A letter to teachers, from the student with an anxiety disorder

35401F6A-CE2F-4746-832D-9718B2BE48FF.pngDear teachers,

There are things I wish you knew, like the fact that I am ill with a mental illness and that makes me suffer no less than someone with a physical disability.  When I leave your lessons, it’s not because I don’t want to be in there. If there’s one thing I want more than anything, it is to be able to sit and learn, to be able to enjoy the class with friends. As I sit looking at words on a page, my eyes go heavy and the room swallows me up. The sounds in the room magnify and everything begins to spin. With a sharp intake of breath, I try to build up the courage to put my hand up so I can ask to leave. When you stare disapprovingly at me, it makes my heart race even more and I sit alone, wondering what I did to deserve this or what I’m doing wrong.  

The thing is, if I was another student complaining that I was dizzy and ill, nobody would hesitate to let them leave. When I mention I have panic attacks, an instant stigma clouds around you. “What are you nervous about?”, “why are you scared?”, “what do you think’s going to happen?”. The answer is, nothing triggers it. They happen randomly and that’s why I can’t help it.  

No teacher ever sees the hours I pour in late at night, working on essays and work I have missed. I am exhausted from panic attacks that are both mentally and physically draining.  If I don’t hand in an assignment, it’s because I fell asleep trying to do it or I lost concentration because of racing thoughts.  Then I go to sleep, an interrupted night of worry about the lessons that will follow. I replay your reactions and the words you said to me. I think about what I could have done differently and how I feel a constant burden to your class. Then I wake up and it all starts again. 

The thing is, students with anxiety don’t care any less because of their condition. The problem is that we care too much. 

Yours,

The student with an anxiety disorder 

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Recovering from Agoraphobia and Panic Disorder alone: What life is like without CAMHS funding

9B34FEB1-41DB-4F12-A917-19E952ACE848When I was thirteen, I was trapped inside a school toilet, the cubicle locked as I sat there in fear for what was outside the doors. I had just told the school that a boy in my class was threatening to smash my head in at lunch, for which they did nothing but say he would be put in isolation from tomorrow. When I returned after lunch to my form room, my whole class looked at me in dismay. It was my fault. I had taken away the class clown. Just as the main culprit begun to speak, I was informed of an assembly I had to go to. I had never been more relieved in my life and I ran away as fast as I could. That was the start of two years of turmoil that would lead to my current state of mental illness that disrupts every day of my life. 

The months following that incident took a dark turn; the bullying turned sexual but I was told that’s what every teenage boy did to a teenage girl they ‘fancied’.  I was told I was going to be raped in my sleep among many other revolting things that I cannot even bring myself to write. The reality of my difficult time at school is this; once the main boy was removed for trashing the school library, my life didn’t improve one bit. Truthfully, as a sixteen year old girl, i cannot look at a boy romantically without thinking of him. I have come close to dating a couple of boys but have ran away because of painful memories. I was left alone to pick up the pieces, not even revealing the truth to my closest friend. I felt so ashamed. 

About five months after the bullying ended, I had my first panic attack. These panic attacks every now and again developed into agoraphobia and panic disorder, conditions that meant I could barley leave the house. It started off that I couldn’t do PE – several incidents took place on the field during form PE lessons, so I developed a fear of open spaces. To this day, it is still difficult to walk my dog in a field. Then it became an issue of sitting in lessons – I would barley manage fifteen minutes before my teacher would get cross at me for not paying attention and I would sit in the library in tears. I had been to the doctor’s twice at this point, just to be given a leaflet on some breathing exercises that didn’t work at all. 

As my GCSE exams loomed, I went to my GP and begged for medication. I was having four – six panic attacks a day, I was exhausted and depressed. She told me I would need to get CAMHS approval and as this was basically non-existent, I would have to wait until I was eighteen. I bawled my eyes out in the waiting room, where elderly people watched me from under their gossip magazines.  The application to CAMHS was put in and I received a letter a few months later. I was not “complex enough” to receive treatment. I knew I was about to fail my GCSEs – any sixteen year old taking the new, no coursework exams felt stressed, but for someone who had panic attacks in a room with more than four people, it would be a month of hell. I begged my school to allow me a separate room – I couldn’t have this as I wasn’t under CAMHS. I cried after every exam I did – I was refused special circumstances and I knew the future looked dim.

Miraculously, I got the number equivalents of two A*s, two As and five Bs after suffering panic attacks and teaching the whole curriculum to myself.  It wasn’t what I was predicted but it was enough to get me into college. School and college have been like night and day; i am having counselling for my traumatic school days and I am leaving the house every day.

