Anxiety: How My Coping Strategy Came From The Mouths Of Women

It’s weird but I kinda new before I had my first, full blown panic attack that it was going to happen, even if it hit me like a double decker hits a rogue piece of hanging tree.

I’d been building up to it gradually, with the thoughts I was placing in my own head. A head governed by a desire to take a step back, to reconnect with my family, friends, city and country I’d left behind for a taste of adventure and the new.

Wrongly, I started feeling guilty - and left out - for having spent the last four and half years in northern Spain as an English language teacher. Feelings that just didn’t make any sense. And why should they have done? I had a good job, great colleagues, a solid group of friends and a lifestyle which reflected my beachfront, cycle to work location. One of few concerns.

It's as if I had maybe squeezed out as much of the Spanish lifestyle, language and customs as I could, and in doing so, had gone as far to the other end of the spectrum as I could, in that, in doing so, I would often forget about home. I’d neglect to think about family, and friends, and everything in between, and just focus on me and my ‘new’ home.

Crazy how the mind works, but these sensations began to feel like a heavy backpack, or a straightjacket, that would weigh me down on occasion and manifest itself, once in a blue moon, in feelings of mild anxiety and panic and in different situations. Where, perhaps, the two conflicting thought processes in my head - one of enjoyment, one of guilt - would conflict. 

And this became more acute when I found out that my old man wasn’t doing so well healthwise. 

One marked by an increasing sense of homesickness that began to wash over me, like the waves I could hear from my bedroom window at night.  I’d started to feel occasional discomfort down by the beach or in busy pubs when it was surrounded by nattering Spanish voices. 

It reached a head one Saturday afternoon, when, after a heavy night the night before, I had spent the morning lounging about drinking coffee, and basically trying any which way I could of getting rid of the groggy, cider culpable dry mouthed hangover which was clouding an otherwise clear blue sky day.

As I was cooking up a greasy lunch, my dad rang. And that jolt from Spanish slumber post night out to Scottish reality really turned my world upside down.

My chest exploded and tightened, my breath shortened and I couldn’t speak properly. The conversation didn’t matter, I held the phone away from my ear and eventually dropped (I think I said two or three words to him) it as I, in the midst of my terror, thought clearly and decided I needed to get out onto the street incase I eventually keeled over. 

I didn’t, but I spent a solid half hour thinking I was going to die, as I tried to dampen the stress through forcing through the normality of going into the local bar and buying a coke, even though, from my actions - and the look on the barman’s face - I was certainly behaving far from normally. 

Eventually, It did die down, and so did the ‘death’ thoughts, as I returned to my flat, drank water, and lay down on the sofa, but the episode’s consequences were far reaching.

I felt like that was my body telling me I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, that It had had enough and that it was time to go home. So convinced was I of this that a few days later I explained to my boss at work, and booked my one-way flight home for the following winter break. 

The change did feel drastic, but to me was the role of the dice necessary to help me deal with a desire to never again have to put my mind though that sensation ever again. One that, although extremely brief, had a profound effect on me.

And funnily enough, I feel like the very fact that I’m a man didn’t, and hasn’t to a certain extent, really helped me to accept and deal with anxiety; not only its triggers and consequences but the fact that it happens to others, a lot of them.

Between myself and my male friends, it’s certainly not something spoken about. As taboo as seeing an erection on the telly as one female friend said to me.

But with women, the picture looked completely different. As different as night and day. And it’s been women from various angles that have helped me to do the most fundamental thing that I needed to do to move forward with my life, just accept what has happened, and benefit somewhat from the fact that I wasn’t alone. 

Those two key factors enabled me to deal with my demons. To not sit about and let those negative feelings gestate and gain a foothold in my everyday. And do what I’m doing now, write about it. 

Women who haven’t been afraid to go on social media and speak about it never dressed up in bells and whistles. Tweets and Facebook posts - they have been godsends to me - about their own struggles, coping strategies, funny anecdotes, self-help notes, or just general banter.

Lines that help lessen something I considered to be akin to a monster, lurking in a dark, underground cave thrown out into the open for others to see in its true form, one to joke about, point out and converse about, while at the same time state the obvious - its very existence. 

Others such as "F", a well-known DJ. She herself has suffered panic attacks, and has spent time on medication, something she has openly shared on social media.

And my pal "N", who, while out for a few drinks recently, spoke of how she too has been affected by anxiety and panic attacks. Something that has affected not only her own life but those close to her too, who perhaps didn’t know or could fully comprehend what was going on. 

And folk like Paula McGuire, whose site and video for BBC Social about her mental health problems has really served as an inspiration. 

Real life savers in the face of c*nts like Piers Morgan, who himself has received criticism from many sectors, other than for just being a c*nt, for belittling Will Young’s struggle with PTSD and ex-footballer Stan Collymore’s battle with depression (one especially rank given Morgan’s “man up” laddish comments). 

Studies indicate that anxiety is a growing phenomenon, and it's easy to see why. Societal pressures fostered through the microscope of social media are the touch paper that, lit, sets off the firework that is a panic attack.

Pressure to do, be seen to do, act, behave, feel, dress, or be a certain way. Pressure to ‘perform’, to let people know how good your life is, down to the tiniest detail. 

And for me, these are pressures whose very existence women are much more aware of than men, pressures that perhaps are much more felt by women than men too. 

And thanks to certain women, I’ve realised the most important thing in dealing with anxiety.

I wasn’t, and am not alone. And that fucking helps. Big time. 

Any feelings of shame are out the window. When you realise it’s not just you that sometimes feels or felt incapable, crazy and unable to process what was going on within your own head and body, then there’s nothing to be ashamed about. 

As Carl Jung said, “What we resist, persists.” If and when we accept that we have anxious feelings, they pass themselves. 

Simple, yet worth its weight in gold in terms of helping point in the right direction.

Not being afraid to do things that might trigger a feeling of anxiety is another step, one I did by moving to Poland not long after returning to the UK. Placing myself in a city and country where no one knew me. Speaking to people, making friends, and just being comfortable being by myself, in my own ability to meet others and take comfort and heart from the unfamiliar, the new, the different.

Anxiety is real and very present. But being real and present doesn’t mean it needs to be dangerous. Not if you don’t want it to be. Not if you choose for it to exist in the distant background, unable to venture into sight. 

And don’t take the piss out of others for feeling shit, nervous and down. 

Here’s to the Ns, the Fs, the Paula’s and all the other women out there who are taking to social media and voicing their personal struggles and battles. 

You aren’t just helping other womenm or yourselves, you’re helping men, like me, too. 

Craig Williams (@glasgowmixtape)

Halina Rifai