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Anxiety and Me

As part of the TSW Diversity Network, we discuss a wide number of topics and issues that influence inequality and create an unbalance in and out of the workplace. Staff members volunteer their thought pieces and share them internally with the whole company every week on our intranet.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and our current thought piece by AV Planner/Buyer, Laura Jones is just too inspiring to keep to ourselves.
Here’s her story…

You know when you’re walking up the stairs on a Sunday morning, after a stupidly fun night out with your best morons, and out of nowhere, a devastatingly heavy weight of anxiety hits your chest so hard, you need to grab the banister to steady yourself? Just 1 minute earlier, you were humming last night’s floor filler, while pouring yourself a strong black coffee; now you’re looking around for that familiar yet gut wrenching image of the black dog. Is it a black dog for you? It is for me. Piercing green eyes bare into me, stealing the breath from my chest, I place a shaky hand over my flipped stomach; here we go again.

It makes absolutely no sense in the world. I’m happy (possibly still tipsy), giddy from the memories of the night before. I slept well. The morning is bright, sunny even. I’m alone, but not lonely; now I’m the loneliest. I take myself to the sofa, steady my nerve, try to ground myself and pray this pain in my chest is acid reflux from last night’s shots. No such luck. This is where things get rapidly disastrous.

The room gets smaller, and every noise feels louder, sharper- the tick of the clock feels like it’s inside my head, taunting me. Every time this happens, I tell myself to remove that bloody battery, in fact just remove the entire bloody clock for good. I’m not being irrational, I don’t have an unnecessary opposition to clocks, but do you find that an anxiety attack slows down time? I mean, really slows it down? A minute feels like an hour. An hour become five of itself. Why can’t that happen when you really want it to; weekends, lunch breaks, annual leave!

Ok, back in the room. I’m staring at my phone, suddenly painfully aware of all the people who are notcontacting me right at this very moment. Absolutely no messages, no tags on Instagram, no Snapchats- and why am I not in anyone’s social media story from last night? Did no one care that I was out last night, would they have noticed if I’d gone home early; not gone at all? I’m too scared to send a message on the group WhatsApp, for fear no one will reply. They’re probably all sat together now in bed, ordering a hungover Dominos, laughing about last night’s antics; no one told me they were all staying together. Why wasn’t I invited? The imaginary rejection slays me; the tears start rolling down my face, and I bury my face in my knees. Coffee’s gone cold too.

Of course, the above is utter garbage. The deranged ramblings of a young girl, shackled by the teeth of a black dog at her ankles, pulling her into the lonely abyss of anxiety. Oh, how dramatic it sounds to a level headed, blissfully unaware human, who walks down the stairs on a Sunday, and simply just walks down the stairs. But I’m not alone. You’re not alone.

As you’ve probably gathered, my anxiety rears its ugly head as loneliness. And just to validate how unfair this illness is, these attacks can happen when I’m in a room of people, be it at work or a party full of loved ones. I can sense it rising within me, like a small flame licking away in the background of my subconscious; within 15 minutes the flames grow, and I’m on fire. Quite literally, my body becomes an inferno of panic, desperation and terror. My skin burns, the mere touch of clothes pains me, I’m desperate for air, but my heart won’t beat, my lungs have sunk. Am I having a heart attack? I must be having a heart attack. This isn’t normal; maybe I’ll die. Does anyone here care if I die? Why didn’t I eat the pizza, my last meal CANNOT be salad.

Ok, enough of that. Consider that picture painted, but does it sound familiar? If you’re nodding along, read on. It gets sunnier, I promise.

I always find that when the clouds part, and sanity restores itself, I feel ashamed and alien to the above emotions. I describe panic/anxiety attacks as out of body experiences, abductions even. In the last year, I’m happy to say that I’ve had very few. I’m still at risk, and capable of letting the illness take hold; sometimes I have the beginnings of an attack, and this is when the fight or flight instinct comes into play. How severe or how long an attack lasts is totally reliant on how I compartmentalise my feelings in the very moment, how quickly I can connect with my sense of self. Personally, authors such as Matt Haig, Bryony Gordon and Ruby Wax have been instrumental in teaching me how to take stock of my wellbeing day to day, and how to cope in moments of panic. Today, I enjoy podcasts like Fearne Cotton’s  ‘Happy Place’ and Bryony Gordon’s ‘Mad World’; I find interviews with household names and stars that I look up to, talking so openly about the way their emotions and brains work, deeply comforting.

But my path to feeling ‘well’ is very much underpinned by the recent shift in public perception and understanding. I’m so pleased that the society of today wants to understand mental illness and support those that suffer; news bulletins, our social media pages, TV content, magazines, films (the list goes on) are all exploring stories and increasing awareness, driving out the stigmas that have been placed on the vast manifestations of mental illness.

Closer to home, we as a business are doing everything we can to ensure that the 1 in 4 of us who will suffer from a mental health problem this year, have professionals to talk to, ambassadors to confide in and a work environment that allows us to feel supported, comforted and safe.However, we’re the fortunate ones, and in regards to full understanding, acceptance and legislation implementations across the world, there’s still a long road ahead. Not one story is the same, but the message is simple. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it’s time for change.

Look out for Mental Health Awareness Week, 14th-20th May. For inspiration on how to get involved, take a look here