How Anxiety Impacts Me in Different Situations
Not today, thanks.
I was fairly late to the anxiety party, I can't say it was one I particularly wanted to be invited to after hanging around the depression get-togethers for too long.
Unfortunately for me, anxiety was very insistent—I spent some time with it too. I did a more in-depth article on my own mental health issues a while back. If you are suffering, or know someone who is, I've been told it's a good read.
So, I've had a couple of people ask me if I could write something specifically about anxiety, as they thought it may help them see how they feel being written down in front of them, and also maybe it might help me too, so I actually have to think about it, rather than suppressing the crap out of it.
If there's anything here that you relate to, and you've not done anything about it, I implore you to speak up. Whether it's with friends, family, or someone else. Ring your local GP, talk to the Good Samaritans, anything.
Leaving anxiety attacks unchecked can give your brain's serotonin levels a real battering. For some, that can lead to depression, or if you're like me, compound both problems. If you don't know which number to call, Google is but a tap away on your phone.
With that said, I'm going to try my best to explain how anxiety can impact me in different situations. This doesn't mean these are the only times I feel anxious, but rather key scenarios that people may be able to relate to.
Scenario #1: The Workplace (Retail)
In my other article about mental health, I went over how the pressures, both internal and external, of a certain retail job I had dragged me down to the point I began having anxiety attacks on the shop floor.
Now, I can't pin all of my issues on this job. Sure, there are certainly contributing factors: rude customers, a nasty boss etc, but I think it was inevitable for me to develop anxiety. I was both incredibly expressive and incredibly shy as a child, I didn't like going on stage, whenever the attention was on me, I'd cower away and freeze with nerves.
I'm also a very stubborn, proud person. I like achieving things, I like sharing those achievements. Once I was told I was one of, if not the best sales assistants this store had, I wore that as my badge of honour and put myself under immense pressure to stick to that standard. This ended up biting me in the butt, somewhat.
At first, it was hard to understand what was happening to me. I couldn't figure out why I was suddenly unable to breathe. I couldn't figure out why I was avoiding serving people. This, for me, is the type of feeling most people would associate with anxiety. The tight chest, the flight reflex in overdrive, etc. All born from a near-debilitating fear of failure. It's the feeling where a niggling worry gives way to overwhelming hysteria, purely because I didn't want fail, and then be grilled for not reaching my targets.
To my boss's credit, when I finally opened up to him in floods of tears, he did help. He said they liked Peter the person, but also Peter the sales assistant. If I couldn't be the sales assistant, they'd have to find another use for me, so I was allowed to work in the warehouse for a few months while I tried to sort myself out (an ongoing venture).
I will always be thankful for him doing that, just nothing else he said or did towards me or anyone else there. Especially since a couple of weeks into my new position in the warehouse, he left me to run it alone on that Sunday, the second busiest day of the week, with no cover from anyone on the shop floor. I shouldn't need to explain what kind of state that left me in.
The last time I worked in retail was over two years ago now. Maybe I could go back, but, honestly? I'm just scared. I'm full of What If questions. What if I get that one bad customer? What if I have a full mental relapse? What if I just can't do those jobs very well now? I don't want put myself, and my family by extension, through that. I'm not where I want to be, but I'm considerably better off mentally now than I was back then. I don't want to risk that.
Scenario #2: Socialising While Sober
Social anxiety is rife in my generation. A lot of my closest friends have to deal with it in some capacity in their day to day lives. It's probably the more complex of the two scenarios we've looked at so far. There's lots of micro-behaviours that add up to what trying to socialise is like for me. While I don't necessarily have full-blown anxiety attacks, it can make for some internal discomfort.
Getting ready is really difficult, I'm almost always late, even if I start getting ready hours before I'm meant to be anywhere. I can sometimes spend an hour just trying to figure out what to wear. Some people may find that funny, I've never been... the most fashionable person in the world—I'm still not, I've gotten better and found a few things that just suit me.
I cannot stand silence. Unless we're watching a movie, or there's something to fill the background, I have to talk. I have to try and think of something to fill that void, and a lot of the time I can't, so I stew quietly.
I still struggle. Just the other day, for example, my best friend came back to our hometown. Naturally, we went to the pub. Nothing special, no occasion besides that's what we tend to do when see one another.
As far as I am aware, I don't think she minded I was only ten minutes late this time, but I spent so damn long just trying to get ready. In fact, I could've even been on time, but I went "wait, no" and changed my entire outfit. She's great though, she gets what I—what we—go through.
I've gotten better at dealing with crowds, I went to a festival this summer, barely drank, and felt absolutely fine (go me!), but ironically when I am sober, it's smaller gatherings I have more issues with. There's been a couple of instances where I've left a mate's house early when they've asked me to stay. It has nothing to do with them, but I always have a voice going on in the back of my head that they're probably fed up of me, and want me gone but won't tell me to leave.