Nothing will ever compare to the dark days of suffering, where the NHS was so stripped of funding, they couldn’t even help those most in need. You only get help from CAMHS if you’ve attempted to take your life, and even then are you bumped up the waiting list a bit. 50% of mental health conditions are picked up by the age of 14 – it would save the economy masses if CAMHS were invested in, yet we receive eleven times less than adults do. If we build the children’s system up more, then adults will suffer less as they will receive appropriate care in early onset. Every day, young people are dying whilst the tories sit there and boast about how well their government is doing. Austerity is killing the youth of Britain – that isn’t a metaphor or an exaggeration, it’s the plain truth. 

In 1951, Labour health secretary Bevan, the founder of the NHS, resigned over the introduction of prescription charges. I wonder what he’d think today…

Deal or No Deal: Why a second referendum is imperative for the youth

There are a lot of arguments around Brexit referendums presently;  should there be a referendum for the final agreement? Should there just be another EU referendum altogether? In the midst of the Labour conference, where Jeremy Corbyn has said he will support members in pursuing a second vote, I have been thinking about the effect this will have on the youth, a demographic that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union.

In June 2016, I was only fourteen years old. I had a large interest in politics, unlike others my age and, despite my youth, I had done my research and concluded that I was 100% Team Remain.  It was difficult to sit and watch adults make a decision that would affect the rest of my life – I am sure that I can speak on behalf of many remainers who felt embarrassed that their older relatives voted strongly to leave.  I agree that fourteen is too young to be allowed to vote, however, now that I am sixteen, I am desperate to let my voice be heard in the Brexit shambles.  This is not just a general election that will come around in another five years, this is something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. My children will have to grow up in a country alienated from the EU and, hypothetically, I will tell them, sitting in the 10 hour queue to go on our French holiday, that there was once a time where Europe and Britain worked together. Presently, there are 1.5 million 16-17 year olds in the U.K – if you add this to the number of 18-19 year olds that weren’t old enough to vote in 2016, you can imagine that the results of Brexit will be staggeringly different if a second referendum was held with a lowered voting age.  To me, it seems ridiculous that the Scottish government allowed 16-17 year olds a vote in IndyRef 2014, yet our age-group were excluded from the Brexit vote.

Let’s look at some of the issues that will arise from Brexit for the youth, starting with university.  Most British universities work in conjunction with European universities in study abroad and work placement schemes – under EU guidelines, if you are a EU citizen, you can study for free at another European university for a study abroad year or work placement. I’m sure this will go out the window post March 2019, leaving the few privileged few the opportunity to get those life changing experiences. I’m seriously beginning to wonder if the government even consider those with a household income under £30,000 and how they are going to manage without all of the support that has been taken away.

Inevitably, once we leave the EU, the value of the pound is going to fall once again, like it did post-referendum.  This consequently means rising prices.  I am sure I can speak for many young people in saying that housing is such a huge issue for so many of us. Unlike those born in the 50s, it is almost impossible to get a mortgage at a young age and many are left plummeted into the dangerous renting market, where landlords can use and abuse as they please.  The fact that housing prices will be on the rise again due to Brexit, leaves me thinking of the possibilities of my future – am I ever going to be able to afford my own house?

Human rights – this is a big one that the Tories are sweeping under the carpet. They spoke briefly about amending the human rights act in their manifesto in 2017, however these rights are protected by EU law.  With a no deal Brexit, it puts our civil liberties at risk; the chequers agreement stated that the government will attempt to preserve these rights where possible, however, the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights will be removed from U.K law. Going back to my hypothetical children… do I really want to raise children in a country that has no human rights to abide by?  This whole proposal seems out of this world – are we living in the Victorian age again?

Anyone that has been to the hospital recently will see that our NHS is being propped up by thousands of amazing EU citizens that work in our healthcare system for all of us. If no deal is made for these citizens, what will happen to the already strained NHS? We can’t magic nurses and doctors out of nowhere. Two years ago, the government secretly removed the NHS bursary, meaning all medical staff now have to pay a minimum of £27,000 for their university fees, all whilst wondering why nobody wants to train to be in the medical profession.  It seems ridiculous that after March, we may be having the army handing out medicine in the street. From someone that relies on a repeat prescription to live properly, the idea terrifies me.

I know that a second referendum is far-fetched and unlikely, but I am desperate for politicians to reach out to audiences like us and re-evaluate the situation the youth of Britain are in.  A People’s Vote would be beneficial to all of us to ensure a deal if reached for when we leave the EU but only if it allows us 16-17 year olds to vote on how their future will be paved out. ctp-video-Brexit-news-Brexit-Brexit-Chequers-Chequers-Theresa-May-Cabinet-Theresa-May-EU-UK-soft-brexit-1410448