On Anxiety.

Design by Han Valentine.

It’s currently 9:54pm on Sunday evening. There’s a festival going on down the road from my house and I can hear the music from a mile away and the drunk people wandering down my road. I don’t know if it’s because of the festival, or because it’s the first day of my period, or for no reason at all, but I have been sweating and panicking and crying all afternoon. I feel silly and small; I know the heart palpitations and racing mind are just symptoms and I’m not afraid of them like I used to be, but ultimately, even though they’re manageable, they still suck.

I think, (well I know, I just didn’t have a diagnosis) I suffered from severe anxiety throughout my childhood. I wasn’t exactly a cool kid; I was terrified of people breaking the rules, and so felt like school was one nightmare class after another. If someone spoke out of turn, I would feel my heart race, I’d start sweating and suddenly I’d be silently panicking, trying to suppress it all so nobody noticed. That anxiety around lessons never left, although I got better at hiding it, distracting myself and playing along with the class. I really didn’t enjoy school and I didn’t tell anyone why because I worried about coming across as a bit of a loser. My mum caught on but even today, she always says she didn’t understand why I never enjoyed lessons as I never felt comfortable telling her. Annoyingly I still worry about coming across as pathetic – I never wanted to be the anal one and even writing this now, I wonder if I’ll ever publish something this honest, as it feels almost embarrassing to admit what was going on inside my head at the time.

In addition to general life/school anxiety, I had a hardcore phobia of sick, which got really bad in my early teens. Emetophobia at its worst involved me not eating in school, compulsively washing my hands and drinking a hefty amount of peppermint Gaviscon syrup every day for months. No seriously, I used to carry this huge glass bottle of medicine around with me and drink it in the school bathroom stalls when I was panicking. I had those freak outs every day when I was fourteen. If someone was actually sick, I’d fully shut down, start shaking, crying and panicking. It would take me a couple of hours to recover from those. I’m reluctant to use the phrase “panic attack” as I can’t be sure if I’ve experienced one, but those experiences are definitely the closest I’ve come. Fortunately, my emetophobia has become a lot more manageable over the past couple of years, but even when it was severe I didn’t consider that it could be a condition, or something that could be treated. I just thought I was weird.

I’ve never really talked about the anxiety I’ve experienced because to start with, I didn’t realise this was an abnormal experience. When I was growing up there didn’t seem to be any terminology that described what would happen to me when someone talked back at a teacher, or when someone made a retching noise at lunch. Nobody had ever mentioned to me that anxiety could be a disorder. I had friends who suffered from other severe mental illnesses, and this shaped a lot of my understanding of what it was to be struggling with mental health. I saw it all as very black and white – when my friends were in a bad patch, they were hospitalised, so if I wasn’t at that level then I was probably fine.

As I got older, I developed a more nuanced understanding of mental illness. When I was twenty, I finally got an anxiety diagnosis after crying in front of my doctor as I asked for a medical exemption for my final term deadlines. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening to my body, even though the experience was familiar, because I was more intense physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, for the first time. I was prescribed beta-blockers and given an extension on my essays and a special room to do my exams in. I never took the pills; ironically I was too anxious about them to put one in my mouth and swallow.

A year and a half later, I found myself in therapy. I learned a lot about my relationship with my mental health in the year and a half that I was having sessions, and learned that the intensity and long-term nature of my anxiety isn’t something that everyone goes through. Over the past two years, I have become increasingly able to manage my bad anxious patches, although as I’m still learning, there will be off days, weeks and weekends even though I’m feeling generally a lot better. This weekend was one of the off ones, and that’s okay.

I don’t know if I’ll talk about anxiety again online, or if I want to. I think a lot of ground has been covered in the past couple of years when discussing it and I don’t know if my input is necessary, especially given how drained I feel when I talk about it. Even now, I don’t know to what extent this is an illness or just a way my body reacts to things that’s on the unusual end of the spectrum. But whatever it is, I’m learning to manage it, and I think that’s an important message to share.

