Living With Anxiety
When I was fifteen, I began to experience severe anxiety, which spiralled into an anxiety disorder in my earlier twenties. I missed a huge chunk of my life because I felt too scared to go out and quickly developed avoidance techniques so that I didn’t have to go out and face the possibility of a panic attack. This lasted throughout my twenties with fluctuations in levels of anxiety and sometimes I felt able to do stuff, others, I felt barely able to get out of bed in the morning.
But in 2009, I started event planning. Small gigs and events for charity at first, then more large scale projects. This was my escape, I could hide behind an event and put others centre stage. I slowly regained control over a small area of my life and it became my safe haven. Throughout my late twenties and early thirties, I began to rebuild my life and found it easier to go out. I became an event planner as a full-time job and my whole existence revolved around making that work.
‘Throughout my late twenties and early thirties, I began to rebuild my life and found it easier to go out.’
In 2015, after a pretty seismic trauma, I relapsed into severe anxiety, struggling at times to get out of bed and out of my flat. In 2016, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, possibly caused by my long term anxiety. I think in all honesty, my nerves were fried by that point and my body couldn’t deal with the constant fear and dread that ran through my body on a daily basis.
It was when I was signed off, in a lot of pain and with my friends and family desperately worried about me, that I started to look at my anxiety as something that I had to deal with directly. I had to explore it and understand it in a way I hadn’t before. The startling thing about this is that you begin to understand it more, and whilst you can’t eliminate it completely, a thing I wanted to do for the majority of my life, you can reduce the symptoms by knowing what it is you’re dealing with.
‘I started to look at my anxiety as something that I had to deal with directly. I had to explore it and understand it in a way I hadn’t before.’
Looking at my own lived experience was what got me interested in looking at the experiences of others and how I can use what happened to me to help others. With this in mind, I saved the money to complete my Mental Health First Aid Instructor Training Course, which enables me to go out to organisations and groups and deliver training to raise awareness and support for people living with mental health conditions. The idea of me being able to deliver training to a room full of people is something I would never have thought possible, but it is and I’m grateful every day for that. I qualified as a Mental Health First Aid Training Instructor earlier this year and I was awarded a £2000 prize from the Ingenuity 19 programme to continue research into anxiety spaces, looking at the creation of hubs and spaces for people navigating public spaces whilst living with an anxiety condition.
The Free Period
Another project I’ve been working on is The Free Period. I am incredibly passionate about supporting women, and one of the things I wanted to concentrate on was menstrual health. I set up The Free Period in March 2018, organising collections of donations of period products to be taken to organisations across Nottinghamshire. We run regular collection sessions but we also collect at events happening around the county, raising awareness of period poverty and getting much-needed donations to where they are needed most. Alongside this, I volunteer for the Nottingham Women's Centre Library and the Nottingham branch of the Women's Equality Party.
‘I am incredibly passionate about supporting women, and one of the things I wanted to concentrate on was menstrual health.’
I know now that recovery is a journey and that although there may be relapses along the way, there is also hope for recovery.
Claire Henson is making a positive difference to people's lives. If you're interested in reading more about women making an impact read our other recent post on Kate Burgess!