I’m actually writing this right now because I can’t sleep- it’s 1AM, and I’m up at 6:30 for my train to college. I can’t sleep because I’m tense and worried- about my pending exam results, my possible international year not happening, whether I’ll fail, whether I’ll get a masters place when I finish, whether anyone hates me, whether anyone fancies me- These thoughts rattle and vibrate through my head and bubble unpleasantly in my stomach.
If I had to describe my anxiety, I’d say it’s mostly like a stomach ache. It sometimes manifests in small ways- The famous one is my obsession with time keeping and punctuality. I get irritating and upset when I’m running late and profusely apologize for being even 10 minutes late. I will habitually check that my phone is still in my pocket when walking through town, to the point where I keep my hand on it constantly. When I’m feeling low, it gets more severe, and thoughts about exams or the bigger picture will cause a wave of heat and discomfort to spread from my stomach and make it hard to breathe. The biggest underlying trigger for my anxiety is the annoying conviction I’ve never been able to shake- that I’m just fooling everyone.
To be frank, I feel like an absolute failure about 35% of the time, and a mediocre schmoo the rest. The idea that I’m not actually as intelligent as everyone around me thinks I am and that I’m just fooling everyone never, ever leaves my head. Usually it’s just a bit of background noise that I can tell to fuck off, but when I’m low it obsesses me. I don’t feel good enough, every possibility is for people better able to succeed. I can’t see myself as useful or productive, and everything about the future becomes scary. Every time someone rolls their eyes and says they’ll never be employed after their degree, my stomach heaves unhappily. ‘They’re much more competent than you, and even they aren’t going to make it.’
And of course I know objectively that this is rubbish; I have a lot going for me. My grades aren’t terrible at all (though certainly not excellent), I’m in full time education, I’ve finally starting losing all the extra weight that was damaging my health and as a result I look the best I have since hitting puberty ten years ago, I have started dressing with actual thought rather than just wearing whatever fits, and I have a vast, overlapping, amazing network of friends and family who all care about me. But the small seed of self loathing that I’ve had in me for as long as I’ve been self aware is so deeply rooted now that it’s hard to weed out. Mostly, I can contain it to the occasional self deprecating comment about my weight, work or personality- just a small little dig at myself, to let people know I’m not actually a wanker. I’ve learned to be a bit nicer to myself, but the background noise of ‘you’re a fake!’ has been pretty stubborn. One of my earliest memories was a girl in primary school telling me that ‘self praise is no praise’ when I tried to assert myself. She was just being dumb and unpleasant, but I never shook it off.
I suppose the reason I’m saying this is because mental health happens to be coming up in my life an awful lot, since I now have a gang of friends all discussing it openly. It’s nice to apologetically describe your problem to someone, only for them to go ‘bummer, I’ve had stuff like that too.’ The trouble really comes when the anxious feelings get a bit worse than usual. There, I can’t think of certain topics without a shortness of breath and a sore stomach coming on. Today on the train it was thinking about my exam results that triggered a small attack. In fact it wasn’t thinking about my results- I’m still so anxious about the actual trigger that I can’t even type it here without starting off again. It’s nothing serious but right now it’s the main irrational worry. My unhappy low periods of tension and worry are pretty much my mental health equivalent of getting a bad cold every now and then. They never last too long, and usually clear after a few days or a week. If they persist for longer I have people I can talk to who always know how to help and advise, I’m very lucky that way.
And like a bad cold, I am now able to get back to normal in about a week. The clouds lift and my stomach settles, and the anxiety goes back down to a level I can manage it at. Sprinting to the bus stop even though the bus isn’t due for another ten minutes and habitually touching the back of my chair to make sure nobody has taken my coat are the worst of it (and the sprint to the bus does me good I suppose). I know other people aren’t as lucky, and I’m very thankful that my anxiety never lasts long or brings me to any dangerous places in my mind.
So… yeah. I needed to let that out. Sometimes I have really bad weeks and think I am really useless but then I talk to people who love me and I stay in bed for a few days and eventually it lifts and I go back to being okay.
Niamh ‘I am now anxious about the lack of insight this post actually offers’ Keoghan