I didn’t know what anxiety was until I heard Zoella speaking about it on her Youtube channel about 7 years ago. Before then, I had no idea it even existed. I remember listening to her and feeling like I could relate, but only to some of it. I convinced myself that I didn’t have the condition, that I was just being a hypochondriac. What I didn’t know then is that anxiety disorder comes in many forms. I don’t want to bore you with the science of it all, what it is and the different ways it can occur because thankfully there is so much out there if you want to research it. (I will link some good resources below.) What I want to highlight here is my personal experience, as well as how it isn’t just a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. I have generalised-anxiety disorder where it can literally pop out from nowhere like a random wave of dread and sadness. @craxyheadcomics on Instagram describes it pretty well:
My anxiety seems to pop in when I’m overwhelmed with a build-up of feelings. If I had to take a whack at describing it, I would do it like this: I have a chair in my room where I dump my clothes ready to be “sorted out later”. Over the week, I add to this pile until I reach Friday, where I have a mountain of clothes to get through. I would describe my thoughts like these clothes, just sat there waiting to be organised. When left unkept, they multiply and then begin to spread around the room, filling up the place until my storage capacity is full. At this point, I go into complete melt-down and I have to force myself to sit down and go through each worry one by one. It’s exhausting. I’ve never been one to like cleaning and when it comes to my brain it’s no different. Journaling is fun when you WANT to do it, not when you HAVE to do it. Meditation is fun when you WANT to do it, not when you HAVE to do it. You can probably see where I’m going with this but it’s the same with exercise, reading and anything that could potentially make my anxiety just a little bit better. Looking after myself in these ways to protect my mind feels like when a freelancer turns his/ her hobby into a source of income, it becomes a chore, a burden, a job.
They say the easiest thing to do with mental health disorders is to talk because it can be quite isolating and overwhelming going through it alone. I’ve found that you can explain the symptoms and the feelings you get till your blue in the face but at the end of the day if the person you’re confiding in doesn’t have the capacity to be sensitive and at least try to understand you, it can be quite damaging. Kind of like when I once told a friend that I thought I might have anxiety and he brushed off my comment with “don’t be silly you don’t have it, everybody worries.”
I’ve always been a worrier and I’ve always thought of the worst-case scenarios in any situation. My mum used to say that I always saw the glass half-empty and not half-full but I found comfort in thinking this way, knowing that I would be prepared if/when something really bad happened. The theory was, if I became accustomed to the catastrophe it wouldn’t catch me by surprise and I’d be able to handle it, like a doomsday prepper but in terms of emotion. The problem with this thought process is you shouldn’t plan for disaster because it’s almost like you’re asking the universe for it. I can vouch for this because when I got my first journalism job and moved to Manchester I was constantly worried that I wouldn’t pass my probation. To combat these feelings I would look and apply for jobs because the thought of being sacked and not being able to pay my rent terrified me. It took a lot for me to move out and I didn’t want it all to go to shit just because I wasn’t capable of holding down a job. How embarrassing would it be to have to go home with my tail between my legs especially when everyone told me it would be a bad idea to move in the first place? At this point, my anxiety soared to a point where I was constantly nervous at work. I would worry and worry and in turn, I would make mistakes because of my nervousness and anxious jitters. The mistakes would further confirm my theory that I was going to get sacked and I was stuck in a nightmarish hamster wheel going round and round and round until I felt sick. And I was sick. A lot. Every day. In fact, I would run to the toilets regularly to have a panic attack and throw up for 6 months until I passed my probation.
When people ask me what my triggers are. I have many. When I think about the triggers relating to my family life…again, I have many which I’m sure many of you can relate to as well. A big one for me is guilt and this quote explains it so well:
You are torn between how you were raised to live and how you want to live, to how you feel you should be living and how other people expect you to live. I’d compare this to the splitting of your soul to create a Horcrux, maybe Voldermort had generalised anxiety?
Although I’ve never spoken to my dad about it, I did speak to my mum about my anxiety a couple of years ago. I explained that I was on medication and that it was affecting me quite a lot. For some reason, the whole conversation now feels like a vague blur. I remember the conversation turning towards prayer, and that if I prayed I would become more grounded and at peace because “it is a form of meditation after all”. I think there was also something about thinking more positively. Safe to say, it wasn’t a ground-breaking moment where I burst into tears and got a heartfelt cuddle out of it. If anything, the whole thing just felt…awkward. Anxiety isn’t an easy thing to understand, heck, I don’t understand it myself and I definitely can’t always communicate it in a way that feels true to its form.
I wanted to revisit the uncomfortable question of telling my brown parents about my anxiety because I can see how it affects my relationship with them and my extended family. I feel panicked about going to family gatherings, engagements, weddings, akikahs, or anywhere that I’ll be questioned about whether I am looking to get married…even when it’s just in jest. I overthink about my age and how I’ll be perceived because I’m 29 and unmarried. I don’t live at home. I’m the woman that I dreaded to become when I was younger because my beliefs have changed so much that my only aim in life isn’t to get married and have three children at the age of 25 -as my 16-year-old self would have liked to believe. And even though I’m happy with my decisions, the way my life has been, I’m happy that I turned down the proposals I did, I still feel guilty. My parents have accepted who I am, but I still feel the guilt that if I had gone along the path I was “supposed” to go on, my parents would be happier because they wouldn’t be worried about me and my future. There would be significantly less heated discussions and fewer disagreements.
So, what am I afraid of? I think it’s that they would think my anxiety is just an excuse.
If I text my parents and told them I couldn’t come to my brother’s wedding because I was having a panic attack and couldn’t leave my home: how would they react? Would it be seen as an excuse? Would I be seen as a drama queen/attention seeker/a crazy person? Or would they understand and give me the space I need? If I had broken my arm that day, I would be rushed to the hospital for sure but when my brain feels broken it doesn’t hold the same value. There is so much happening right now in the way of awareness in both the western world and in Bollywood, take Dear Zindagi for instance (sorry if there are any more recent references to mental health awareness in Bollywood atm please let me know!). I know my dad is aware of the symptoms of depression and that you should get medical help and take medication…it doesn’t just “go away” but what about anxiety? I don’t think it’s spoken about as much. And that’s the other thing. Communication. Maybe if I spoke to my dad about what anxiety is I would feel better about confiding in him about it? However, I am so so so so bad at speaking about my feelings to my parents. I can speak about my feelings to my friends, to 8,000 people on Instagram and I can publish articles for the world to see expressing my emotions but when it comes to facing them with my deepest darkest shit, I’m unprepared.
I don’t want it to be brushed off like its nothing. My biggest fear is always that I would not be taken seriously and my feelings invalidated. I don’t want to be seen as “too sensitive” either, just because I have anxiety doesn’t mean I want to be treated like I’m fragile with a handle with care label slapped on my head. The whole “oh we can’t tell her anything” is something I wouldn’t like one bit and I would be fearful of that too. After all, anxiety isn’t a joke and being treated like a pariah would feel exactly like that.
Here are a few comments I put together which really get to me as a person with anxiety:
I normally try to write things that will help others and to give the advice I wish was given to me but today I need help. I don’t know what to do with my situation and don’t know if I ever will either.