I’m constantly tense, worried and on edge. It is interfering with college work, blog writing and YouTube responsibilities. It’s like I’m plagued by fears that I know are irrational, but can’t shake. And although I know all will be ok I feel like something bad will happen if certain things aren’t done a certain way. Sometimes I avoid everyday situations and activities because they cause these feelings and recently I have experienced sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic. Anxiety is real. And I suffer from it.
Today marks three weeks since I left Perth and three weeks of calling the Northern Beaches of Sydney home. It is also the end of week two here at C3 College. I have started to make friends; I’m getting to know the family I live with and becoming familiar with the area I now call home. But over the last three weeks I have also had to battle a lot of negative thoughts, disappointment and confusion.
To quickly fill you in, my first week here in Sydney was odd. I said goodbye to my dad and spent the next few days in nervous anticipation of the first day of college. And that first day was interesting; interesting in a good way. In fact, throughout the College’s ‘O week’ I was pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to make introductions and intelligent conversations, share information about myself in a humble manner and hold my head high when people ignored my efforts. But on the whole, I was going ok.
I have been looking for work and have had one interview, but nothing became of it. I have been out to Chatswood and spent time making a good friendship with another first year student. I have been attending C3 Oxford Fall’s 6pm Sunday service and I’m really enjoying the vibe found there – I’ve even gone out to dinner with some people from the church. Although, going out to dinner with a group of young adults I didn’t know was scary and a real challenge.
Although, it is actually this week that has been the biggest struggle. It began with the College’s ‘Orientation day’ where we headed down to C3 Rozelle for a day of prayer, helpful study tips, bonding, exploring and worship. But for me the day looked more like worry, panic, stress, cry, panic and cry. And if I’m being honest, that day drained me more than leading on Performing Arts Camp had last September. The whole day was an emotional strain and the only time that I felt happy was when I was with my new ‘prayer group’ exploring the suburb of Balmain. It was the only time I didn’t spend worrying over everything I said, thought or spoke with my body language. And I really don’t know why I felt so self-conscious; my fear was unjustified. But I worried about my outfit, my makeup and hair, the bus I was on and seat I sat in. I worried about who I sat with that day and I now feel stupid writing all this down; none of this was important and should not have affected me.
The real problem was that I am angry; angry and confused and feeling very guilty for it. I’m angry that I’ve been wired in such a way that the smallest of disappointments is enough to cripple me. And on Monday I was just so frustrated with my emotional weakness. I was so tired and physically sore and I was so angry with God for making me this way; for making me an emotionally weak.
To explain, I have suffered from depression in my past and have taken medication for it at one point. Although I am not suffering from that anymore, any negativity or disappointment that arises can be enough to crush me. Sometimes I feel like I’m 12 years old again and am only learning about myself and what makes me different for the first time. And I hate it. I hate how little control I have over my thoughts and emotions.
Then Tuesday was my 21st birthday; my first birthday spent away from my family. It felt bitter sweet to be here at the College of my dreams but to doubt God about it and celebrate such a big milestone alone. But the day went well. I had my bible college core subject classes until 1.30pm and then I got my nails done and did a little shopping with Emily, the daughter of the family I live with here in Sydney. Later that night my host family made me and my new college friend homemade pizzas and together we talked the night away. It wasn’t like any birthday I have ever celebrated before but it wasn’t an emotional struggle like I thought it might be.
But then came Wednesday; the day I want to talk to you about.
The day started off nicely enough with a lovely morning chapel and then improvisation class but half way through movement class we actors received an email entailing the casting list for the Presence conference kid’s performances we will be performing in April.
You all know that I have performed Theatre-in-Education before and have grown to love performing for children; children’s shows are over the top and energetic and many people perceive me as an actor who dislikes that type of theatre but actually, I love seeing kids smile, laugh and learn.
I was excited by the idea of performing at Presence Kids but had become anxious with the idea of performing to pre-primary aged kids in a play that was so ‘wordy’. After reading the script (which I hated doing because I am terrible at cold reads) for the pre-primary aged play I just felt horribly scared.
You see, I was looking forward to performing another kid’s show because when I performed with Fine Edge Theatre Company I learned a lot and grew a lot. I wanted to experience that joy again and so when I received that email it hurt to see that I had been cast as the puppeteer who would spend the whole show in a box. Now, please understand that I don’t mind this and I understand why I have been given this role. It’s just that in that moment I was hurting and it was so confusing to see my name written next to the role of puppeteer.
