On paper, I have all the components of society’s perception of a “happy” life – a roof over my head, a steady job, friends and family, and good physical health. Life, I’ve learned, has a way of playing with society’s norms and flying in the face of expectations.
My struggles with anxiety began eight years ago, when I took a trip to Gibraltar with my mum and sister. Gripped by something which felt like severe homesickness, I found myself unable to eat: a wave of anxiety tugged me under as soon as the sun began to set. The four days we spent away felt like an eternity. Once I was back home, that feeling in my gut – a mix of fear and discomfort – resurfaced often: on nights out with friends, planning holidays, trying to enjoy life in my late teens.
Then, two years later, the feelings of anxiety I’d been fighting to keep at bay pushed through. I pulled out of a holiday I’d spent months organising with friends on the day we were due to fly. In the weeks leading up to the holiday I’d been overcome with a fear of flying and being away from home. I’d started to worry uncontrollably about dying and felt like I didn’t have enough time to achieve everything I wanted in life before I went away. The sense of disappointment I felt at letting down my friends was vast, but it was nothing compared to the relief of doing what I knew was right for myself.
I spent a week recovering by the sea, before setting about organising some counselling sessions to explore my fears about travelling. I knew I had to address the irrational thoughts I was having and I was determined to sift through my childhood memories to pull up the root of the issues. I began to link anxiety inextricably to my identity, a process which both helped and hindered me as I fought to break free of its grasp.
Now, I am better at acknowledging anxious feelings when they come along (usually before trips abroad, which I’m pleased to say I am now able to embark upon with minimal fear). When I feel my mental outlook wavering, I can look at things logically and rationalise the worrisome thoughts that bubble up. Crucially, I am not afraid to identify as someone who suffers with anxiety and I fully permit myself to feel anxious in a conscious act of acceptance.
In a time when a stigma of ignorance and distrust still applies to mental illness, I’m lucky enough to be able to speak openly about my experiences. In fairness, it has taken 10 years for me to feel comfortable letting others know when I’m struggling; most recently, I broached the subject in a work situation, which was terrifying, but thankfully well received.
I’ve found that openly articulating when I’m having feelings of anxiety (usually to a trusted person within my support network, like a friend, boyfriend or family member) instantly eases my mind. Mental unrest is so common that there should be nothing to hide or feel ashamed of, and talking about our experiences is the first step towards change.
Building a safe place for myself at home – in which I can relax and indulge in some me time – has helped ward off anxiety, too. Having a space in which I can feel comfortable and safe is very important in calming my fears.
Despite the shadow that anxiety casts, I find happiness in many parts of my life. In friendship; the good conversation, laughter, support, solidarity and shared experiences that it brings; in creativity; writing, reading, blogging, gardening and making something useful and beautiful that resonates with others.
When the sun shines strongly, life casts shadows around everything you know. The two cannot be separated. And so I’ve learned to accept that anxiety will remain an aspect of my life to contend with, alongside good fortune and joy.
NOT SO QUIET GIRL
I’m Nadia, and I write about things that enchant and outrage me, in (mostly) equal measure.