I find it hard to write or talk about anxiety without relaying my own experiences of it, and I’m finding it tremendously tricky to factor in some funniness to alleviate the seriousness of this blogpost. Stick with me, guys. Funniness and fanny-talk will resume shortly.
Anxiety comes in many forms and is lived through an incalculable smorgasbord of experiences. I suffer, for the most part, from social anxiety disorder. Armed with the knowledge and diagnostic tools bestowed upon me at 24 years of age, I can, retrospectively, recognise that I’ve had social anxiety ever since I was about 14. Ten years later and I’m finally undergoing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in a bid to combat my depression and my anxiety. Around 10% of people in the UK suffer from mixed depression and anxiety, making it as common as I am. Having penned a post on my experience of depression (you can read it here), I thought I’d jot down some of the forms of anxiety I foster within my being; in the hopes that it will relate with some people and educate others. It’s incredibly difficult to convey what happens within the mind when anxiety presents itself, and I’m not sure how good a job I’ll do. I realise that, to those on the outside looking in, I may sound a bit bananas, and that’s okay because, being on the inside, I do sometimes feel bananas. But it’s important to remember that anxiety is a mental health condition and we must always treat such things with compassion.
As a young girl, I was neither footloose nor fancy-free; I was, instead, full of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being social. Fear of new people. Fear of new places. Fear of those last three fears combined; or, as I like to call it, the Holy Fuck! Trinity. Fear of restaurants. Fear of not knowing where the nearest toilet was. Fear of walking through the door first. Fear of not knowing which way said door opened. Fear of having to be the one to open said door. Fear of things that, when written down, seem trivial. Are trivial. Things that some people don’t even consider (who would ever imagine that someone could mount so much importance onto something as inconsequential as a door), but things that a lot of people do consider. They consider them a lot. They consider them intensely. They shape their behaviours around them.
I, for example, always hang back if there’s a door ahead of me that I haven’t walked through before – AND I KNOW IT SOUNDS INSANE, I really, really do – but while the rational part of me understands that it’s a door and it can only be pushed or pulled (sliding doors are a glorious respite) and I am more than capable of crossing the divide and stepping into the unknown and I probably won’t spontaneously combust (not always entirely convinced of that), the irrational part of me has a dialogue that closely resembles this: ‘FUCK, there’s a door. Daisy, did you hear me? THERE’S A DOOR. A fucking door! Fuck. Does it have a Push or Pull sign on it? No? Oh, for fucks sake! What is this, amateur hour?! Right. You can’t possibly open that. You can’t. You don’t know which way it opens. You don’t know the lay of the land beyond the door. You won’t know what to do with yourself. Best to hang back. That’s right. Yes, you were having a perfectly delightful conversation with Cassandra but now you must opt out. She has little to no idea why you’ve pied her off so suddenly. She has absolutely no idea that you have chosen her to be Door-Opener, but you have, and that’s that.’
You get the gist?
I spend my days incredibly self-aware. I spent my youth eating with one hand constantly covering my mouth, and every single bite of grub was consumed in this manner; not out of politeness, but out of self-awareness. I felt on show and I didn’t like it. This propensity to escalate the inane tasks of daily life into something of paramount significance has continued through to adult life: I may not always shield my mouth from view, but I almost always avoid going to the toilet in unaccustomed establishments. If I don’t know where the toilet is, or it isn’t clearly signposted, I fear I won’t find it at all, and I’ll be left doing a table-side tour of the restaurant. I don’t know why the idea of a table-side tour fills me with fear, but it really fucking does.
I refer to the above anxieties as my baby anxieties. They are in no way any less debilitating than the others I harbour but they are, comparatively, small. Small but mighty. They are neatly boxed up in my brain and I can unpack them at will. I know where I stand with them. I know how to, poorly, deal with them. They are a breath of fresh air when compared to the mother of all social anxieties: socialising. During the era of eighteenth birthday parties, I would dread pulling up outside the venue. I would dread the initial walk-into-the-room. I would dread being in the room. I would dread my best friend leaving my side. And I would dread the inevitability of having to exist in that room for more than five minutes. More often than not, I would leave. I wouldn’t tell a soul and I’d dart out. During the era of common-room pre-drinks, I would dread walking into the common room. The common room, full of people I knew. Full of people I lived with. People I loved, no less! I would get absolutely, obscenely obliterated with my best friend in her bedroom before I even dared step foot in the common room – it was the only way I could mollify the terror. More often than not, I’d leave. I wouldn’t tell a soul and I’d dart out. I’d cry in the cab home, exasperated and annoyed at my own inability to have a great time, whilst simultaneously basking in the sense of sheer unadulterated relief that washed over me.
During the era of schmoozing at extended family events and being unceremoniously lugged along to the events of families I’d never before met, the same fear would rise in me. The fear usually directs me to the nearest buffet, where I can seek conversational salvation in the form of a mouthful of cold chicken nuggets and french stick. I look like I belong at the buffet. Nay, I feel like I belong at the buffet. I have a reason for existing at the buffet. I have an excuse for not being social when I’m stood beside my beloved buffet. The buffet asks nothing of me. I fucking love the buffet.
If you want more information regarding mental health, here’s a handy helpline link.