I quickly asked the class lecturer if I could step out of the room but everyone in the class saw that I was upset. Within seconds I went from feeling confused and curious about the casting to physically feeling ice cold. My chest tightened and I couldn’t control my breathing. My hands shook and my head pounded. I couldn’t stop myself from crying and if it were not for the movement class lecturer following me out and forcing me to talk I wouldn’t have been able to get my breathing back in order. I had the onset of a panic attack and it was I like nothing I have ever experienced before.
I wish I could say that was it, that after talking to Pastoral care I felt better and enjoyed the rest of my day. But that would be a lie. After taking some time to calm down and have some time alone I went and joined my next class – performance process/rehearsals. Everyone in the class was excited for the roles they had received and were talking energetically about the future performances and I wish I could say that it made me feel better – but that would be a lie also. I felt sick and dizzy, cold and hot, in control of my thoughts and tears but losing grip rapidly. I got shown the puppet I would use but I couldn’t take it. It hung from this guy’s hand in front of my nose, in arms reach. All I had to do was take hold. Instead, I ran from the room as quickly as my shaking legs could carry me.
I have never felt so broken, lost, hurt and scared before. It was worse than the panicked feeling of earlier that day. It was felt worse than any of the times throughout my life where my emotions have taken over. I couldn’t breathe; my chest seized up. I couldn’t think straight; I run out of the class, down the hall and out into the courtyard. I couldn’t stop. I just had to get away.
Why am I telling you all this? Well I have decided to tell you because anxiety is a real thing.
And, I have only just realized that this is something I have battled for years. I never looked at my emotional breakdowns or outbursts as anxiety attacks as I have never thought of myself as a sufferer of anxiety. I am dealing with other mental issues and have done so throughout my life that have explained my inability to control my emotions but it hasn’t been until recently that my lack of control has turned into a panicked, physically painful state. And because sharing is caring and all that jazz, I have decided to share this realization with you to help anyone who may be struggling with stress and anxiety.
As I understand it Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger. It is an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation. In saying that, in moderation, anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. And I understand that any sane person – who has done what I have done in moving across the country, out of home, to study – would feel stressed and would worry. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming, when it interferes with your relationships and activities, it stops being functional—that’s when you’ve crossed the line from normal, productive anxiety into the territory of anxiety disorders.
I don’t think I have an anxiety disorder but I am prone to stress and worry more so than the average person. My anxiety and the amount of the stress I feel has become overwhelming. It has affected me in the past and stopped me from socializing, from making conversation and from being happy and supportive for others. But now it seems to be interfering with everything; interfering with my thought process, focus, motivation and courage.
I think more than having a panic disorder I would have what is called a ‘social anxiety disorder’, if I am suffering from any type at all. It is said that if you have a fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia. And even that doesn’t really describe what I’m feeling because although I do fear other people’s perspectives I am not shy. And with that said, I think it’s important to remember that not everyone who worries a lot has an anxiety disorder. I may be anxious because of an overly demanding schedule, lack of exercise and sleep, pressure to live out of home, find work and keep up with College.
The bottom line is that if your lifestyle is unhealthy and stressful, you’re more likely to feel anxious—whether or not you have an anxiety disorder. So if you feel like you worry too much, I say, take some time to evaluate how well you’re caring for yourself. I am currently asking myself, Do you make time each day for relaxation and fun?
Are you getting the emotional support you need?
Are you taking care of your body?
Are you overloaded with responsibilities?
Do you ask for help when you need it?
If your stress levels are through the roof, think about how you can bring your life back into balance. There may be responsibilities you can give up, turn down, or delegate to others. For me, need to learn to say NO. I need to learn that it’s ok to say no and miss out on some things.
If you’re feeling isolated or unsupported, find someone you trust to confide in. Just talking about your worries can make them seem less frightening.
If you are suffering from overwhelming negative thoughts or anxiety please talk to someone about it and do some research into how you can manage it. It’s important to let people know. I’m starting by telling you.
I don’t always like the way I’m made and will admit to finding it hard to accept myself but I do stand by my motto – it’s not your excellence that makes you different but your differences that make you excellent and if you agree with me, join and become difference maker.