A guest post by author Lucy Nichols
What have you got to be anxious about?
It’s that old adage that in reality couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems to make sense, doesn’t it? Why would you feel anxious if there was nothing to be anxious about…?
But that’s the problem with anxiety. It doesn’t make sense. Of course, if you’re feeling anxious about a first date, a house move or starting a new job, that’s perfectly normal. That’s life.
The issues arise when that anxiety becomes unmanageable.
This can be for two reasons. One, your life has become a shit storm of stress, with one snowball smacking you square in the face after another. There’s no time to get back up. You’re simply pushed to your limits. Your anxiety becomes unmanageable.
The second reason is, well, kind of hard to explain really. This is when your anxiety levels go through the roof but you can’t put your finger on why. Why am I spending the night on the sofa watching Friends (it was the 90s), eating my favourite cheap frozen pizza (I was a full time glass collector) and chilling with my cats (aww) – yet I feel as though my heart is going to explode. Or that my throat is going to spontaneously constrict in a medical first. Or that rumbling in my stomach is a sure sign of bowel cancer.
There were a few emergency GP and A&E visits during my 20s…
If you’re prone to these responses, and then life starts throwing those yellow pissy snowballs at your head, you’ve got a double whammy of terror to deal with. But how can we help people to understand?
How many times have we heard this one:
It’s life – get over it
And what about this one?
You’re over emotional, you need to calm down
This is why I decided to write about anxiety and stigma and mental illness more broadly. Because your colleagues, your family, your friends, the stranger walking past you on the street – they can’t see the circus of horrors that’s flying around inside your head.
I started sharing my story through a blog, and realised that I couldn’t stop yapping (or, typing) and I ended up with enough material for a book – which is now out there for all to read and entitled A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes.
It’s a cathartic experience in many ways – especially when writing in the moment, as that can help you rationalise your panicked thoughts.
But it can also be pretty challenging taking yourself back into the eye of the whirring panic attack that you experienced a few weeks or months back. The thing is, if you want people to understand, you have to go back there. You have to describe it authentically. So writing a mental health memoir does have its ups and downs.
It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve learnt. To be honest with yourself. And when I looked back I realised I was a closed-minded little shit when I was a teenager. I referred to the supported accommodation down the road as a ‘nut house’. I am certainly not proud.
But that’s why my book is about naming and shaming stigmas and not people. Because we need to listen and learn. And if somebody starts yelling at somebody else a la Donald Trump with ANGRY TWEETS because somebody described somebody else as a ‘bit OCD’ then we shut off the opportunity to affect change. We need to engage with people, not distance ourselves from them. However uncomfortable that may be (why do you think I follow Piers Morgan FFS).
And it was certainly uncomfortable admitting my own failings in terms of mental health stigma over the years. But I felt that this might be the best way of engaging with others who have, or are doing, the same. Perhaps it will make people think twice?
I grew up with the infamous ‘bunny boiler’ representation of borderline personality disorder in movies like Fatal Attraction, and terrifying wife beaters with OCD in Sleeping with the Enemy. And I witnessed the despicable treatment of stars like Amy Winehouse (and read and reflected on the treatment of people like Nancy Spungen – of Sid and Nancy fame – who died tragically the year I was born. The headlines announcing her death were most unforgiving – ‘Nancy is a witch’ they yelled).
So my book looks at my own experience of anxiety against a backdrop of awkward adolescence, a Seattle grunge scene that found its way onto Top of the Pops and terribly stigmatised movie scenes. Oh, and a few cringe-worthy moments thrown in for a little light entertainment.