I'm not always as quiet as I used to be in groups where I don't know people, in fact, in the next scenario, I could argue this is where I've begun to excel...
Scenario #3: Socialising While Drunk
This is probably the least serious scenario on the surface. I'm young! We're meant to be care-free! Going on nights out is what we do!
You're absolutely right. I enjoy drinking as much as the next guy, though at times it's an easy way to just forget about other shit for a little while. I will say this, as a case of, "do as I say and not as I do," sometimes it's best to lay off alcohol when you're having mental troubles. No one likes hangovers, and those of us who have depression and/or anxiety hate them even more.
While it isn't always an issue, sometimes alcohol can only exacerbate those thoughts or problems you're desperately trying to suppress. Resulting in some very sudden, very strong pangs of anxiety. For me, I think it's the combination of just being drunk and in a tightly packed crowd.
When I'm somewhere between tipsy and drunk, that's when anxiety sometimes gets me on a night out. A couple of New Year's Eves ago, I went down to Southampton with a few friends to celebrate. The nightclub we went to—not only was it massive, it was rammed beginning to end. If I remember rightly, there were over three thousand people that night—to me, sometimes, it felt like there were more.
I tried ever so hard to have a good time, but there were a number of times I felt overwhelmed enough to force my way through the crowds to stand outside. Even then, some of the smoking areas were so busy; there wasn't much respite.
The only way around it was to drink more. Once I was suitably battered it didn't bother me half as much. But please, don't copy my thought path, as I am an idiot. It will almost certainly be more beneficial for you out there to stop drinking and move onto either soft drinks, or just go home, preferably with a kebab in hand.
I don't really know what precisely sets me off in these moments. I'm not sure if its bad thoughts catching up, or if it's the crowds. It's a similar tight chest, short of breath experience as working in retail. Thankfully, these tend to be much easier to deal with. These, for me anyway, can be solved with fresh air and a few deep breaths, which I guess is fine? Anyway, we've got one more scenario to go through!
Scenario #4: On a Film Set
Oh, have you not heard? Every so often I work as an extra on movies. It's pretty cool. It can also be quite a daunting process. In the last project I worked on, a WW1 film called 1917, there were 500+ people on set all day, every day.
The first few days were quite hard for me, I would turn up between 5 AM and 6 AM usually, and I'd spend a good twenty minutes or so just trying to compose myself. The idea of being surrounded by so many people all the time, and some days there were explosions to deal with too (it being a war film and all), it wasn't always easy to deal with.
This, I think I can put down to the number of people, it's the fear of making a mistake on camera, or the people I'm put with not liking me. While sometimes it's not too different to retail in the sense you can feel the pressure from the crew at times, it's very rarely due to the fault of extras, more just they really want to get everything right as well.
What makes the difference usually is the people. If you're having a shit day, you're not alone, because everyone could be. Even when you're sat in a chair getting your makeup done, just having a little chat with the artist can set the day off right, they've got to deal with all of you. So, if they can put on a happy face and engage, so can you.
Big films have a lot of pressure on them, and at times where you're not sure what's going on, people can get stressed. Thankfully for me, most of the people I came across were a delight to be around, and made the days go by that little bit easier.
I've worked on massive blockbusters, as well as short indie films. All of them give me similar levels of nerves, that is until they occasionally suggest I may have a speaking part, then the anxiety skyrockets. I'm not designed to remember things under pressure; my A-Level results can attest for that.
However, normally once I get into costume and the cameras start rolling, I (tend to) calm down.
A while ago, that boss we spoke about in the first scenario, seemed to doubt whether I was telling the truth about my mental health issues, because of my stories of working on films. He was particularly unpleasant about it when I spoke of a big project that may potentially mean I'd need time away from my "real" job.
He asked me a bunch of loaded questions, trying to put me down, put words in my mouth. One question that stuck with me was; "How can you not cope with working on the shop floor, yet want to go and work on a movie amongst hundreds of people?"
See what I mean about a loaded question? Asshole.
But, it's a valid question, and as an employer I understand why he may ask it. However, at the same time, I'd been given a clear diagnosis, and brought my medication to work with me every day, and didn't hide in a bathroom to take it.
I told him how I felt. When it came to serving customers, I am the face of the company, all the pressure from the people above me, falls in my lap for the five to ten minutes I'll be with someone. I've got to be me, at my best, every time. During those few months in the warehouse, I couldn't guarantee that, and didn't want to let the team down.
However, as an extra, the whole point is to blend in, to be seen, but not seen, if that makes sense? I didn't have to be me, I could be anyone I wanted. I could forget my problems for a day and become a businessman, a soldier, a nobleman. Anything. Anything at all, except me, even if just for a day. For the most part, all I had to do was walk in a certain direction, or react to someone else speaking.
Personally, pretending to be someone else is almost as effective for combatting my anxiety as copious amounts of alcohol, and is probably better for me.
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I'll try and not leave a nine-month gap between this and my next article this time.