At my PIP appeal today, I was actually downgraded by a few points because the panel didn’t believe I have anxiety like I say I do. I’m articulate, witty, I smile and make eye contact, so how can I be struggling with anxiety so severely?
It’s important to understand that anxiety affects people differently. I may be smiley and friendly when I meet you, but that doesn’t mean to say that I’m not worried about meeting you. I might even smile and shake your hand, but it doesn’t mean to say that I’m not worrying about what you think of me.
The truth is, to manage my anxiety, I need support. I don’t go out on my own unless I absolutely have to because I get extremely anxious. Even when I do go out, I feel like my stomach is imploding, I feel breathless and worry about dropping dead. I get to the end of my road and I start to panic, was this a good idea? Do I really need to go on this trip, after all? Maybe not. Let’s just go home.
Talking with shop assistants or Post Office clerks? Yeah, right.
I struggle with social anxiety, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I struggle with people once I have spoken to them with someone to support me. A smile, a “hi”, a “hello”. Do you know what that tells me? That tells me “I don’t bite”, and that makes me feel reassured.
Because you know what? When you have other disabilities, there are plenty of other people who do bite, and sometimes, they bite hard.
Everyone gets bullied, but when you’re disabled, you’re sort of easy pickings because you might not be able to run so fast. For me, that’s absolutely the case. Turn and run sounds great, but turn and fall over myself, because of my ataxia, is realistically far more likely.
Sadly, in this world, the more different you are, the more you get bullied.
The more places you get bullied in, the more you avoid them. The more you avoid, the worse your anxiety gets.
You see? I’m not anxious around friendly people, usually. I’m anxious when I’m out and about, because I can’t know everyone’s intentions. For example:-
- The time I went to buy my Gran a gift, I didn’t expect a man to steal it and insist I kiss him to get my gift back.
- The time I went to buy some sweets with my brother, I didn’t expect a car to wheel-spin dirt and gravel in our faces.
- The time I took a shortcut with my Mum, I didn’t expect some youths to beat us both around the head with stolen lottery tickets.
- The time I was working in the front garden, I didn’t expect a cyclist to heckle me.
But these things all happen, they make me more anxious, and they hurt.
I also get anxiety over absolutely anything. Because of my domestic fire in 2016, a smell will throw me and I’ll start panicking that something is on fire or I’m being gassed and poisoned. I’ll sit or lie funny, worry that I can’t breathe, and start having a panic attack. I may have a panic attack over absolutely nothing, but the fact that I seem confident and smiling doesn’t mean I don’t get them at all.
I could get an anxiety attack from something on the TV, it might not even be the news, but a theme or topic in a show that leaves me worrying, It could be a thought, or worse, a chain of thoughts, that leaves me all worked up.
And you know what happens when I’m there? I struggle to function, I get emotional and start forgetting things. I get upset easily and I make mountains out of molehills. Leaving the oven lit, forgetting to eat and struggling to get dressed seem to be all too common for me, and there is plenty to say that anxiety can come with forgetfulness and memory loss. I also start picking my skin which can lead to sore and bloodied injuries. I experience dissociation, or the feeling that I’m in a dream, in a bubble. I don’t live and function, I merely move to exist. Near busy roads, sharp edges and hot flames, derealisation can be an incredibly dangerous symptom to have.
I’ve been through therapy, and therapy was great. The problem is, when you’re bullied because of you other disabilities, therapy when you’re being bullied is a bit like putting tape on a leaky pipe. It works great for a while, but you need to replace the pipe eventually. Therapy can help you overcome bullying, but you need to learn to be able to react confidently, rather than just battling through.
The other issue is that anxiety can occur in all kinds of situations, and for me, by far the absolute worst is when I’m travelling. Stuck in a tiny box on a very busy road for several hours at a time? No thankyou, I’d much rather be out, breathing the free air, and my body likes to tell me it.
Imagine this, you take a road trip with your friend, all seems great and well and all of a sudden they start straining in their seat, gritted teeth and groaning. Maybe they scream, too, but they’re very clearly distressed. They shout things like “god just fucking..I need.. stop please!”. Wouldn’t you worry, too?
Welcome to travelling with yours truly. It’s called amaoxophobia, ladies and gents, or the phobia of being a passenger.
We need to change what we think anxiety looks like, and we need to change what we think depression looks like. We get our ideas of mental health dangerously wrong sometimes, and that can be hugely problematic for everyone involved.
Nobody associates David Walliams with depression, even though he opened up recently about his battle.
Nobody would have believed Robin Williams was depressed, yet he proceeded to take his own life.
Nobody believes I struggle with anxiety, yet underneath that confident mask lies one of the biggest worriers you’ll know.