I am as much anxious as I am (naturally) brunetteLily Alford with permission for Varsity

My dad called me a “worrywart” when I was a child. It’s not a particularly nice label, but my mum still calls me “sausage” to this day, so maybe they had mutually decided that all my nicknames should be somewhat greasy. This worrying of mine didn’t manifest itself into panic attacks until I was 15, and I was fortunate enough to be formally diagnosed privately very soon after. I’ve spent a quarter of my lifetime aware of it, and the entirety of it dealing with it.

My anxiety is not debilitating. In fact, most people don’t know I have it at all. This isn’t necessarily performative on my behalf. My anxiety just doesn’t demonstrate itself in ways that make me appear less confident, self-assured, or – thankfully – hilarious. I won’t try to speak for people who experience it differently or more severely than me.

However, many don’t realise that people with anxiety, to whatever degree of outward severity, are living with it every second of every day. Not just when it becomes visible and audible in a crowded club or outside an exam hall, in a rocky sea or on a departing plane. My brother described it well over the Christmas holidays, the morning after a particularly bad panic attack, when he asked: “How are you? Other than perpetually anxious, obviously.”

“I like my anxiety. They’re my best friend”

The way that he had seen me in that moment surprised me. I’ve never thought of myself as “anxious”; after all, we understand it to be synonymous with being nervous or overwhelmed. These equivalencies, as well as belittling anxiety as a mental illness, fail to capture its longevity and depth.

I am as much anxious as I am (naturally) brunette. I have as much anxiety as I have freckles, which also, quite fittingly, implies that there’s quite a lot of it. This is the crux of it: even when I’m not actively anxious at a particular moment in time, I am still an anxious person. A panic attack is not a wobble on an otherwise normal path; it is when the slack loosens in a tightrope.

This doesn’t mean I believe that an anxiety diagnosis is a life sentence of doom and gloom. My own experience with counselling is helping me recognise my triggers and manage my response to them. Nor does it mean that I think anxiety is my entire identity. But I also know that even if I really put my mind to it, anxiety is not something I could simply “get rid of”. I will never try to destroy my anxiety. Partly because I don’t like to lose, but mostly because I would be destroying something important to me.

There, I said it. I have a little imaginary friend in my head. It seems weird, especially when you realise that they’re more of a bully who often takes advantage of my pleasant nature to shout and stomp their feet for what they want. A person who ties cords around my breathing pipe and closes the shutters behind my eyes.

“We’d both much prefer to be in someone else’s head”

It sounds like a toxic relationship. “No, they’re really nice when you get to know them, they’re just a bit shy at first.” Or: “We have really deep conversations; they understand me like no one else can.” But my anxiety hasn’t trapped me inside my head, like the dragon to my princess in an ivory tower. No, we’re trapped in this hellhole together.

Luckily, however, me and my internal BFF are not entirely alone in this. I don’t wander around talking to the sulk in my own head. In the Christmas Crisis I referred to earlier, my mum performed a ritualistic exorcism on her bed which involved latin rites (inhale and exhale) and holy water (a big glass from the tap). One of my best friends has discovered a knack for precarious moments when we’re on nights out, designed to steady the ship when my face goes blank and I begin to float up towards the stalactites of sweat dripping from the ceiling. She simply puts her face in front of mine and forces my gaze into hers. It’s tiny, but sincere, and, most importantly, doesn’t require physical touch. It instantly makes my feet secure on the ground again, however slippery it is with spilt VKs.


Mountain View

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Living with my anxiety is not pleasant. I cannot, ever, think of anything else. I have tried to keep this article light, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that anxiety is an issue that must be taken more seriously. But I am trying to become just as hopeful about this constant effort to morph coexistence into a fulfilling life, as I am exhausted, upset, and frustrated by it.

They say that the only person you really have is yourself. I don’t think I exist without my anxiety, and if I did, I wouldn’t be the person that I am.

They have challenged me to become independent and self-aware. Maybe I would have been all those things without it, but I want to give them some credit. So, this is my solution. I choose to live my life with anxiety, rather than despite it. If you don’t like that, as of now, then that’s not my problem anymore.