This is quite a personal thing for me to share and talk about, but I finally feel comfortable enough to be able to do so. So here’s a little journey and insight into living with anxiety…
A lot of people are often surprised that I have anxiety, as the way I portray myself comes across as relaxed, calm and collected. And for the most part that’s true, but if the door knocks when I’m not expecting anyone or my phone rings when I don’t know who it is, then my body freezes and I can’t function.
It sounds silly doesn’t it, that I can’t answer the phone if I don’t know who is on the other end, but that is the reality of my anxiety. Even when I was applying for jobs last year and I knew that it was most likely going to a phone call from a potential employer, I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone and had to let it go to voicemail. Is it the fear of the unknown I’m afraid of or is it because it’s not planned?
I think of myself as a very independent person, but yet I can’t sit on the train without a book or headphones. I can’t sit opposite someone, because I believe them to be looking at me and critiquing every inch of me. I remember this woman was staring at me the one day and I could feel my palms going sweaty, my throat dry and I knew she was judging me, she didn’t like the look of me, and then she smiled and said “sorry I was just admiring your outfit”. Panic over.
My diagnosis of anxiety came in 2013, when whilst dealing with abuse, I became so withdrawn from my nearest and dearest, and from myself. I would flinch if someone even placed an assuring arm on me, jump at the slightest noise, and although better, the scars of this never fully heal. And an unexpected knock on the door, an unexpected contact with someone’s skin, makes me jump and I feel my heart pound. I know that when I see my friends I will hug them when I see them and when I say goodbye, I know when they are on the way to my house, as they will text- I am prepared. But a colleague at work placing their hand on my shoulder, or patting my back, and I flinch. I leapt out of my skin the other day because my manager said good morning to me- why did that make me jump? I don’t know myself. Anxiety is hard to explain because it doesn’t make sense to me, so how can it make sense to anyone else?
It doesn’t make sense to me that I can travel alone with no sense of a real plan, but I can’t answer the phone if I don’t know who’s calling. But when I think about it, it’s because of the beauty in the freedom of travel. No one knows where I live, what my name or number is, no one is going to pester me. But someone who rings me on an unknown number 20 odd times, makes my skin crawl, because they must know me, but how? And that’s what runs through my brain- who are they, what do they want, why are they calling? The paranoia sets in. The other day at work my phone rang and my friend Charlie saw I was staring at my phone as if Satan himself was calling, so he answered it for me and asked them not to call again as I’m a very busy woman (lol). But I was grateful that he did that, because that number had been ringing me for weeks, but all it took was an answer for them to stop.
I try to push myself everyday and think ‘what is the worst thing that can happen?’. My anxiety stems to so much more than my abuse, but also because of the low body confidence I used to have. I expect when I look in the mirror to see the 13 year old version of me, with braces, bad hair and filled with puppy fat and it’s a relief that when I look in the mirror I see me. But although I’ve learnt to love myself, although now I feel the most confident in myself and feel the most and best version of myself, there is always that little niggling at the back of my head, that if I eat this pudding, I will be labelled as ‘Gemma pudding Walton’ again. That if I don’t shave daily then people will laugh at me for having hair on my arms. You don’t realise how much of an effect your teenage experiences have upon you as you grow up. And when people comment and ask if I am on a diet, strangers, because I have opted for a salad, I have to nod and pretend, because if I turned around and said I was petrified of being the size of my 13 year old self again, they would laugh. I cannot shake that image out of my head.
Anxiety is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me, and it could so easily take control of my life, but I won’t let it. And although there are days when I just want to stay in bed and hide, I remind myself of all the wonderful things. It’s the what ifs, that get me going. And if everyday I have to ask myself numerous times ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen’, if everyday I push myself a little bit more, then so be it. Because I’m never going to let my anxiety stop me from living my life.