Fiona discusses her experiences with anxiety and how appearances can be deceiving.
On the surface it looks like I have it all together. I have good friends, two loving parents who are still together; I had a good education, a straight A school pupil, attended a top university and graduated with a first class degree. But I also suffer with often crippling anxiety.
I’ve always wanted to do things ‘right’; my parents and teachers call me a perfectionist. I was a high achiever from a young age and continued to do well through school and university.
But around age 15 I started having panic attacks. My whole body would shake; I would hyperventilate until I couldn’t see anymore. My hands and arms would tingle and I’d feel like I was going to throw up or pass out. No one could understand it – what did I have to be anxious about?
I couldn’t answer them. The truth is, I could smile and laugh with friends but then come home and be a mess. I could force myself to go to lectures because it would stress me out more if I didn’t go. I would hand in my essays on time because the fear of failing or getting marks deducted terrified me.
I could do a pretty good job of pretending everything was fine, but no one saw the part of me crying my eyes out saying “I can’t do this”, or spending every morning crouched over the toiled throwing up because my stomach was doing somersaults or calling my mum from work begging her to pick me up because it was all too much and I needed to come home.
I remember telling someone once I had anxiety and they replied with a shocked expression, “really? you?, I never would have guessed, you seem totally together”.
When you can function relatively normally and go out with friends and go to work and university, no one suspects a thing. That’s the funny thing about anxiety and mental illness – it can affect anyone at any time. So please, do me a favour and go out and check up on your friends who look like they’ve ‘got it all together’, because chances are, they probably don’t – not all the time. But for me, through therapy I’ve learned that’s okay. We’re human and no one can be perfect 100% of the time.