It’s weird isn’t it, mental health. I’ve come across a lot of people in my life that don’t understand it, when I’ve expressed my anxious thoughts I’ve had variation of ‘don’t worry about it’ or ‘just don’t think about it’. When I’ve expressed my depressive thoughts I’ve had variations of ‘just be happy’ or ‘look on the bright side’. I’ve got to give it to them, they think they’re being helpful, I’ll give them points for trying, but it doesn’t help. From my own personal experiences with these sorts of people, they’re the type that believe that the illness is only real if you can see it and unless you’re prepared to march them down to a hospital to show them a scan of your brain chemicals, they’ll just sit there telling you it’s all in your head.
If you’re one of those people just imagine that you’ve been locked in a uni halls with a physical presences that represents your insecurities, fears, worries. Just imagine that every time you did something you were proud of, every time you felt confident, every time you felt good this presence just ripped you apart verbally and physically. No matter how much you screamed to be let out, no one unlocks the door. This scene represents what is going on in your brain.
Now that we’re on the same page, this is my story.
I was a happy confident kid, I’d mess around and make a fool of myself without caring. I did a lot of dance at this age, from what I’ve been told I was pretty good at it. Not someone you’d expect to be a victim of mental health problems.
Around the ages of 6-8 or something like that, I went to quite a fancy dance school and they were planning on doing a performance in pavilion (we’re not talking about the small pavilion dance theatre here either) and I agreed to be in it. I got my costumes, I had the photo shoot done, I knew the dance, I never performed on the stage. It’s not like it was first time nerves, at my old dance school I performed in regular shows at the local leisure centre. However, this time I think the glits, the glam, the lights, the stress caused something in my to click and I experienced stage fright for the first time. I didn’t stay there much longer, I started protesting against going to class and used to cry for the majority of the lesson when my mum eventually got me there. This was the first time I had experienced feeling anxious I suppose?
I was about 12, I had just finished in the shower and was sat on there floor curled up in a towel. I felt so empty, I just didn’t want to exist, but I didn’t want to die. Did I want to die? This was an unfamiliar feeling and I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I just sat there on the heated floor in my towel with soggy hair trying to feel any emotion other than depressed.
I had spoken to anyone at this point about my thoughts? Yes. I once tried to talk a couple friends about how I thought I had developed social anxiety when I started feeling panicky in public and when I started believing that everyone was judging me for the way my face looked while it was resting, the way my hair looked, the way I spoke, the way I smiled. They dismissed it as me simply worrying about stupid stuff.
14 and I was that friend that would always be picked on. Yes I know friends pick on each other, but this had gone too far. I started believing that I was useless, dumb that no one liked me. I’d regularly breakdown and have panic attacks.
This is when someone I had newly befriended came into the story. I was having a rough night and I turned to them and they listened and supported me. This person is now my best friend and has been there through thick and thin. They helped me open up about everything I had been repressing over the years and helped me to finally accept that yes I do have anxiety after being told by so many that I didn’t.
A couple months after my 15th birthday I started dancing again for the first time in 7 years.
Fast forward a year and it’s GCSE season. I had a breakdown the night before all my English exams and did them all on 4 hours of sleep, but I passed everything with nothing lower than a B.
A couple breakdowns later and it’s March, my dance exam. Another one of the reasons I dropped out of my dance school was because I was too scared to take my exam which they were forcing me to do before I left so this dance exam was a big deal.
Did I nearly cry before the exam? Yes. Did I have a panic attack before the exam? Yes. Did I mess up the arm movements in the exam? Yes. Did a get a merit? Yes. Take that anxiety, I did it!
A couple months later and it’s the dance show and guess who made it further than the photo shoot? I performed both nights and I loved it. Take that anxiety.
Mixed up in the middle of the dance exam and the show, I was contemplating dropping out of sixth form. I’ve always been interested in working on films and creating worlds through visual effects and for my year 12 work experience I was lucky enough to go work in a visual effects company for a week. This week was amazing and I loved every second of it, but it really did highlight how miserable i was at sixth form. I hated it. It was draining me, it was burning me out, I had lost all passion for my work. Because what was I doing it all for? A grade? I could be at this visual effects company working on films, making my mark in the industry, building a show reel and portfolio. So I went against everything my brain was screaming at me (stick to the safe route, don’t take risks, what if it goes wrong?) What if it goes right though?
I dropped out and that was that. At the age of 16 I was an apprentice visual effects artist. Did my anxiety flip out? Yes. Are the people there lovely? Yes. Would I go back to sixth form? Not even if you paid me.
I have anxiety and with some help from my best friend I’m managing to build myself up again. I passed my dance exam with what my dance teacher told me is an amazing result for a first timer, I’ve performed in a dance show (in front of real people), I’ve dropped out of sixth form to pursue my dream and well I’m 17 now and I’m learning how to drive which is something I told myself I’d never to because I was too anxious to even try.
I need to keep it real though. I do still have bad weeks, bad days, sudden moments of uncontrolled panic, anxiety attacks that can last from anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. I still have breakdowns, maybe worse than before, but they’re less frequent then they used to be.
Thank you to everyone who’s helped me get this far. Thank you to my NCS friends for being there for me when my friend group fell apart, when I felt so alone and unwanted. Together we worked together to help raise money for this very charity so thank you Dorset Mind as that month we spent fundraising really brought us together as a group. Thank you to the teachers that had faith in me. Thank you to my boss for seeing that I had what it took to be in the visual effects industry from such a young age even when people were telling me I was too young, that I was still a child. Thank you to the teachers that gave me confidence in my work. Finally, thank you to my best friend, you’re the only person that can make me smile while I’m having a breakdown, I don’t know where I’d be without you.