My whole life has been punctuated by some sort of worry. From 18 months old I had a phobia of dogs, and ended up going to a psychiatrist when my parents realised that my instinct to run away from the problem could lead to serious issues – namely running into the road in a state of blind panic. I was a shy child, hiding in my room when family friends came around, avoiding social situations for fear of… I’m not sure what. Throughout primary school I was bullied, and so spent my break times helping mark homework with my teacher (which probably didn’t help the whole bullying thing…).
I learnt how to deal with the social anxiety when I was at secondary school. Despite desperately wanting to just hide in the library, I realised relatively quickly that to get through life you have to be able to talk to people. When it was suggested I join a newly-formed public speaking team when I was 13, it seemed a good first step. I was okay with speaking in front of large groups of people, but the regular meetings with the other members of the team (who were inevitably part of the ‘popular’ crowd) took me out of my comfort zone. Shortly after this I was handed an audition slip for a youth theatre company, and my love of theatre became a fundamental part of my life.
Over the years, I’ve become more confident in new situations. At least, when I’m in the situation I’m good at playing the confident role, with a degree in Theatre Studies helping to develop my ability to act even further. Before the event when I’m at home I’m in a state of intense panic, and afterwards I’m so drained I have to just have some time to be quiet in order to recharge. It takes a huge amount of energy to meet new people, and on more than one occasion I’ve made myself ill in order to avoid something that was just a step too far.
It’s taken a while to fully understand that this isn’t just being ‘introverted’. I suffer from anxiety that leads to panic attacks, crippling fear, irrationality, and all sorts of uncomfortable physical symptoms. This isn’t a personality quirk, it’s a mental health issue. It’s an issue that took a year of feeling physically sick for me to acknowledge as something that has a name, but with the help of a counsellor, something that can be helped in a more constructive way than just ‘getting on with it’.
Right in the midst of learning how to accept and cope with a mental health condition, I moved away from everything I knew. It didn’t seem like the best timing, but some things you can’t predict. It turned out to be the best possible thing for me to do.
Getting away from the insular, downward-looking bubble (as I felt it) of the M25 gave me a whole new perspective. The fresh air, the drive to and from the station opening up vistas and views of valleys and hills. Every day I’m reminded that I’m part of a much wider, beautiful world. The things I find scary or difficult can be forgotten when I’m at the top of a mountain looking at the mist rolling in. The skies are bigger up here – with fewer people, fewer buildings, it feels like there’s more space to breathe. To take in fresh air and let go of the little things. Rain, mist, snow, sunshine – every day creates a different painting, and whatever is worrying me fades, if only for a moment, in the awe of what’s in front of me. Within ten minutes of my front door we’re on the moors of the Kinder Scout. If we drive for just a couple of hours, the Welsh mountains loom and invite us to blow away the cobwebs. Eradicate the dark clouds of anxiety with a bracing wind
It’s still damn hard. Recently I’ve ended up on an accidental detox as my brain currently can’t cope with me drinking coffee or eating chocolate or cheese… believe me, that’s not a good thing. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and used to munch on Babybel as a daily ritual, but now if I so much have a nibble of a chocolate bar when I’m feeling vulnerable, I spend the next day in a state of simmering terror. But that’s another story.
The country is not for everyone, but for me our new home, more spectacular hills, and bigger skies are the best therapy I could ask for. It’s a long journey, but after a year I can already say I am stronger, more aware, and healthier body and mind than ever before.