Sally Vaughan writes about what anxiety feels like for her ...
For me, anxiety is like a helmet you had to wear to ride your bike as a kid.
It’s hard on the outside but cushioned on the inside, you never really liked to wear it but it protected you from harm.
The times you rode your bike without the helmet nothing ever happened, you didn’t necessarily need the helmet every time you rode your bike, but it was always the question of what if that made you follow your mother’s rules to keep it on.
When I first really developed anxiety I had no idea what it was, and for years it was a label I used for the way I was feeling but I was never really sure if I had the right to call it that.
When people ask me ‘what makes you anxious? How are you feeling?’ I often find myself responding with ‘I don’t know’.
That’s what’s hard to come to terms with about anxiety – I don’t know what it is, what triggers it, why I’m feeling the way I do on a daily basis. I just know it’s there.
Something in my brain likes to make life extremely difficult. I don’t want to wear this anxiety helmet, but I can’t take it off.
It cushions me, it’s all I’ve known for the past five years and I know how to deal with it most of the time, but it’s stopping me from letting me feel the wind in my hair.
I get frustrated, a LOT. Something in my brain tells me that I cannot go to a lecture, which only makes my life harder with missed attendance marks and missing out on important points.
I have to work twice as hard to prove that I’m up to date and understanding everything.
I get on a bus or sit in a waiting room and my brain whizzes round like I’ve been on a carousel with every single bad thing that could possibly happen whilst I’m there. Every single thing.
I make one passing comment in a conversation and for days I will work myself into a frenzy over it – I shouldn’t have said it, it was taken the wrong way, it’s not what I meant, why did I say it, I’m so stupid. I’m exhausted.
I have issues with eating in front of other people, going to a restaurant to celebrate something is the hardest thing in the world I could ever imagine. I want to get a job and earn my own money, but if I can’t even eat a sandwich in a café how could I ever serve coffees to an endless queue of impatient customers, unable to leave?
This is something I find the hardest because all it shows to me is that I used to be able to do all these things and for some reason I’ve had them ripped away from me. I’d love to have a boring life of a job and a house and I’ll eat Sunday dinners in the pub without overthinking whether I should’ve worn my blue top instead of my red one.
I am ready for all my lectures, pen in hand, I like going out to eat and trying new foods, I want to be independent and earn my own money but something just does not let me.
But the worst part of it is when people just do not understand or empathise with the circus of bright lights and screams and spinning rides in my head that I can’t switch off. It’s endless and exhausting and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.
Maybe one day I’ll get that dream writing job, and I’ll celebrate with a lavish meal or a pizza hut buffet.
One day I’ll be able to take the helmet off.