For All The Anxious Folk In The Room
Trigger warning: stalking/male predators/anxiety attack
Anxiety... it's a weird one for me to be writing a blog post about really.
I’ve always been anxious for as long as I remember. Even during my early years my Mum said I was always nervous, and it’s been something that has really taken its own course since getting older. Growing up, I never really identified as having ‘anxiety’ as such. I didn’t really like the label or even the idea that I might’ve needed medication (besides Rescue Remedy of course - love that shit). It's not that I have anything against medication for mental health, it just wasn’t something that I wanted at the time.
But in recent years, I’ve sort of come more to terms with the fact that anxiety is definitely something I’ve had for a long time and continue to manage. I’ve openly spoken about my anxiety before and in my experience I’ve found a lot of people are under the impression that it can be less severe to depression or various other mental health illnesses. This may be true to an extent (and I’m no expert), but I do feel that all mental illnesses should be taken as seriously as another and they can often be incredibly inter-related and hybrid.
I thought I’d share my story/journey (whatever it has even been?), in the hopes that if you might have had a similar experience you can take a long deep sigh of relief and think to yourself ‘awesome I’m not crazy’ or if not that’s also cool. But at the end of the day, One Eighty is trying to break down the stigma of mental health, so what the heck, here’s me story:
My anxiety started, I remember, from super young. My dad travelled a lot growing up and I think my feelings may have evolved from being raised in a primarily female-only household and maybe feeling unsafe or something... I am not too sure, still trying to work out where it may have sparked from, or even if I was just born with it you know?
One of my main anxieties during my life has been sleeping alone at night. Sounds ludicrous but it’s been something I’ve been dealing with for a long time and even still today. Growing up, I used to make my younger (and bigger) sister ‘protect me’ at night by sleeping in my room. We eventually got bunk beds and I was on the top, so I’d be sweet if a baddie got to her first because she’d beat them up before getting to me haha. My list of fears at this time were rollercoasters (specifically those haunted house ones in the dark), the dark (always), elevators (particularly creaky ones), sharks, clowns… a lot of the usual kidlet stuff.
Come High School, when it wasn’t so cool to sleep with my younger sister or mum anymore, I slept alone and it was okay. I remember in year 9, when social media started taking over, our school hosted a series of workshops about online stranger danger and stalking. It is honestly something that has haunted me for so long. The police guest speaker showed us a video of how easy it was for a stalker/online predator to track us down, even to our house. They used small details to track you down to your google maps address… it was so confronting. Instantly (being a paranoid kiddo) I deleted all of my myspace, facebook, MSN accounts etc.
But eventually and once my friends bagged me out enough, I got my accounts back, but ALWAYS on private and made sure I regularly checked the settings. I couldn’t get to sleep without thinking about this new kind of monster, and the huge windows in my room became something that petrified me come dark. I would tape my curtains to the windows so there was absolutely, positively no way anyone could see me in when I was snoozing (and off guard). Even in the day I couldn’t really be left home alone. I know this sounds ridiculous to so many people, but this was my mind for years. I was physcially very small and I felt pretty powerless.
In year 10 I was heading off on a exchange for a few months and at first I was so worried about sleeping, and the natural anxieties of being in a foreign place with a foreign family, that I ended up with Alopecia from stress. I had done some hypnotherapy before leaving to try and relieve some of the nervousness, and when I was there I was actually very calm and had a great time, but the pre-worrying must’ve got to me. We kind of shrugged it off when the GP said it was from stress, just Lucy I guess.
When I was fifteen I got a mosquito-spread virus called Ross River Fever in my house… in Avalon. It was a very scary experience for me. I spent a few months off school with fevers and this is probably when my insect phobia’s started. After that, if I saw a mosquito I would panic. My mum spent a lot of year 9 and 10 standing on my bed with a thong making sure all of them were smooshed dead. The hiss of them still freaks me out, but not as much as they used to.
Spiders (and I know I’m not alone) were another big one… I used to think they were crawling in my bed and I couldn’t sleep. Same thing happened with snakes. Yikes. My anxiety turned a rational fear into an irrational situation and I felt like I didn’t really have much control over it.
