I’ve always dealt with anxiety. I remember writing ‘worry lists’ when I was as young as seven, and being checked for asthma because I always felt like I couldn’t get enough air. I worried about everything.
Upon leaving secondary school, I found it difficult to hold down further education, even jobs. I’d start a college course and quit because I was too anxious to go. I’d have panic attacks – these got worse when I tried to enter the world of work. I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, I felt like a complete mess and a failure.
I struggled to do simple things like order food, ride the bus or go to the supermarket. I’d have intense panic attacks that resulted in hyperventilation, crying and severe muscle spasms and twitching. I felt like I’d never have a life or a future.
Even though my family were incredibly supportive, I was convinced that I’d let everyone down. I still lived with my mum – everyone else seemed to be moving out, becoming independent. Becoming adults.
Throughout all of this, I used reading and writing as an escape. I was content to spend my time writing stories, or burying my nose in a book. Sometimes, my anxiety made this difficult, but I found compromises. If I couldn’t focus on reading a book, I’d read blogs. If I couldn’t gather the energy to write a story, I’d write a poem about how I was feeling, or a book review.
I sought out counselling and CBT for my anxiety and managed to finish a college course and start a degree in English and Creative Writing – something I’d always wanted to do. I couldn’t have been prouder. I was working ‘with’ my condition, rather than punishing myself.
When I graduated, it was time to re-enter the ‘real’ workforce again.
It didn’t work.
To cut a long story short, I quit several jobs in the space of four months. I was crying daily and having panic attacks again. My progress had been reversed. I had to go on medication.
I knew it was time to make a positive change. I couldn’t go on living like this.
Freelance editing had worked for me in the past – so why couldn’t it again? It was a way that I could enter the workforce on my terms, whilst still supporting myself financially.
I loved writing, and I loved reading. I bit the bullet and decided to pour all of my energy into becoming a writer and editor. I already had the experience, and I knew I was good at it. I would work with my anxiety this time, not against it. I needed to live my life differently to be successful. I was finally starting to realise that.
I signed up for some freelancing sites and applied for a freelance proofreading job with a publishing house. Within weeks, I had two clients, and the publishing company said they’d like to work with me.
Now, I work from home and spend my days reading, proofreading and editing books. I wrote a novel when I was at university; it was requested by a couple of literary agents. I’m writing another one now, as a side project.
I’ve never been happier. I’m living life on my own terms, doing what I love and making my own success. I’m starting to feel like myself again.
My anxiety will always be a part of me. But I’ve learned to embrace it, work around it. A mental health diagnosis doesn’t mean giving up on life.
It just means living your life differently – and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.