My vice was anxiety. I guess it still is somewhat. It’s a word that has meant different things to me throughout my life but really has become something of interest in the last few years. And by interest I mean an absolute focal point. I ran into two lovely chaps in Istanbul during a European trip that pulled one over on me and before I knew it I was $3,000 out of pocket, nearing the bottom of my funds, and with no apparent future plan or security. Oh and it was snowing. In fucking Istanbul. I think I can safely say that it was at this point that I felt a definite realignment in my mind; something shifted, and it wasn’t anything comfortable.
Over the next months I moved to Barcelona and began searching for work. Everything was new, nothing was familiar and it was all wrong. You quit your job and move overseas and you’re meant to get an Instagram account full of beautiful pictures; you’re meant to get a great girlfriend and a great apartment with a great job and eat great seafood all the time. I had no friends, no language, no job – nothing close to that which my expectations had so eagerly promised me. Then just like some grim metaphor, negative thoughts slowly began to trickle into my everyday.
The sun was out, the city was beautiful, the people were lovely and I was trapped inside a head that was building bigger, stronger and darker walls by the minute. As I write and read this it all sounds so silly and simple and this is really the crux of it all. Something that I battled with a lot in the early days, and I suppose still do now – it does all seem so silly. I’m smarter than this, I’m stronger than this, I’m more confident than this makes me feel – all thoughts that catalyzed my mental health downward spiral.
Anxiety in the first months of Barcelona was a hurricane of uncontrollable thoughts tearing through my mind, it was blushing endlessly from feelings of embarrassment and shame at myself, it was a racing heart and sweating because I felt so out of control I didn’t know what was happening to me, it was self-hatred and confusion beyond anything I had ever known or thought was possible. It was all of this in a constant blur – complete overwhelming mental chaos ultimately leading to me having my first panic attack. Less than six months prior to this I was the most confident and charismatic I had ever been in my life. Can safely say I didn’t see that coming.
I had had my periods of social awkwardness and communicative challenges in my life but nothing had come close to this. I began avoiding social situations that I would have longer for previously, I would avoid nearly all the things that had once given me pleasure, and most of all I was constantly focusing on my racing heartand my chaotic thoughts meaning I was never able to relax. I would sleep between 3-5 hours a night and felt continually tight-chested and anxious. I rejected everything, I questioned everything, and eventually thought it would all be easier if I wasn’t alive.
I would like to point out here that I never contemplated killing myself and for this I feel immeasurably lucky and grateful, and my heart truly aches for anyone who has. Mine was more a feeling of absolute helplessness. I had questioned myself in my life (as I’m sure we all do) but up until this point those questions had remained whispers. Now they were screams. Now they were neon lights. When your own mind turns against you it is truly the most horrendous thing, and something I now understand so much more acutely. Before I thought my mum’s depression was an unfortunate thing that you just needed to take pills for. It is so, so much more than that. And in some ways I am grateful that I am now able to empathize with the innumerable people who deal with these experiences and times.
If I could impart some of what little wisdom I have to anyone reading this in regards to dealing with people experiencing anxiety it would be something along the lines of this: have patience – they might not seem themselves and not reply or attend social gatherings. They might not want to talk and they might react strangely to things. They might not be the person you remembered and they might be hard to be around at times but they are still there, most likely more confused than you are and doubly as afraid. Be as open and caring and understanding as possible – they might not want to speak with you at all one day and need you like never before the next. In these times think Batman; take any shit you may get and be there when the call comes, because it does come. And they will need you even if they don’t say it. I promise you that when the haze clears you will have no idea how much you mean to them.
I can now look at the anxiety I experienced with a good deal of objectivity, something I am extremely proud of. It taught me patience beyond measure. It taught me how to be the healthiest I’ve ever been. It taught me that I’m pretty resilient. It taught me the sheer power of my mind and the coinciding respect it is due. It taught me a form of empathy I am so proud to have now, and it teaches me more every day. If you are ever to experience anxiety I would say one thing to you and to let it be your mantra – you exist outside of it. This is what meditation and yoga and good mental practice (and it is exactly that – a practice) allows you to more fully comprehend. Once you strip back the experiences you have to their essence you see that things just happen, it is only when we assign our thoughts and feelings to them that complications arise. As Shakespeare so aptly put it, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
In concluding I find myself thinking why I wrote this piece: was it for sympathy? Was it to help? Was it to boost my ego? Was it for some therapeutic effect? Who am I to write on mental health anyway? What am I doing here? You can slowly begin to see the delights anxiety sees fit to bestow upon you. Having a good day? What about having a heart attack? Just got through a day eating healthily? What about the fact you have no money? Like living in some grim Narnia of overcomplicated thoughts. Where was I…
The real meaning behind this piece is to perhaps help one person out, maybe a few. An amazing woman I know once told me that the world’s problems stem from lack of empathy (an idea I’ve claimed as my own a few times I have to confess). If I can get a few people closer to understanding and empathizing with mental health complications and sufferers then I will feel happier with myself. If I could potentially help someone avoid going through what I went through I would do it a million times over. That being said people do go through it every day so if you can, why not do a few simple things: make time, have patience and think Batman. More often than not people don’t need life changing advice and deep conversation, they just need a chat. If you know someone who seems off color why not check in – you never know how much it might mean.
Safer communities, together.
 I have since found that my heart rate is, and was most likely never more than just above the ideal range for someone my age – something I mentally developed into a problem through my anxiety.