Facing Fear

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Anxiety and me go way back. I’ve worn the war wounds, cracked my knuckles and freaked the hell out. These days my anxiety is less of an iron belt cinched tight around my chest and more of a nagging great aunt who comes to visit once in a blue moon. I nod at her, smile and say, ‘yeah, yeah, sure. I’m just going to carry on, okay?’ On the rare occasion it does return full throttle though, those heart palpitations are pretty hard to ignore.

My default remedy is a duvet day, cups of tea and copious amounts of Netflix. It’s understandable to want to hide away from whatever it is that’s making your stomach tie itself in knots, but it’s not necessarily the best approach. I’m a firm believer in the be scared witless and do the thing technique. It might not work for everyone, but for me it’s tried and tested. Switching your phone off and ignoring the world might sound desirable but trust me, you’re going to have to turn it back on one day and the longer you leave it, the harder it’ll be. Ignore those somersaults, let your feet do their own little nervous dance, relax about your heart going ten to the dozen and then keep on going. Grab the bull by the horns and confront it with a shedload of sass.

I know it’s a hell of a lot harder than it sounds, and sometimes you do owe yourself a break, but the more you keep doing things that make you anxious, the easier they become. Try being scared of heights when you’ve climbed a God-knows-how-high wall thirty odd times. The nerves just start to wear thin. Whether it’s applying for a job, sending a text or even leaving the house. Try it. One step at a time. What’s the worst that can happen? Chances are it won’t be anywhere near as bad as you imagined.  

When I was at secondary school I had to make a speech as part of my English coursework. I literally couldn’t even read it out to just my teacher without shaking, blushing like a beacon, and having a full on anxiety attack afterwards. I could have given up there and then but I knew it was something I had to conquer. I started volunteering for any opportunity to practise public speaking. Cut to however many years later and I delivered a talk on employability to a lecture theatre full of freshers without even breaking a sweat.

If you do end up panicking it’s not the end of the world. Just stop, take a minute, breathe deeply and take a look around you. Recognise what is going on. One of my problems was that I didn’t even realise my anxiety was anxiety until years down the line. When you’re having a panic attack it’s easy to just think you’re ill. There were so many occasions when I was at school or college and my stomach hurt, I felt sick and dizzy, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of taking a moment and waiting it out it I panicked myself even more by wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I’ve walked out sick so many times only to feel better the second I’m on the bus home, or in the comfort of my own living room, it’s unreal. Your best bet is to stop and think. Why am I feeling like this? Am I really ill or is it purely anxiety? Am I safe here? Take deep breaths, drink some water, have a quiet word with yourself. Hide in a toilet cubicle if it makes you feel better. Tell yourself everything is going to be okay. Then go back out there and carry on winning at life.

The age old ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ theory is truth. Preach it and reap the benefits

 

 

P.S. It’s not always going to be possible. If you’re anxiety is too bad, don’t beat yourself up about it. Give yourself room to heal, time to pluck up enough courage to face the big wide world. Everybody works in different ways. Just do your best and the rest will follow.

Symposium

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Symposium

Séance in the moonlight

and your eyes strike green –

Snap. It’s just me and you.

They say if you stare in a moonlit mirror

you see the devil himself.

Boo! You’re my demon

and I’m yours.

We’ve the same baked bread skin;

our veins pool from the same ocean.

Identical twins. Only, your hair parts on the wrong side.

Four hands, four feet, two heads –

Plato’s symposium.

We should be in love.

I smile and your skin cracks.

You drag me closer with your corpse cold glare.

Someone’s breath cakes the glass in fog but

only one of us is alive.

 

Poem and collage by Sophie Turner

Dear Diary…

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I used to have a book with 365 bedtime stories in it. One for every day of the year, in case you couldn’t figure that out for yourself. I can only remember a few of them now; the story for my birthday, my sister’s birthday and the story for January the First. It was only short, and the plot centred around a bear family, who all got new diaries for Christmas and swore to write in them every day of the year. I also had a diary bought for me that year, and decided to take a leaf out of the bears’ book. Needless to say I was unsuccessful and my diary was soon lost in the back of a junk drawer somewhere.

But as I got older diary writing became more important to me. The diaries themselves were always tiny little things with three or four days on each page and what I wrote was so inane. Today I asked mum if we can move to Italy. She said no. P.S. I really need to pluck my eyebrows. And when I was feeling particularly verbose of a weekend I once wrote, ‘I just had my hair trimmed. I  went shopping and I bought some leggings, jeans and a bra. 34B!!’ Like I said, it was thrilling stuff.

And then just before I turned thirteen, things got way more intense. Teenage angst had really set in. My entries got longer and longer and longer. It stopped being writing for writing’s sake, and became something much more important. It was a form of therapy, as cheesy as that may sound. I didn’t limit myself, or set targets and rules. I just let myself write when I felt like it, and not write when I didn’t.

At my lowest points I carried my journal everywhere. I’ve wrote entries on the bus, in lessons, lectures, in cafe corners and in the toilets at work. When I was at college I used to ‘wag’ lessons and catch the bus back to my suburb and instead of going straight home I’d sit on a park bench and scribble away for an hour or two. It felt good to have space and fresh air for the first time.

There were times when I’d wake up in the middle of the night, tight chested and alight with panic. Unable to sleep, unable to breathe, unable even to cry. I’d haul my duvet off my bed, cocoon it around myself and sit like that for hours, writing, until I felt calm again. My handwriting huge and looped because I was too tired for anything else. Too distant and distracted. Not fully in this world but not fully out of it either.  It was at those low points when I’d do the worst drawings too, of nothing in particular with lazy lines, just because I wanted to be doing something other than sat in the dark thinking.

You don’t have to be a good writer. It’s not about producing great work. I’m never going to be an Anne Frank, Bridget Jones or Cassandra Mortmain. It’s not even about preserving the self you once were. It’s purely to do with distracting yourself, clearing your mind and getting your shit together, which is often much more difficult than we can ever imagine. Starting a diary is always the first thing I advise my friends to do if they’re having a hard time. It’s what we advised our kids to do at the last place I worked.

For the last couple of years I stopped. I didn’t even open my diary; I didn’t need to. I started a ridiculously thick A4 scrapbook that would weigh me down if I ever tried to take it out of the house. Cutting out articles about gender, sexuality, and images of happy, confident, smiling women. I am now happy, confident and smiling too. But whenever that feeling creeps up on me again, and I feel like shrinking back, away from the rest of the world, the best thing I can do is to pick up a pen and write.

 

Photo taken by myself of one of my many, many journals.