2012: The year I turned 16 and left secondary school.
2012: The year I realised my ambition in life was to become a journalist.
2012: The year the Mayan Calendar ended and everybody thought the world would erupt into a ball of flames and explode. Oh, how we wish that prophecy was true now we’re less than a week away from either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming President.
2012: The year I discovered something that still affects me every day, that I suffer from anxiety.
I have never spoken publicly about anxiety and what it is to me, so I guess the fact that I’m even writing this (I hope) can be seen as a step in the right direction. Only close friends of mine are aware of my anxiety, and even then it took me 2 years to tell someone for the first time. Anxiety itself prevents you from telling anybody you have anxiety. What if they don’t believe me? What if they start to judge me and see me only as my anxiety, rather than the person I am? Will they start treating me differently? Fortunately for me, the people I have told have been incredibly supportive and without them, I don’t think I’d be writing this blog post right now.
The purpose of me writing this post isn’t to entice sympathy or attention, but to discuss on an open platform what I currently experience, and hope that this could influence someone else in a similar position to mine to find their hidden strengths to fight anxiety. It isn’t easy, at all. The common phrase I hear is “just talk to someone [usually a doctor] about it, it really helps”, which in fairness is true, but if only it was that easy. For myself, this is initially flawed as my GP requires bookings to be made via telephone, and the social aspect of my anxiety means I am absolutely terrified of making phone calls, which isn’t exactly helpful considering I’m studying journalism.
The topic of being a student brings me on to possibly the biggest event of my life which occurred due to anxiety. I started studying Sports Journalism at the University of Bedfordshire in September 2014. It wasn’t exactly my first choice university, but nevertheless I was pleased to be going off to study the course I wanted. When the time came to move and I finished unpacking my room, I sat down and thought to myself “now what?”. I dropped out of university a month later. I couldn’t bring myself to go out during Freshers’ Week. I didn’t know anyone and the thought of having to go up to complete strangers and talk to them was daunting. When the induction started, I enjoyed the sound of the course and what was approaching this semester, however I didn’t exactly talk to anyone during this time. To me, it felt like everyone already knew each other and were getting along so well and I was just an intruder in their circle. There were quite a few reason aside from anxiety why I decided to drop out, however anxiety was the prominent reason behind it. On a positive note, I re-applied to university in 2016 and was accepted into my first choice university. Currently, I’m in my second month here and despite still being affected daily, I’m pushing on and plan to stay on for the three years and finish with a first (optimistic, I know!)
I discovered I suffered from anxiety rather unintentionally back in 2012. At the age of 16, I was rather ignorant to mental health. I never looked it up on the internet to research it. We were never taught about it at school, only the odd poster knocking about saying how pupils could talk to their tutors about “anything”. I think it’s imperative we teach school children about mental health, however that’s another topic that could be dwelled upon.
Anyway, I knew for quite a while beforehand that I wasn’t fond of speaking on the telephone. When the house phone would ring, I’d be the last person to answer, even if I was the nearest. In 2012, I was preparing to move from my school to a sixth form college as my school taught IB and BTEC, but I wanted to study A Levels. To get into the college, I had to phone up and book an interview. There was my problem. I knew there was an interview to get in, and that scared the absolute life out of me, but to even get to that stage I had to face a task which felt like was the equivalent of climbing Everest. This is where I realised something was up, that it wasn’t right for someone to be living in absolute fear of something which many deem as a simple and everyday task. This is where I realised I had anxiety.
Four years on from this realisation, I’m sat here typing up this blog in my student halls, still with anxiety which more than likely has worsened over the years. Sleep is getting shorter and shorter – I’m lucky if I can manage 6 hours, but even then I’d be waking up numerous times throughout the night. Everyday situations fill me with dread – going to a lecture, going to the shop, not going out with friends/leaving them early due to being overwhelmed by anxiety. Heart palpitations appear more frequently. Often, I’d notice for no apparent reason my hands would be shaking or my knees would be trembling. In a scenario that occurred just last night, I found myself unable to control my breathing. Don’t even get me started on having to interview people for my course, bloody heck.
Despite all this, I find myself considerably happier than I was back in 2012. Put into perspective, I’m doing things I’ve always wanted to do. I spend every day surrounded by groups of friends. I’m meeting people I hadn’t seen for some time, and also people I’ve spoke to for years via Twitter I’m finally getting to meet. I’m going to gigs I’ve missed out on previously due to anxiety – I was anxious as hell for Jamie T a few weeks ago, but I thought “fuck it”, and it turns out to be one of the highlights of the year. I’m on the road to the career I dream of, slowly but surely. I even had a bloody conversation with Karl Pilkington the other week.
I guess the moral of this is, anxiety can get worse, but you can always become happier. Anxiety can and will always knock you back, but there are times where you will persevere and overcome it, completely smashing it out the park. So if anxiety ever knocks you down, don’t see it as a step backwards, but as a step closer to that one time where you’ll defeat it, on your way to destroying anxiety for good.