THE INNER WORKINGS OF ANXIETY
THE STRUGGLES OF EVERYDAY LIFE TRAPPED IN FEAR
“Breath in… and breathe out.”
This is one of the earliest memories I have of my mother teaching me to control my nerves. By systematically controlling my breathing and therapeutically counting to ten, I could ease the irrational fears inside my mind and feel what I defined as normal.
I had been practising this since I was four years of age.
I never understood why I was always anxious or why I was always on edge. Even from an early age I found my own methods to control the world that I was yet to understand.
To stop myself from feeling small and weak, I would picture myself as a superhero flying through the sky, or a knight transforming himself into a phoenix. Some days I was a famous archaeologist hunting for treasure and sometimes I was a Greek god lighting up the sky with my powerful thunderbolts.
However, this was just a dream.
Looking back on it now, I know why I stayed in that imaginary land. I stayed because it was safe. Because in that land I could escape the reality where I was afraid of everything around me.
My stutter was the first thing to progress. I had become so uncertain of the words bumbling out of my lips that they came out as a jumbled mess that sprawled incoherently. The more it was highlighted to me the more I worried about it.
This began as soon as I could form… well… kind of coherent sentences. My mother, who dealt with children like me as a profession, ran through exercises to help me calm my mind and picture the words before I said them.
I can still remember her holding a rubbing mouth-like puppet on her hand, teaching me how to pronounce my vowels.
So, I decided to find an easy solution: don’t speak unless necessary.
There’s a common stigma with anxiety that many people without the illness believe. They believe that you just “have to relax.”
If it were that easy, I would’ve done it a long time ago. Trust me.
Anxiety is a deep seeded fear of everything around you. It can manifest as a fear of judgement; a fear of rejection, a fear of loss or a fear of the unknown.
It isn’t a light switch. You can’t turn it off.
As the years passed, I slowly attempted to ignore my fears in case I was ridiculed for them. This in turn created visual signs of the stress I was putting upon myself. I had developed a physical response to my psychological stress otherwise known as a Tick.
The Ticks developed over the years, often presenting in many ways. My first Tick was named the Rabbit. I would scrunch up my nose which resembled a rabbit chewing on food.
Once that Tick had been made known to the world, I tried my hardest to suppress it. This in turn created the one that would cause many people to laugh: The Turtle.
I would extend my neck and tighten the muscles within to resemble the appearance of an old salty turtle. This was by far the worst one yet.
As I struggled with the demons throughout life in primary school, it often held me back from creating real friendships. I would always be afraid that they would judge my Ticks or bullet-paced speech.
However, it was through my time in primary school where I found the release from the stress that life had presented.
I found the stage.
It was a perfect way for me to channel the nervous energy built up inside of me and present it to the world. I could finally turn my imagination into a reality: I could be someone that wasn’t me and I never had to think about what to say. The lines were written down for me.
Over the years, this built up my confidence and made me start to believe that I was not held back by my anxiety, but I could use it to my advantage on stage.
However, it was still a prominent part in my social and home life. I was still afraid of making connections out of fear of rejection, and I was still afraid of disappointing my family.
For many years I suppressed my anxiety and threw myself completely into the arts, only dealing with my stress until it exploded in emotional outbreaks at home.
During this time, I slowly began to form a reputation at school as the actor or my year level. With every year my roles progressed until I was the main. Whilst I enjoyed the stage, the anxiety grew worse before each show as my roles started to impact my self-confidence.
For the first time in my life I had an expectation for myself. In the mind of someone without anxiety, expectations can be stressful or exciting; however, in the doubtful mind of someone suffering from anxiety, irrational fears can clutch any form of self-belief and tear it down into a puddle of doubt and illogical fears.
I began using anti-anxiety spray before each performance. I convinced myself that it was all I needed to relax.
But it was all a lie I had convinced myself of. I told my parents that “It was working, I felt more relaxed than ever.” At that moment during my last year of high school, I had never felt more terrified.
Many individuals with anxiety need structure in their life. A repetitive sequence to avoid the unexpected, but with self-supporting adult life looming over the horizon, the end of a comfortable life as a child was slowly fading.
Since I became more aware of what triggered the larger fears in my life, I dove head-first into schoolwork and musical productions to distract myself from the inevitable conclusion of my childhood.
It was at this point my body began to betray me. I was often breaking down or doing things without my control.
For a long time, I had suppressed my fears. I refused to voice them out of fear of being ridiculed or judged. It was at that point as I was staring at the smooth cylinder roof of an MRI machine, that I knew what I needed to do.
I needed to speak about my fears. Not let them hold me back anymore. Instead of hiding from them, embrace them and deal with my own anxiety. I had been told time and time again to express my fears, but I was too afraid. Too afraid to be judged.
I sit here now, writing about the struggles that many people my age face. I’m not going to pretend that I am any worse off than they are. I don’t have a desire to die or a need to harm myself for the benefit of being socially accepted. All I know is that my mind races. It stares across a highway or endless thoughts, doubts and concerns. The answer is on the other side, but I cannot soothe my mind to see the answer clearly.
Yes, I have fears, but they do not define me.
Welcome to my life. Welcome to the inner workings of my anxiety.