Its such a throw away word.
“I feel a bit anxious!” “I have anxiety about it.” “I had a little panic attack.”
Its a word we hear and use in casual conversation, to express our nerves or qualify our social awkwardness. Everybody feels anxious, you’ve just got to push through it and you’ll be alright. Its such a shitty word, it lends itself to enable people to talk about anxiety disorders as if they are not really illnesses. As if they are a self imposed state of mind for people who just need to relax a little.
I think I’ve lived with anxiety for the majority of my life. Its generally comes disguised as a very specific and tailored fear. Which then manifests itself deeper and further into my everyday life. Like when I was 8 years old and started refusing to go school, because I became terrified and transfixed on ‘The Bad Book’ being read out in school assembly. It is in truth quite a horrendous notion, that each Friday the list of ‘Bad Children’ was read out to the entire school and if your name was called, you had to stand up and be shamed. I hope nothing like that happens in Primary Schools these days. I spent my early twenties in a constant state of extreme anxiety. I don’t mean that I was stressed or shy or a bit nervous. I mean that every day for five years, I had or fought off panic attacks. I mean that everything I did or didn’t do was governed by the prison of my own mind. I built myself a tiny, little world with limits. I was quite safe there.
If you didn’t know me well, you probably wouldn’t have noticed. I was able to go to work, I looked ‘normal’, I lived with my boyfriend, I had family and friends. I’m pretty convinced the majority of people I knew and worked with had no clue I was mentally unwell. Yes maybe I was bit stand offish, unsocial-able even but ‘normal’ enough not raise any red flags.
When I was nineteen I had a catastrophic mental breakdown. Somewhere between leaving school and starting University, the bottom fell out of my cosy little world. I had been in my element. I had great friends, I went to a great school, I was achieving academically, I was thin, I was pretty. I always had a boyfriend. I smoked Silk Cut and drank Liebfraumilch. I watched Dawsons Creek and The OC. Everything came to me easily, everything was great. I planned to do what everyone else was doing and go to University. It was just what Grammar School girls did. Of course, unlike most of my friends and peers I did not have any direction. I did not have a plan or a goal or a career in mind. So I stuck with what I was good at and applied to take a degree in History. Trouble was, as it turned out I like history in a frivolous sense, in a half naked Jonathan Rhys Meyers kind of sense. I like reading about disastrous events, scandals, Royal fuck ups, and murders. I do not like educating myself about the stained glass windows in Canterbury Cathedral or Roman Forts in Ramsgate. I was increasingly anxious, tearful, unable to deal with simple situations and challenges. My confidence was shot to shit. I became petrified of vomiting in public places. I became obsessed about it. I planned my life around avoiding such an eventuality. It was something that grew so slowly and gradually that it easily went unnoticed and dismissed as nerves or adjustment worries. Unfortunately, it was neither of those of things and one day I just didn’t go to University, and I didn’t go the next day or the next week and I told my Mum I wasn’t going anymore and that was that.
And then I had a complete mental break down.
So there we have it, my history of anxiety and panic disorders. Whilst I haven’t had a full blown panic attack for three years, I wouldn’t be so naive as to think I am better. Currently day to day it doesn’t come up. I don’t worry about going to the supermarket or out for dinner with colleagues. I show up, I participate, I get shit done, I let myself have a good time. But every now and then I just get a little reminder, courtesy of a chest pain or just an unexplained feeling of dread that I can’t shrug off. I think the trick is to face it head on, acknowledge it and tell it to go fuck itself. If you can manage that you won’t win every time but you’ll get the best of three.