The first thing I want to say is this:
Anxiety (and other mental disorders) are not something you need to be ashamed or afraid of. It affects around 1.3 million Australians. I am terrified of talking in front of a group of people. In the real world, I’m a very shy person. I stick to myself, and I don’t make friends easily. When I’m preparing to do something, like going in a car, my brain immediately starts playing me a loop of the worst possible thing that could happen. I see the car crash. I see the people in the car die. When this happens, I often stop breathing normally. My throat tightens up, my vision gets blurry, I feel sick and dizzy etc. This also happens when I have an exam, when I’m doing public speaking or when I have to talk to a cashier or a shop assistant. To many people, this will sound totally nuts and silly, but to many others, this is real life.
Last year, one of my elective subjects was French. I enjoyed the class, it was usually pretty quiet and calm, and the work was all very easy. One day, our teacher handed out sheets of paper with parts we needed to fill in. I had just received mine and had written in Je m’apple Ramona, when Madame informed us that we needed to memorise what we wrote on this sheet and say it all in front of the entire class. As soon as she said this, I felt a familiar tightening in my throat, and a buzzing in my ears. I ignored it. I could do this. That night, I recorded my speech on my phone and listened to it on repeat while I went to sleep. The next morning, I could say it flawlessly and my friend Katie* applauded for me on the bus. Fast forward one week, and I was so totally ready for that speech. I felt like I could say it in front of my entire school, until I found myself standing in front of twenty eight tired, bored and annoyed French students. I froze.
“Let’s go, Ramona.” Madame said, marking sheet at the ready.
“B-b-b-bonjour.” I began. I could feel sweat dripping down my back even though it was June. (Winter in Australia). My throat was tight, like there was something blocking off my airway. I could barely see. “Um, je, um, wait…”
I found myself coughing, trying to get rid of the tightness in my throat. I wished I hadn’t eaten so much porridge for breakfast. My school dress was sticking to my back.
Four times, I tried to say my speech. On the third, I heard a snicker from the back of the room. I heard the words stupid, dumb, idiot, retard. I tried a fourth time, and when I stuttered over my name, R-r-r-ramona, I heard the words again. I heard time-waster, moron, slow in the head. And then I fled. I flew out of the classroom, tears blurring my vision, barely breathing. I ran to the bathroom, where I threw up my porridge into the toilet. I sat on the ground, hearing the names floating around my head, tears dripping into my lap as I imagined the big E- that would appear on my report card. When the bell rang for the end of the period, I returned to the French classroom. Madame told me I could redo my speech, but only in front of her.
I got an A+ on my speech.
Sometimes it seems like it’s stupid, being afraid of things, and always imagining the worst possible scenarios and results. It’s hard, and it’s a lot of pressure, especially if you don’t have the support of the people around you. After getting my results back from the speech, I realised that Madame had understood, and if I had gone to her and explained beforehand, she would have helped and supported me. The names I was called still hurt today, and every time I see the people who were teasing me, the thing that goes through my head is you hurt me.
HOW I OVERCOME MY ANXIETY
Often it seems like our minds and fears will always get the better of us, but this isn’t true. There are many ways that we can help and overcome our anxiety issues.
Breathing Exercises: breathe in through your nose for four long seconds. Now, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then release the breath through your mouth, making it last for eight seconds. Do this four times, without any breaks. This helps to calm our fight-or-flight response in our brains when we encounter anxiety or panic. It works because when we start freaking out, our breaths become more shallow, which means that you’re not actually getting enough oxygen. When you breathe in for four seconds, you’re getting a lot of air into your body, and when you hold the breath for seven, all of that oxygen is having the time of it’s life getting into your bloodstream and beginning it’s journey. Then, when you breathe out for eight seconds, you’re ridding your lungs of all the captured carbon dioxide.
Visualise your stress: paint what’s stressing you out. Make an imaginary canvas in your mind, and paint it with the colours that you think represent what’s freaking you out. Take some time to do this, and concentrate fully on it. By the time you’ve finished, your breathing will be back to normal, and you’ll have a cool picture.
Meditation: I go to a Catholic school, and we do quite a bit of meditation. If you have the time, put on some calming music, lay down, and go to your happy place. This might be the beach, the bush or with family. Concentrate on breathing in and out slowly and calmly. Additionally, you could go to your happy place anywhere, whether you’re in a shopping centre and can’t remember where you put down your bags, or if you can’t reach your mum on the phone.
If you know someone who suffers from any form of anxiety, the worst thing you can do is pressure them. A few years ago, a “friend” of mine refused to come and ask for a drink with me at a cafe. After begging and begging, and having her say, “Ramona, grow up. Go and buy the stupid drink yourself, or I’ll tell everyone at school you can’t even buy your own drink.” Totally freaked, because I knew she would, I decided to suck it up, and I went to join the queue. Five seconds later, my throat was tight, and my vision went black. I had a full out panic attack in the middle of a cafe.
If you are a real friend, don’t push your anxious friend to “grow up”. Help them. You don’t know how appreciative they will feel when you say, “Sure, I’ll ask for you.”
If you feel like you might have anxiety, tell someone close to you. They might take you to see a counselor or psychologist, who will be really nice and can help you to understand what;s going on with you and why, and that you’re still completely normal and well. Don’t keep it bottled up.
If you think someone you care about is in danger of hurting themselves because of anxiety or any other mental issues or disorders, get them help. Tell your parents or their parents or a teacher.
YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR MENTAL DISORDER
YOU ARE NOT A BAD PERSON
ANXIETY IS NOT A SICKNESS, IT IS LIFE FOR SOME PEOPLE
YOU CAN ALWAYS TALK TO SOMEONE YOU LOVE AND TRUST
DON’T DENY YOUR FRIEND HELP
DON’T TEASE OR LAUGH AT SOMEONE WHO IS STRUGGLING
stay strong and beautiful