9 Comments

  1. August 23, 2018 / 5:27 pm

    I relate to so much of this…the anxiety, emetophobia, learning to manage thanks to therapy (and still having those off days/weeks). I think everyone’s experience is different, but each is so valid and important – and there will always be at least one person out there that relates to your specific experience. Whether you speak on this again, thank you for sharing and saying things I’ve been too scared to.

  2. August 23, 2018 / 5:52 pm

    It’s really comforting to hear this. I suffer from occasional bouts of anxiety and they really take me by surprise, totally affecting how I communicate with others. I’ve always struggled with whether I am ‘ill enough’ to seek help, so I relate to your lack of understanding of if your symptoms are severe or not – I’ve worded that badly but hopefully you get what I mean. I absolutely understand if you choose not to address this again but what would be useful to know is how you made the decision to get therapy. It’s such a scary big step x

  3. August 23, 2018 / 8:09 pm

    It is an important message to share. Sharing our stories online are such a huge step than it’s often scary. Everyone’s story is different but someone we manage to feel less alone when we see someone else experiencing kind of the same things as us. So thanks for sharing your story with us. xx

  4. Laurie
    August 24, 2018 / 11:41 am

    Found this very interesting as someone coming to terms with my own anxiety. Not to be a shit but there’s a minor typo in the 5th paragraph, 3rd sentence, FYI.

  5. Ruby
    August 24, 2018 / 12:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing this ✨ made me reflect and understand more about my own mental health too x

  6. Hassan Ali
    August 24, 2018 / 3:39 pm

    It’s O. K to come forward about anxiety Lucy. There’s so many teenagers, especially teenage girls who are looking for something to relate to. Even the hardest person on the planet will suffer from anxiety at some point. No matter how fearless you are, anxiety will literally shatter you to pieces in one blow at some point. It’s all part of being alive. It’s all part of being human.

  7. Susan
    August 25, 2018 / 11:04 pm

    It can be heard to know how to talk about mental health online – something I literally jsut spent like hours umming and ahhing about before hitting publish! But I really related to a lot of what you’ve said and you’ve written it in a way that captures exactly what its like which can be so hard to do. It just makes readers who relate, feel a lot less lonely <3

  8. Ana
    August 29, 2018 / 8:09 pm

    I am also a very anxious person and I don’t talk about it. I think that if I talk about it people will say I’m a lunatic or that I need to take antidepressants. It has been a long and lonely journey, and I often think that it is best for me to do it alone because people pick on your weaknesses and make you feel inferior simply because you suffer from anxiety.

  9. Anna
    August 30, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    So, I have an essay to finish until tomorrw night and I’m not even near the end of it. (Also sorry for my probably broken english but I’m german) My anxiety probably had never been worse since I started uni. I lost 9 kg of weight. I don’t miss them and I wouldn’t miss like 4 more but it wasn’t intentionally which worries me and my parents quite a bit. But I feel sick like half of the day, often more, i get sweaty hands, a weird heartbeat and often feel like passing out and like I don’t know how to breathe anymore. Those last three symptoms I know since I’m a child and realized they were an issue when i was like 16. Went to a doctor, did all the checks and she said I was perfectly fine but suggested it was a mental problem. My dad was with me then and said he doesn’t think that’s the problem. Blamed it on the hormones and we didn’t really care til it went worse since uni. I really love what I learn there, I do but I recently realised I really need help. It’s all holding me back from living my life. I don’t even see my friends anymore and they kinda stopped asking me to spend time with them (I told the most important friends, but Idon’t blame them). So my essay that I need to finish tomorrow is the only thing that’s keeping me from taking care of myself and maybe finding the courage to seek help (i guess if I don’t it’ll end in a depression and I surely don’t need that too). So reading this blog post is defiently procrastinating on the one hand but it kind helps I think..? What I want you to know Lucy, if you’re reading this, is that I would love reading more posts with that topic, but you should only post what you think is best for you so I just want you to know people might feel less lonely reading this. I highly respect you for putting this online!

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