Anxiety - My Imaginary Friend
Hi, it’s me again! I thought I was done oversharing for a while, but now its Mental Health Awareness week so I’m back ‘like the renegade master with his ill behaviour’.
We are talking about anxiety? Hold my beer (*jokes. I don’t drink, I’m far too worried about getting drunk and being out of control!)
*Rolls up sleeves. Okay, let’s do this.
Anxiety was my imaginary friend as a child. She was a right killjoy. Whenever I went to do something, this little voice said, ‘bad idea Ericka. What if?’
(For the sake of comparison, my husband had an imaginary friend as a child called King. They spent many happy hours making radio shows of the Subbuteo results they had just played together.)
[See this photo? I was always looking at the exit.]
I remember asking my Aunt if she ever thought that she wasn’t real. That she was not really here. I realise now I was trying to describe depersonalisation. *Depersonalisation is where you have the feeling of being outside yourself and observing your actions, feelings or thoughts from a distance. Depersonalization often occurs when anxiety has become chronic. I was eight years old. I would lie in my bunk bed at night and feel like I was falling backwards into a hole, getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
(Short true story. There was this urban myth going around primary school about a China doll with long nails who woke in the night and murdered everyone. By the time you heard her scraping along the floor, it was too late. I smeared Vaseline across the rungs of my bunk bed ladder, so she’d slip off when she came for me. When people, when. No, she didn’t come. Yes, I did slip off the ladder myself.)
I am not going to bore you with my teenage years. Nothing much happened. Literally. I mostly stayed at home, cancelled plans. Opted out, missed out. Rinse and repeat. I mean, how do you tell your pals, who just want to go out and have a good time, that wide open spaces freaked you out because there was nowhere to run and hide. From what, I didn’t know. Myself maybe.
I had panic attacks in classrooms. All I did was watch the clock, look at the door and try not to pass out. When I tried to explain to the teachers that GCSE’s in the main hall, with hundreds of students and no moving for three hours might kill me, I was asked why I had to be so ‘difficult’ and why I couldn’t be like everyone else. I was like ‘I honestly don’t know. If you do, please, please tell me.’
I could not eat in public. Panic wrapped her fingers round my throat, and I could not swallow. I would watch people, shoving chips in their mouths at crowded dining room benches and feel such incredible envy.
[See my little stick legs. I could not eat at school. They would call my mum and tell her I had nothing for lunch] I went on the pill for acne (not contraception. I wasn’t just frigid, I was a bloody deep freeze) The pamphlet claimed ‘you may experience side effects, like morning sickness’ so I decided it was best I didn’t leave the house until after 12am every day. Bang went sixth form. It started at 8.20am! I stopped the pill, but still struggled to leave the house before lunchtime. Just in case.
I think that is what I resent anxiety most. Not for what I missed out on, but for making me hate myself. I truly abhorred myself. How I wish I could go back and tell little Ericka how brave she was. How she kept trying, even though she knew she was going to fail. I try not to think about the things I missed out on because of anxious thoughts I chose to believe. Going to University. Becoming an English Teacher. Speeding down Route 66 with a burger the size of my head on the passenger seat.
[See this photo of me and James? I was eighteen and had just had a panic attack when we walked into a club. We are on the beach. I am still vibrating with adrenaline. He is thinking about football.]
Cut to the good bit. I got diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder when I was thirty. I’d lost two decades to worrying by then. To believing that stupid voice in my head. I will be on medication for life. I am fine with that because now I can now walk down the street and notice the blossom on the cherry trees. The squirrels and the clouds and the dogs coming towards me. I can go on trains and planes and amusement park rides (the teacups, no need to go mad). I can go out for hours and hours without worrying. I can eat in restaurants. I can drive on the motorway. I live on the edge, people!
One of my children has severe anxiety. Did I give it to her? Probably. Can I help her? definitely. All I have to do is remember myself, and what I wish could have happened. In the 80’s kids were not allowed anxiety. It was for grownups. We were given a ball and a wall and a packet of crisps. Now there are workshops, and books and meetings and help. There is the simple comfort of someone saying ‘it’s okay. I am here and I won’t leave you. You can talk to me.’
[See me in this photo! I'm happy now. Not perfect, not healed, but happy. That's a proper smile]
I think that’s the point of this post. You can talk to me. You can talk to your friend, family, doctor. Samaritans. Whoever. Pick up the phone and talk about it. You are not alone and anyone with anxiety deserves a medal of honour for bravery. Keep on truckin.’