Things I fear:
Being buried alive
The awful, breathless struggle of drowning
Losing the ones I love
That I will lose my job
That the planet will die due to climate change
That I am unlovable
That my anxiety will win
I thought I was broken; that there was something wrong with me. Something that needed fixing. But I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know if it was possible, or if this was just the way I was. I thought – worried – that this was just going to be my life. I knew this wasn’t normal.
Fear stopped me from telling anyone. The stigma, the labels, the judgement. The fear that I was not good enough. The fear of being shunned, pitied; or worse – of being feared myself. I couldn’t tell my parents, I couldn’t tell my friends. I didn’t have anyone I could tell. So I told no-one.
It’s a dark place, a lonely place. And it’s my place. It surrounds me, is with me, part of me, all the time. It’s isolation, fear, desperation. A deep, gaping chasm filled with more, endless darkness. It grasps and pulls, drags me deeper.
But it’s a hidden place. No-one can go there with me. No-one can find me there. You cannot get there unless you know the way.
I feared I was unlovable; that if people knew I would be friendless. A pariah, a freak. So I hid it. I pretended I was all right. I became good at pretending, good at deceiving. The lie, ‘Yeah, I’m okay,’ rolled off my tongue like an oily toad.
One of my biggest fears was that nobody would believe me if I did tell them. That they would accuse me of being melodramatic, or a hypochondriac. I was afraid I would be labelled an attention-seeker.
I remember vividly the day when Cathy got so upset during a Biology class that she left the room in tears. The boys sniggered. A few cruel ones laughed aloud. I heard them calling her a ‘drama queen’ and a ‘psycho’ later at lunchtime, loafing on the neatly clipped lawn in their blazers, their faces pulled into ugly sneers. And she’d only broken up with a boyfriend. It wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, she got over him within a week and was talking about how cute the French exchange student was. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how the boys would treat me if they found out I cried when I got home from school every night.
Nausea is my constant companion. It’s just one of the physical symptoms I deal with; like the sweating, the teeth-grinding and the headaches. I’m in constant pain. Often, it’s hard to concentrate. I hate things like driving. I start to hyperventilate when I have to drive a route I’m not familiar with. Sometimes I sit in a carpark for half an hour, waiting for other drivers around me to leave so I can back out of my space without hitting anyone. But what I hate the most is the person I become, and the way I treat the people I love when I’m highly anxious. I cannot count the number of times I have yelled at my husband because he misses a turn and I rush to find an alternate route and I fear I’m going to be late. Lateness is just one thing in a long line of my irrational fears.
Hiding it took a toll. The hypervigilance was exhausting. I was always tired, almost falling asleep in class. In breaks in the study room, I often did fall asleep. The amount of coffee I drank during Year 12 was phenomenal. One of the reasons I only did five subjects was so that I would have a ‘spare’ period and I’d get a break. I couldn’t explain to my teachers why I couldn’t take their subjects; the maths teacher, in particular, was upset. ‘But you’re so good at Maths,’ she said. I couldn’t tell her that Maths made me anxious. That it didn’t come to me as easily as humanities and languages. That I was afraid of failing Maths.
I was ashamed. I thought I was weak. That if I was just a bit stronger, if I tried just a bit harder, I could beat it. I could make the anxiety go away. Vanquish it, like a knight slaying a dragon. I did, and I didn’t, understand what anxiety was. I read about it, researched it in the school library amid the dusty tomes that smelled like sage. I couldn’t use the computers for fear of someone seeing over my shoulder. I couldn’t search the internet at home in case Mum and Dad checked up on me. So I struggled through the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry alone, trying to make sense of the clinical definition, and ended up feeling worse than before.
So I want to write about anxiety now. I am not weak. I am not broken. I am not an attention-seeker. I have a mental illness. And I know it has always been taboo to talk about it. But I choose to bring this into discourse. I want to tell a story about growing up with this, the lived experience of adolescence and young adulthood through the lens of anxiety.
Sometimes clutching, dragging you down into stifling darkness. Sometimes thrusting you out into blinding light and screaming pain. But sometimes, fading into the background, lurking at the base of your mind. Allowing you to grasp the clarity you need to let others see you.
About Jessica Obersby
Jessica is an emerging writer who believes in the power of stories to change people’s lives. That’s why she writes for young adults. It has taken some time, but she is now brave enough to write about her disability. Her work in progress is YA speculative fiction that has a protagonist with mental illness. Jessica is a member of the Inner Gippsland Writeability Writing Group.
Writeability Goes Regional and Online is funded by the Australian government through the Department of Communication and the Arts’ Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund. Writeability is also supported by the Grace Marion Wilson Trust.