An Anxious Mind
A snippet into my experience of living with anxiety.
Before you read on, let me make something very clear to you. Reading this will not fix your anxiety, nothing will do that. My hope is that those of you experiencing anxiety will realize that there are so many people alongside you, so many people suffering, in so many different ways and you are not alone. We find it hard to talk about our anxiety, not because we don’t want to, but because we don’t know how to. How do you explain something you don’t even understand yourself? We feel so many things but find it so difficult to express them, even though we’re dying to share every petty thought rushing through our heads. Sometimes our heads are so full of crap that we literally feel like we are going to explode. We want to scream at the top of our lungs, but we don’t, we can’t.
I don’t have a PhD. I don’t have all the answers either, but that’s the thing about mental health, nobody does and nobody ever will. I don't have any professional writing experience, but I do have anxiety, and I can tell you a damn lot about it.
I think I was around five years old the first time I remember feeling anxious. I was a quiet kid, I didn’t interact much with other children and would cling to my mum’s leg wherever we went. My family used to tell people I was shy, but I always knew it was more than that, I felt physically pained in social situations and I still do. Anyway, back to five-year-old me. My mum decided that it would be a good idea for me to join a club, to mix with people my own age, she said it would “bring me out of my shell”, I hate that saying. I’m not hiding in a shell; this is who I am. So it was a Wednesday afternoon, she’d just picked me up from school and said that she had a surprise for me, I’ve never been a fan of surprises so as you can imagine, I wasn’t filled with enthusiasm. She took me to this church hall, I was familiar with it because it wasn’t far from our house, we’d drove past it numerous times but I’d never been inside. She guided me through the blue double doors into a large room full of children. Ballet. It was a ballet class. They all turned and stared at me as I entered, (they probably didn’t stare, but in my anxious mind they did). A middle aged lady came over and shook my hand, told me not to be nervous and that we were going to have fun. She led me over to one of those gymnasium benches and I sat down and took my shoes off with the other kids. I looked back in a panic, my eyes scaling the room for my mum, all I wanted to do was go home. I saw her walking away, the double doors quickly closing behind her. I felt like the walls were closing in on me. It was such a large room, but it suddenly felt very small and my chest began to tighten. The voices around me became blurred and distant. I got up and ran towards the door. My body felt like it was on fire and my legs were heavier than I can even describe. I remember feeling like I had been running for hours on end because it seemed to take forever to reach the door. I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach and I felt unusually out of breath considering I’d run for the best part of five seconds. I tried to open the door but my hands were all clammy and I couldn’t get it to open. The teacher tried to comfort me, she was trying to convince me to be brave and give it a chance. But I couldn’t. I just needed to be out. I cried, floods of tears, my whole body burning. She opened the doors for me and I ran straight to my mum. She picked me up and gave me a hug. She said that I was just being silly and there was no need to be so shy. But it wasn’t a childish tantrum, a lack of confidence, it was one of the worst days of my life. I think it’s important to clarify that having anxiety and feeling anxious are two very different things. Feeling anxious is a temporary state, a fleeting emotion that happens to us all every now and then. Living with anxiety is so much more than a feeling, it’s a way of life, one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. At what point do we perceive our anxiety as a disorder rather than just a feeling? I don’t know, but I do know that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t anxious, it’s part of who I am, and I can’t escape it. Anxiety is so much more than panic attacks and deep breathing. It’s the little things, the daily struggles that people don’t even contemplate. Some of them seem so minor that they’re laughable, but they build up. Like every time I go shopping, I spend stupid amounts of time standing in the corner of the shop, adding up the cost of my items and getting out the correct money before I’ll even consider joining the queue. I got an A in my maths GCSE, but you think I can whip £14.36 out of my purse when the cashier is standing there with her hand out? With all those impatient people behind me in the queue? Not a chance. Not. A. Chance. Suddenly I can’t tell the coins apart, I don’t know where to start. So I get the money out first. Then I put my headphones in if they’re not already in, doesn’t mean I’m listening to music. I join the queue. I get to the till. The cashier scans my items through, doesn’t talk to me because she thinks I can’t hear her over my music. She thinks I’m being rude and arrogant; I hate that but it deters her from talking to me so no complaints on my end. She tells me the total and I give her the money, already counted and double counted to avoid any hanging around. She takes the money. I take my bag. Off I go. I walk out the door and the fresh air hits my face, I can breathe again, until I turn the corner and see people walking towards me. I cross the road to avoid making awkward eye contact or getting in their way. I don’t want them looking at me, I don’t want them to hear me breathing, what if it’s too loud? What if I’m walking funny? What if they can tell I’m uncomfortable? Sometimes I cross the road and there’s people walking on that side as well. I hate that, no escape. I hold my breath as I pass them. I hate it when it’s a group of people, sometimes I have to hold my breath for so long that I can barely take any more. Exhaling as they finally pass, I’m left gasping for air and I think, how pathetic? Why am I like this? If you asked me to write down the number of times I experience anxiety in an average day, I would actually just say once, although it’s a very long once.
The truth is, I feel anxious from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, it’s exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, there are people I feel comfortable around, people who understand me, people who ease the pressure. But never completely. Sometimes I get so anxious, so stressed that my whole body burns. I feel like my rib cage has been broken into a thousand pieces and set on fire.
As I said, I didn't write this in an attempt to cure anyone. I don't have that power. I just wanted to share my experience with anxiety in the hope that reading this will give people something relatable, if you're suffering with anxiety, you're not alone.