You hear it all the time. “Oh, that’s giving me anxiety,” somebody types online in response to a stupid Facebook video. But real anxiety, palpable anxiety is unbearable. Your heart is constantly racing, like a bird trying to escape from a cage, your breathing’s sharp and shallow, your muscles contract all over your body, covering you in spasms. It’s horrible. It’s life-stopping. But, it’s manageable. I found a way to live with my anxiety through one thing, and one thing only – by using the written word.
Let me start the beginning. I was 20-years-old when my anxiety first crept up on me, like a predator stalking its prey – I was too naive to notice the signs, too young to really comprehend what was happening to my body.
I was fresh out of university, living with flatmates in a big old city, starting the first job to work my way up the ever-illusive career ladder. Everything was going for me – a flat with friends, a degree under my belt, career opportunities – the world was my oyster.
The job in question was a two-hour commute away, resulting in four hours traveling a day. “No big deal,” I said to myself. “I can just sit on the train and stick my headphones in.” And so I did. It was draining, but bearable. And so I chugged away, watching the world whiz past me through train windows, typing mercilessly away at the office.
Until, one day, my flatmate fell sick. Like, really sick. She reached the point where she couldn’t even form a sentence. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where they found out she had meningitis. Her condition worsened, at first, and at one point they were going to put her in an induced coma.
All I could do was worry. For four hours a day, sitting on a train. Helpless. Worry that she’d never recover. Worry that she’d die. Worry that I’d catch it.
Thankfully, miraculously, she got better. She recovered. And things went back to normal. I’d commute to work, commute back, smoke a load of weed with her, and that was that.
And so it went on. I’d get up at 6 am every morning, return back home around 10 pm. On lates, I’d get in at 12:30 am, then get up again at 6 am. I told myself that it was fine. That I could handle it. That I was young and a male and this is just what you did. I was fine. I wasn’t.
My mental health was eroding around me, gobbling me up from the inside, and I didn’t want to admit it. My friend’s diagnosis had flipped a switch in my brain, somehow. She was fine, but I felt like my life had been turned upside down in the space of just a few weeks.
And I was exhausted. I’d wake up bleary-eyed, stumble to the train station, the pitch-black skies of winter keeping me company, music blaring out the dark thoughts that were seeping into the edges of my mind. I’d sit at my desk and my muscles would be twitching all over my body, my legs contracting as my heart-rate rose, sweat trickling down my neck. Nobody knew, of course. I kept it hidden. I’d sit there for nine hours a day, travel home, jump in the shower, shove down a quick ready meal (if that) down my throat, smoke way too much dope, and attempt to go to sleep (though usually I’d end up just staring at the ceiling). I was barely sleeping, barely eating. Barely functioning. Barely living.
One day, I’d decided I’d had enough. I finally admitted that this wasn’t normal. I booked a day off work (which, incidentally, added to my anxiety that day) and booked an appointment at the doctors. I felt sick. My mouth was dry. My heart was pumping. But at least I was doing something.
I sat in the chair opposite the doctor, the room cold and grey, her gaze clinical. I explained to her my situation, what was happening in my life, biting my lip. She withdrew a little card with a phone number on it, telling me to ring them for counseling. I smiled, took the card, said thank you, and left.
I wanted to cry. That doctor was the first person I’d told any of that to, and her answer was to ring some random person and vent down the phone to them about all my life’s woes? No, thanks. It was from that moment that I realized nobody was going to help me, not really. They’d offer numbers and counselors and God-knows-what, but nobody was going to really, truly and utterly help.
I had to help myself.
(Note: This is in no way a criticism of the NHS or how they deal with mental health. In retrospect, I realize that particular doctor in question did everything required of her in her position).
I’d had enough. I’d had enough of feeling this way – like everything was going wrong like my own body and mind were out to get me.
A week later, I quit my job. I had rent to pay, I had bills to pay and I had nothing else lined up and was knee-deep in my overdraft. But I still quit. I physically couldn’t do it anymore. At my worst, I wanted to lay in bed, under the covers, and not have to speak to a single human being for days. At my best, I managed to hide my anxiety through a thinly veiled masquerade of false smiles.
My anxiety wasn’t gone, but I felt liberated. Finally, I was taking control of my life. I applied frantically for jobs – anything and everything that would pay my rent – and landed one working in retail. It was a far cry from the career ladder I’d set out to conquer, but it was something. In fact, I’m still at the position now. My happiness and my health are far more important than my career.
To my surprise, I actually had something called free time. It was a foreign concept, what with studying for a degree for three years with a job, then plunging into the commute from hell directly after that. Oddly enough, the free time gave me anxiety. What on earth was I supposed to do? Time went by so fast, it was so precious, I felt stressed that I wasn’t making the most of it, that I wasn’t appreciating every single second.
Eventually, I settled on something, something I’ve loved for my entire life, ever since I was a little boy of five-years-old: Writing. As it turned out, the writing was the only thing that would quieten my mind. I’d get so lost in it that I’d forget everything else in my life – I’d simply focus on putting one word after another. Most of it was garbage, cliche fantasy tales or half-baked script ideas. But I was loving it.
Not only did I rediscover my passion for the craft, but I used it as a tool. My anxiety didn’t disappear just because my friend got better and I quit my commute. The way I see it, my anxiety was a beast, buried deep within my soul, and those events were the cataclysm that awoke it. Now, it’s latched onto me. It’s a part of me, whether I like it or not. But when I write, that beast is quiet. And the more I write, the weaker the beast becomes.
I actually picture it that way, too. I envision a great mass of darkness, clinging to my chest, suffocating me. But when I write, its grip loosens. With each word, my chest becomes lighter, my soul becomes more free.
Three years since my anxiety truly leaped into the foreground of my life, I’m still living with it. But it’s nowhere near as bad as it was. Sometimes I’ll awake in the morning, worried about something – and yet I have no idea what that something actually is. I breathe, tell myself it’s nothing, and begin putting one word after another. By the time I’m finished, I realize everything’s fine.
And that happens super rarely, now. Maybe once every few months or so, as opposed to the daily hell that I was living. And I truly do owe that to the written word. It’s weakened the beast wrapped around my soul, and it’s something I’ll forever be grateful for.
I write pretty much every day, now, running my own blog reviewing TV and music, and writing a fantasy book on the side. It’s something that I love, and it’s something that’s helped my anxiety to no end. I’ll keep on living, and keep on writing.
(If you’re having mental health issues, please seek professional advice. Although turning to writing helped me as a coping mechanism for my anxiety, that doesn’t mean it will for you. Everyone’s situation is unique, and professionals tend to know the best way to help you.)
*Blog by Jack*
Follow along Jack’s journey at https://screenstreams.co.uk/