Hello! My name is Hayley Witmore, I am a recent alumni of the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, in Southbank Melbourne. At this school I studied the Double bass, with the hopes of in my future becoming a highly regarded professional musician. My journey with anxiety began in September of 2013. I was mid-way through my 15th birthday party, surrounded by all of my friends. As I began to cut my birthday cake I felt a certain heaviness consume my body. I couldn’t tell if I had suddenly become ill, or if I was feeling extremely nervous. I began to panic as these feelings began to intensify, I felt a cold sweat on my skin, and adrenaline pumping its way through my body. I worriedly thought, ‘How embarrassing would it be for the birthday girl to leave her own party?’ ‘I can’t leave… what would everyone think of me if I got up and said I was ill??’ The feelings intensified and I found myself running out of the restaurant in panic. My best friend at the time followed me outside, and when I had finally stopped running, she told me “Stop being ridiculous Hayley! Come back to the restaurant, what is wrong with you??” This just made me feel worse.
A month later, these scenarios had become a daily occurrence. I suddenly could not participate in the audience of school assembly’s, as I felt claustrophobic and panicked at the thought of running out and people wondering what was wrong with me. In my weekly performances at school I struggled to focus on the music I was performing as I was mentally battling the anxiety that threatened to overcome me.
It was after experiencing one day with 20 consecutive “panic attacks” (although I did not know this at the time) that I decided I could not cope any longer. I had my parents drive me to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. We waited for what seemed like hours to talk to a psychologist who diagnosed me with an Anxiety disorder. He explained that I had encountered many panic attacks where my body had to act in favour of my survival, initiating the “fight or flight” response. After talking to him I felt more aware and ready to initiate the recovery process.
Following the end of the Semester, I devised a plan with my school councillor. I would write a list of the situations in which I had experienced panic attacks, or was afraid to experience panic attacks, and over the course of the holidays I would take measures to complete each, proving to myself with “good evidence” that I could overcome each situation without having a bad response to it. I decided to take the “Just say yes” approach that Youtuber Zoella Sugg addressed within a video detailing her journey with anxiety, otherwise I would miss out on many crucial opportunities because I was afraid of experiencing anxiety.
In the meantime my councillor also introduced me to Smiling Mind. He told me that this free program could act as a “safety back up” during the situations I felt anxious but was powerless to escape. I could just plug earphones into my phone and look like I was listening to music, whilst I focused on the program to help me regain control over my anxiety. Before performances it allowed me to focus clearly on my music rather than the performance environment I was in, and this greatly improved my progress upon my Double bass, and within situations at school I had previously had to miss.
The first situation I needed to tackle during my holidays was to catch a bus from the nearest station to the city without having a panic attack. My parents supported me by providing a “safety network” to help me positively overcome the situation. With the Smiling Mind app loaded on my phone I boarded the bus and my parents drove behind the bus to make me feel more comfortable if I got the urge to get off. After I had reached the destination without panicking I felt extremely accomplished. As the holidays went on I continued to do this with other anxiety triggering situations. Sometimes it took more than one attempt to get through each scenario positively, but each time I did my confidence grew and I experienced much less anxiety every day. By the end of the holidays I felt I had grown as a person and had managed to overcome my anxiety.
That said, I know throughout my life I will experience anxiety again, as I have since 2013 until now. Just this time I am better prepared to cope with it. I am a true believer that “things happen for a reason”. If you are struggling with Anxiety or any Mental illness, remember; just like on the darkest and coldest days of Winter it is hard to imagine it being sunny and bright, however, you can rest assured knowing summer will come eventually. Any hardships you are facing right now will equip you with the strength and confidence to live life to the fullest extent in pursuit of mindfulness.