The Anxiety Diaries Part 1

By Salomée Béranger

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I spent all morning calculating every detail. The route to get there, the alternative route just in case. A couple screenshots, notes in my journal if my battery runs out. Checked how far it will be, how long it's going to take me, how many trains. Overground is always better as the feeling of being under the earth makes me feel more claustrophobic, trapped. Checked how busy it will be at this time of the day; busy enough so I go unnoticed, not too busy otherwise it triggers a panic attack. I am in front of the mirror. Regardless of my strong feminist views - I think to myself: am I asking for it in this outfit? What if someone follows me outside the underground? It happened before. It'll probably happen again. Picturing in my mind every single bad scenario that might happen is so much easier than imagining the good ones. OK. I am ready. Check one last time the route to get there.

Shall I cancel last minute?

"Something came up sorry."

"I doubled-book myself without realising, I am so silly but this appointment is so important, shall we reschedule?"

Every option sounds fake. After 20 minutes of typing and deleting a text I eventually write: Running late, will be here shortly.

I feel a bit dizzy, out of breath, stepping out of the house.

The next challenge will be not to panic if the train is too crowded. I don't know where this one comes from; but I have never felt comfortable in crowds. I feel like it used to be more manageable than it is now. I figured, growing old, that my fears are somehow growing too instead of shrinking. If the carriage is too full, I'll run to one further down to see if it's a bit less busy. If the whole train is busy, I'll just wait for the next one. But how do I explain this to the person who's waiting for me?

There are several options I can think of:

"Sorry, the train I was supposed to take left as I was walking down the station stairs to get it."

"Sorry, all the trains are delayed."

"Sorry, I am anxious in crowds, waiting for a quieter train, hope you'll understand."

The constant need to justify myself. To apologise for my fears, for simply being.

I eventually jump in the train, get there and relax a bit. I forget all about it when I am with my friend. I act like everything is fine. No - getting to you wasn't a big deal. The way back feels smoother. Those types of anxieties came back harder moving to a new country, with a new language, and also living in a capital city - which is a first time for me. Sometimes, I even feel dissociated from my own body, like I am walking next to myself, being my own stranger.

I get triggered at tiny things, I don't feel safe anywhere, it is draining. And at each small things I do by myself - it is a victory. And I feel embarrassed for being this way. I never talk about what goes through my mind. The spiral of thoughts, all the possibilities, the crippling details. It is the first time i write about my anxiety. Speaking up about it is never easy. I know that more and more people do - which is empowering and so important for the community (because, let's face it, we ALL have mental health issues because we are ALL human beings) - but I do believe it is taboo.

As long as it is not socially accepted to phone in sick because I don't feel strong enough to face the world (and don't feel anxious about what my boss might think or how legitimate my unavailability is) I will carry on speaking about mental health.

I will carry on writing about mental health.

As long as male suicide rate is high and men don't feel free enough to talk about their feelings in public spaces, I will carry on speaking about mental health.

I will carry on writing about mental health.

MY COPING TOOL BOX:

- When I feel a panic attack coming up, I focus on my breathing and try to think of mundane things: doing the laundry later, what I am going to wear the next day etc.

- Focusing on small visual aspects are helpful: a ring you might wear, feeling it, looking at every detail of it.

If you’ve been struggling with your mental health or are having suicidal thoughts, or you know somebody who is, these are the numbers to call to get some help.

Samaritans: 116 123

CALM: 0800 58 58 58

Papyrus (for those under 35): 0800 068 41 41

Childline (for children and young people under 19): 0800 1111

The Silver Line (for the elderly): 0800 4 70 80 90