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In my thirties, I was a stressed out, professional worrier with a great job in sales and retail product training. I had no idea that my worries, fears and churning thoughts, feelings and emotions were an illness – my doctor told me so.

I accepted my new label (aka generalised anxiety disorder diagnosis) because, after all, who was I to disagree or argue with a doctor? With diagnosis and prescription in hand I went home to dwell on my brand new, medically authorised worry and it was a biggie.

Just prior to all this, I’d been triathlon training and in the gym/pool 2 – 3 hours a day. In my spare time I’d qualified as a Personal Trainer and Aerobics Instructor and could tell you the calorie and fat content of virtually any food stuff you cared to mention. I had a resting heart rate and fat/muscle ratio to die for. You could say I was fit.

I’d been involved in competitive sporting activity since the age of 8 and knew that food consciousness and exercise were important if you wanted to live long and prosper so you can imagine, my newly discovered illness was something of a shock!

There was no explanation as to exactly what this illness was, where it had come from or why. Words like, adrenalin, fight, flight and serotonin were confetti’d about. I was told to breathe deeply, be calm and relax, to focus on positive things and not to drink coffee. Recovery was never mentioned. Clearly, I was doomed.

I took my pills like a ‘good’ patient because that’s what I’d been taught to do as a child and what I was expected to do by authority. I fretted and worried about my new illness and would you believe it, within a matter of a few short weeks my illness worsened. Existing symptoms intensified and new ones came along to join the party. The palpitations I’d previously put down to fear were now pre-heart attack warnings; death must be a literal heartbeat away…

People with anxiety disorders fear death but what they don’t realise is that the thing they actually fear the most is FEAR IN ITSELF.

 When you fear ‘fear’ what you actually fear are the PHYSICAL SIDE EFFECTS that fear produces i.e. the palpitations, the sweating, the dizziness, the mounting inner panic, the need to run and hide, the need to urinate or worse on the spot. To the anxiety sufferer these are signs of imminent death and it’s frightening to think you’re about to die – I know from experience.

The more you fixate on the impending physical symptoms and what you think they mean,  the more frightened you get and the more the energy spirals out of control. Add a medical endorsement to the mix and no hope of a solution and life as you know it, is over.

With death clearly around the corner I decided to buy a horse because I wanted to fulfil my life long dream before dying. I didn’t realise it at the time but this decision, together with a new found interest in ex-race horse behaviour, would not only open my eyes to the realities of most mental health issues, it would also provide solutions.

If you want to buy into medical diagnoses and create long term, mental health difficulties that grow worse over time, you will.  If you want to work through fear and free yourself of the physical and mental side effects that fear creates, you can.

Recognise the realities of mental ‘health’ issues, conquer internalised stress and fear and you can be symptom free on a permanent basis.

Helen Wingstedt