I’ve always been anxious. As a child I’d worry about whether people liked me, or if my interests were ‘cool’. It seems silly now, but I had a hankering desire to ‘fit in’, be part of the crowd and to be well-liked and well-supported. Where many grew out of liking trains, for instance, I didn’t. Football or wrestling (I seem to recall) were the popular pursuits, and I wasn’t into either. Try as I might to get involved (I spent many years pretending I enjoyed football and would often be the goalkeeper… I don’t think I ever made a single save) it just didn’t ‘click’—perhaps not surprising considering what was to come.
I’ve always been anxious. As a teen, I started to feel different. “Was this normal?”, I’d ask myself. Of course, it’s what I now know to be gender, but at the time? I felt ashamed, I felt lost, I felt anxious. I took a lot of comfort in the idea of cross-dressing (it’s a story I’ll get round to telling properly one day, but I have made a start), and secretly trying on a skirt or a dress made me feel better. It took that anxiety away… even if also contributing to it. Growing up is hard, and people can be cruel. It’s fair to say I’m still processing a lot of what I experienced now.
I’ve always been anxious. In 2007, I lost my mum to cancer. It’s crushing, it’s horrible, it’s something that no-one should ever have to go through—let alone at fourteen. Even from when we got the first diagnosis, I worried about what the outcome might be. I’d get myself worked up with very few facts, wondering how things might pan out. It’s safe to say many of my worst fears got realised, but being an anxious wreck didn’t help. Indeed, if anything, it only made things worse: my anxieties about fitting in, my anxieties about gender, my anxieties of not being popular: they all merged into one, along with this new anxiety, to make one giant, messy, amalgamated anxious wrecking ball. And yet, somehow, I carried on. I had some of the best years of my life. I used the anger and the sorrow and the feeling of being lost to fuel me, to power me onwards. And yet.
I’ve always been anxious. In sixth form I felt lost, without a pathway and without a clear idea of where I wanted to go. I had my fingers in many pies—and I was master of some of them, too. (Let’s get the “Jack” of all trades, master of none puns out the way, I guess.) But I didn’t know where I wanted to go, what to do with my career or where to specialise. Would it be my outdoor activities, my climbing, waterspouts or mountaineering? Would it be my passion for words, for language, for how we speak and why we speak it? Would it be my adoration for all things musical theatre, on the stage or behind the scenes? Or something else entirely? Well, we know how that panned out… I did finally start to get the popularity I craved—my being ‘different’ started to become an asset. I was known for excelling at things I’d turn my mind to, and getting a job done well. But times were hard (for dreamers), and I drifted off to University, because that was what you’d do. And even that was fraught, and not entirely as planned.
I’ve always been anxious. At University, it was time for a fresh start. I’d ended up at Royal Holloway—neither my firm nor my insurance course—and doing a course on an interest, rather than something I really loved (film and television). It didn’t pan out entirely as planned, but it was the time when I finally started to understand mental health. I (attempted) to deal with my depression and my anxiety, finally being able to pinpoint what these feelings are. My horizons began to be broadened, and I was able to find a small amount of clarity in the otherwise hazy mess that was my brain. I revelled in my new independence, my new friendships, my ability to try new things. The studying part didn’t work out well, but at least I was able to process things, even if not deal with them. But that’s only part of the picture.
I’ve always been anxious. Let’s talk about relationships. Long-time friends and followers will be aware of the fact that I hate people. I love to be alone and I’m more than content with my own company. It also means that when things do get bad, I don’t have to worry about affecting other people, or be worried at do-gooders trying to, well, do-good. (And that’s perhaps the most inaccurate thing I’ve ever written, because my “do-good” friends are amazing and I always worry them when I go off-grid. Sorry, pals.) But I also want to be loved, and I don’t want to be alone forever. I need a yin to my yang (insert all of your own relationship clichés here). So far, nothing’s worked out for one reason or another, and I’ve always found myself looking back, picking apart every small detail to work out why things went wrong. I’m fortunate that most of my relationships have ended in friendships—very strong ones at that—but it’s not always been so. Losing the people you care about is hard (see above).
I’ve always been anxious. Applying for jobs is stressful at best. It’s harder still when you haven’t got a clue what you want to do, and you’ve come out the education system with not a lot to show for it. I was fortunate, I had a chance and I grabbed it, and it’s safe to say that I haven’t looked back. But that’s not to say that it was easy. I remember feeling inadequate, not up to the role and nearly bailing on one step of the application process. The little voice inside my head, the self-doubt (and maybe a hint of self-loathing too) getting louder and stronger. Thankfully, I persevered.
I’ve always been anxious. Stepping out into the world for the first time in a way where you absolutely do not “fit in” with people’s concepts of normal is hard. Even in 2019, being trans is difficult, with people forming opinions about you purely on how you look. You get stared at, you abused, you can be made to feel the scourge of the earth. And even when, publicly, everyone is fine, you still doubt yourself: everything you are, right to the very core. “Is this normal?” “Is this who I really am?” Other people’s beliefs infiltrate your own, and sometimes you start believing them yourself. I might appear confident, but much of that is a trick to process things internally. Life carries on, and sometimes the only way you can do that is to stick on a face of make-up, shove your headphones in and KBO.
I’ve always been anxious. Sometimes, doing a job where there’s so much pressure and the ability to affect the lives of literally thousands of people is Not Helpful. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE what I do. I relish the challenges thrown at me and it’s something to keep me occupied, where my ability to do a good job is directly correlated with, well, doing a good job. But, sometimes, things don’t go to plan. You have a split second to make a decision, and it doesn’t always work out. It doesn’t make it your fault, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job, but still I blame myself. I don’t think I’m cut out for this job and I’m ready to throw in the towel. I want to give it all up and retreat to a cave, to run away. Running away never really solves anything though, does it?
I’ve always been anxious. That queazy feeling, the churning stomach, the dread of getting out from under the duvet and stepping into the world because everything could become So. Much. Worse. Some say it’s irrational: it isn’t. The world can be a scary place. You never quite know what’s around the corner, and what might happen: to you, or to people you know. The fear can pop up out of nowhere, for no reason: it might seem irrational, but it isn’t. It’s okay to not be okay. But it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. We all do the best we can, and we celebrate the small tasks: for me, today, it’s been getting showered and washing my hair.
I’ve always been anxious. Why is it that I can pour my heart and soul out to the world, on a public platform, to people I’ve never met and probably never will, but can’t have a conversation face to face with someone I trust, or even send an email about something trivial? Anxiety places obstacles where there shouldn’t be any, and they become the biggest obstacles in existence. But it can also give us strength and courage: I mean, it’s where these words have come from after all.
I’ve always been anxious. I’ve perfected my glossy façade. I look like I’ve got my shit together when the reality is that I really, really haven’t. I bottle up everything that concerns me and I open myself up only to a very select few. Sometimes I say I’m coping, but the reality is that I’m probably not. But there’s no right or wrong answer, no one-size-fits-all solution. We all do the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt: and that’s okay.
I’ve always been anxious. But it doesn’t define me. It’s a part of me that will always be there. It has shaped me and made me who I am in a million different ways. And sometimes it is the worst, most debilitating thing—but often I use it for good, to fuel and drive my determination, my passion, my desire to do what’s right and good and to help me live life. I am strong and I am driven and I can turn my mind to anything I throw at it. I am surrounded by some of the most amazing people on this earth, who I am immensely privileged to know. I am eternally grateful for the kindness of strangers, and relish that love and support along every single step of the way. And many of you are here for the long-haul: thank you. Words can’t possibly say how much it means to me.
I’ve always been anxious. And long may it continue.