Me and Her
Beside my mirror sits a small polaroid, clumsily stuck against the wall, that always catches my eye. My 16-year-old self stares back at me, square-framed turquoise-shelled glasses peaking over my nose. The camera’s flash illuminates the deep red tones of my low bun, when I discovered the euphoria that came with dramatic hair alterations, but not before my realisation of the consequences. In the background, my friend Lil wears a warm smile, her body poking out from behind my shoulder as she holds notes for an upcoming Mocktrial. This was back when we believed being a lawyer was as simple as shouting, “objection!” before whispering with co-counsel for validation and interrogating a 17-year-old high school boy named Liam struggling to remember his script for his debut role as ‘Trolley Robber’. I remember that moment in my life so clearly, not only because of the poor hair decisions and acting debuts, but because it marked the start of an internal compromise with which I’m beginning to come to terms.
I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember, and have watched family members on both sides deal with it too. It wasn’t until the time of that polaroid that I realised how much it affected me. I began to notice the anxiety when my initial excitement from party invites quickly turned to dread. I realised when talking to classmates in breaks made my stomach turn. Don’t even get me started on public speaking; that monster required weeks of Olympic-level mental preparation. What was supposed to be a social and rebellious time marked by firsts and mistakes—often one and the same—was filled with more tears than tequila. (I am happy to report I maintain a healthy balance between the two now—you say emotionally unstable, I say why waste money on salt).
In my final year of school, I was given special consideration for exams on the recommendation of a teacher who knew me quite well and could see that my anxiety was getting harder for me to handle. I felt ashamed when people asked why I was escorted to a separate room, and didn’t feel much better when I was told a friend of mine was complaining how unfair it was and that I didn’t deserve it. Throw in the antics of teenage girls and the excruciating pain and pressure of the HSC, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one anxious, anti-social young lass—albeit, a very fashionable one with killer hair.
Over the years, I’ve watched my anxiety rear its ugly head time and time again, at the beginning of each semester, bringing its own set of hurdles. It’s lost me introductions with could-have-been friends at uni, when I could barely get myself to class let alone make conversation that didn’t turn into incoherent garbage. It’s stopped me from becoming part of the stories written at friends’ parties I never attended, because the fear that I’d embarrass myself was paralysing.
It’s made me cancel appointments, it’s stopped me applying for jobs. I feel it on my days off, when the idea of everything I should be doing cripples me. I feel it on the days that I work, worrying that I’ll say the wrong thing to a customer, or spill something, or offend someone—even though these things are rarities and would in fact make work days far more entertaining. At the heart of it, it makes me feel like a child, with no control of the situation and no skills to get myself out. I feel locked out of my own life. I feel totally and utterly powerless.
When I tell people I have anxiety, I have been told on more than on one occasion that I’m just dramatic and maybe it’s just that I “get stressed easily”. The idea that I use anxiety as a means to justify an overly dramatic personality is at times soul-crushing, but somewhat hilarious because admittedly I am the most anxious drama queen you will ever meet. My desire to dominate a stage is equally as big as my urge to run from it. The irony of all of this, of course, is that I am by nature an extrovert. A rare breed, with few reported sightings in the wild, anxious extroverts are inherently social beings, yet the idea of talking or even being in the vicinity of other people feels like someone is sitting on their chest and cutting off their air supply. When I let it slip that I associate parties with uncontrollable fear and that starting a conversation with someone makes me physically ill, to my delight people often remark something like “but you’re so outgoing? How could this be? Can you even been extroverted and anxious? What is this madness!” This might be a good time to note I was Drama Captain at school, and maintain so in life.
My days are usually an alternating compromise between extroverted me, and the nasty bug that is my anxiety. I’ve employed almost every strategy to balance the two and maintain the illusion of a social life.
I’ve tried bribes: if I go to this lecture, then I can go see that movie (as was the case for an entire semester after my Nan passed away, or as I’ve come to call it, the Movie Mania of ’18).
I’ve pulled the old go, and if I really want to I can leave.
I’ve even gone as far to just pretend I’m someone else, someone incredibly confident who can never say or do the wrong thing ever.
When that polaroid was taken, I had just devised a strategy of doing up my hair in fun and often bizarre styles to turn myself into a walking conversation starter and force myself to talk to people—even if the conversation was “Mate, what the hell is on your head?”
The only real strategy that’s ever worked for me is acceptance coupled with brutal honesty —with myself and others. I apologise to friends when I bail on plans, or when I don’t message for a while. I try to explain that it’s not that I don’t want to go to that gig, or meet their friends, but that sometimes I lose the battle with my anxiety, and it just seems easier to give in to its demands. If they understand, then I know I’ve got a good one, and my anxiety begins to feel a little smaller. Luckily, I have an amazing group of people in my life who have on more than one occasion received panicked texts outside lecture rooms, and self-deprecating snapchats of my outfit hiding genuine fear about walking out the front door. Sometimes people don’t get it, and I’m back to being “stressed out” and just a drama queen, and that’s ok. They’re the times that my anxiety and I sit together, like a reconciled divorced couple, and say, “well, I guess they’re not for us.”
I still say the wrong thing sometimes. I still scream internally when meeting someone new. And oh boy do I embarrass myself. But knowing that I’ve managed to get this far, and still have an abundance of beautiful people in my life whose parties I attend a little more regularly, makes it all a little easier to take.
This is the truth as I have come to accept it. If you want to hang out with me, you’re hanging out with my anxiety. We’re a package deal. We may only have an appearance rate of 60%, and a response time of 1-3 business days, but we’re fantastic at organising parties and writing incredibly thorough study notes. Take it or leave it.