyle, medications and a lot to take in — but my instinct was to fight.

At first it was all about going through the motions; I thought it was a good idea to treat these new medications as a regular part of my day, like brushing your teeth. It worked well enough until the steroids started to kick in, and that brought on the side effects.

My hands would shake uncontrollably, making it hard to grip things, my vision would blur and I was very unsteady on my feet. Though what really got into my head was the weight gain.

The meds also cause this fluid to build up in your joints, belly, back and face. I remember looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person looking back at me — it came with a sense of loss, a loss of identity, you feel like you a trapped inside a body that is alien to you.

You know that people notice because it’s an obvious and rapid change, and that makes you feel on edge — under scrutiny, under criticism. I withdrew into myself and didn’t realize it.

My memories from that time are dark and hazy — I don’t remember an awful lot at all, just flashes of particularly trying moments and blurs of hospital treatments. I would say I became robotic in my day-to-day life whilst in recovery.

It was 11 months later that I found myself being able to come off of the steroids, as my main form of medication had started to kick in to my system. I think it was about a month after that when everything hit me all at once.

I felt like I had been in a deep sleep and suddenly I was jolting upright, scanning my surroundings. It was then that I realized I didn’t speak, I couldn’t carry a conversation, nor did I particularly want to.

I had no interest in anything and wanted to be left alone. I purposely avoided any sort of socializing, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to engage with people or think of anything to say. I could never think clearly; it would take me an agonizingly long time to think of anything to say, but even when I did think of something I would overanalyze how it would be received and just end up nodding or saying nothing at all in response.

Who has been there for you? How?

Penny helped me a lot — she had a way of getting me to look into myself and understand that I was actually quite self-aware. She never told me how to change, what to change or how I should be and how I should think. Penny showed me how to tune into my head well enough that I could make those decisions myself.

I also have a friend, Millie, who got me through some very challenging times, just by being patient, understanding and never pushed to talk about things until I was ready. She was a great support and I will forever be thankful to people like her and Penny.

My family and my partner have of course been a constant support — I may have chosen to seek help outside of that, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that my family, partner and friends weren’t a solid support system if I needed them.

Places like NewLifeOutlook, forums, papers and social media pages are also brilliant places to gain knowledge on anxiety as well as being a place where you feel understood and not alone. And you are not alone.

What lifestyle changes have you needed to make?

I would wake up in the night, gasping for breath whilst my heart felt like it was slamming against my chest — I was scared and exhausted and finally dragged myself to a doctor. I had only meant to go there to talk about my trouble sleeping, but when he concentrated on the reasons why I couldn’t sleep, it all came flooding out and it was the first time I had cried in what felt like a year.

He offered me medication for the anxiety and depression, but seeing as I take so much medication as it is I didn’t want to add to that list, so I was referred to a local counseling agency. Even though I was referred, I had to make that phone call myself and that was terrifying to me.

There were several attempts of me ringing and hanging up before the agency answered. When I eventually let the call answer, I stuttered my way through answering their questions and I was offered an appointment fairly quickly.


Anna Jackson

I remember my legs shaking as I sat in the waiting room before being called in to the counselor’s office. They gave me a little form that I would need to fill in before every session — questions about how you felt in or about certain situations on a scale.

I remember how sad I felt looking down at the low scores. I was angry with myself for letting my mind get to that place.

My counselor was a woman named Penny and I would go on to learn that my decision to seek help and these sessions would be one of the best things I ever did.

Over the course of the sessions I learned to understand myself better, I learned that it was okay to not be okay and that I could change that. I gave myself targets, little steps at a time, and didn’t push myself beyond my limits — it became like training for an ultimate goal.

Please don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t feel what you feel. You are the expert of your own heart.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

One of things I started to do was write. I found that when I was overwhelmed it helped me to zone out and focus on something that excited me again. And its something I really enjoy with passion, which is a wonderful thing to feel again.

I open myself up on social media for others with autoimmune conditions/anxiety/depression to feel free to talk to me about what they are going through. I share advice where I can and I try to show my support as much as possible.

I still have days where I feel the struggle, but I am proud that I have a method within me to identify the feelings, find the source, seek the positive and fight on.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

One of things I started to do was write. I found that when I was overwhelmed it helped me to zone out and focus on something that excited me again. And its something I really enjoy with passion, which is a wonderful thing to feel again.

I open myself up on social media for others with autoimmune conditions/anxiety/depression to feel free to talk to me about what they are going through. I share advice where I can and I try to show my support as much as possible.

I still have days where I feel the struggle, but I am proud that I have a method within me to identify the feelings, find the source, seek the positive and fight on.

What's your advice to someone else living with Anxiety?

Please don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t feel what you feel. You are the expert of your own heart.

It’s very common for us to think, “Well, there are people much worse off than me.” While that might be true, it is not a reason to downplay or ignore your feelings.

Saying that you can’t feel sad because someone else is sadder is like saying you can’t be happy because someone else is happier.

Reach out — there is someone who will listen. Your feelings are valid and you have a right to seek help, you have a right to feel better and you have a right to care about yourself.

Counseling isn’t for everyone and while it helped me, I know that there are many other therapies and options available to suit everyone.

Not everyone will understand you — and that’s okay as long as you learn to understand yourself, because that’s what matters the most.

It is a passion of mine to raise awareness, educate and help stop the stigma attached to mental health.

Is there anything else we should know?

I'm from Cornwall, UK and I have a website called Little Big Warrior where I have an ongoing fiction series, as well as stories highlighting anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. It is a passion of mine to raise awareness, educate and help stop the stigma attached to mental health issues as well as autoimmune diseases.

About Anna Jackson

My Story: Anna Jackson

Anna Jackson is an IT Technician and writer from Cornwall, UK. She runs a website called Little Big Warrior where she writes fictional short stories and pieces highlighting anxiety, depression and mental health.

In her spare time Anna likes to write music, flash fiction for magazines and raise awareness for such causes as autoimmune diseases, anti-bullying and mental health.

Little Big Warrior

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