My paranoia only really worsened when I got older. After walking home late at night I would hypothesise about how men were following me home. I know this isn’t an invalid fear and these thoughts cross the minds of women all over the world, all of the time, but my head believed the worst possibility and I would get myself into such a frantic state. Most of my friends used to joke about how I was scared of everything, and I sort of liked it for a while weirdly, as a personality quirk or something.
But I never really admitted to them how much it had been exhausting me and now at twenty-three I’m pretty tired of the whole thing. It’s stopped me from doing a lot of things and I’ve regretted a lot of times I couldn’t turn my anxiety off. ‘What if there’s an avalanche, what if this plane goes down, what if I get salmonella, what if I didn’t turn that candle off, what if there is someone hiding in my room, what if that car hits me while I walk on the pedestrian crossing'...
It has been endless and it has been all-consuming, until more recently.
Since being in a long term relationship with my boyfriend, I supressed a lot of my night-related anxieties. However, last year in Mexico, I was incredibly nervous and felt completely unsafe for the first time in a while. I ended up going back to L.A and started to have chest pain. I got a puffer because I thought it might have been my asthma but when I got back to Australia it had got a lot worse. I started to think I was having a heart attack, but was kind of in denial and tried to ignore it.
But one night, mid a new episode of Game of Thrones (shocking timing ((favourite time of the day/year/life)) I had to go to hospital because the pain was so bad. I got rushed through to emergency and had every test done on my heart. My face was purple, I couldn’t really breathe and I had stabbing pains in my chest. After five hours the Doctor told me that I was actually all sweet. And once she said that, all of the worrying, about my heart, potential clots I thought I might have had, disappeared and the pain went away.
I was really upset for the next week, barely even went to Uni and was actually pretty angry at myself. I had let my mind completely overcome my body. I saw the GP and she said that even though I didn’t feel stressed at the time of the attack, my body was absorbing some of the anxiety and ultimately making my mind feel calmer. It could even take weeks to process and an attack could come along a while after something stressful had happened.
In a night, I had gone from saying ‘I’ve got anxiety but it’s fine, I’ve always had it’ to ‘this is actually something that can paralyse you, and I should be managing and taking it as seriously as any other sickness’.
Since that scary week, I’ve been really been trying to work on my anxiety. I’ve found engaging with One Eighty events and other mental health conversations, seeing a counsellor, being in nature and prioritising self-care, to all be incredibly helpful for me. I’ve also used poetry and song-writing to really calm a lot of my stresses and by physically putting the words on paper I have had a much clearer mind.
This year, I have made some pretty big changes in my lifestyle, and recently and have kicked some massive goals for my anxiety, that I couldn’t have even thought about doing six months ago. I can’t stress how exhausting and crippling anxiety has been for me but it’s something I’m really trying to actively change and manage ultimately. I know it has the potential to get pretty bad again but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
For anyone who has never had anxiety and might have a loved one that feels it, my advice for you is to NOT lose hope in their abilities. And focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t. Don’t call them a scaredy-cat or pussy (which is also incredibly offensive to women p.s cause we are courageous AF). Someone once told me the bravest people are the ones who are petrified and they give it a go anyways.
I think anxiety needs to be taken more seriously and brought out into the light as much as any other mental or physical illness. It’s much scarier in the dark, and even more by yourself. If someone shys away from doing something, don’t belittle their struggles or tell them to ‘man-up’ or ‘suck it up’ and instead try and understand it. Break it down with them. Breathe in and try and rationalise the situation. In a moment of panic, even holding someones hand in silence can be the best thing you can do for them. But at the end of the day, anxiety is an individual experience and one you can’t really depend on others to wholly ‘fix as such’. There are plenty of things you can do and try if you are getting weighed down. Humans are fascinating in their ability to continually evolve and adapt. Don’t let anything define you, especially if you don’t want it to.
Written by Lucy Murray @lucymuzz
Edited by Samantha Callender
Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.
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