While I spend my days tagging trousers and continuously repeating “would you like the receipt in the bag?”, my time off revolves around my passion project and freelance gig of Film & Television journalism. This last year I’ve been lucky enough to write for some great publications and often that involves heading to press screenings for up and coming releases, in order to get a review done! As a film lover, this is heaven but as an anxiety sufferer, it’s a minefield of panic attacks, dizzy spells and hyperventilating.
Residing in Surrey means taking many trips to the big smoke in order to sniff out screenings, the most recent being a sneaky look at a saucy little movie that’s been anticipated by many (me). That’s right, I was headed to check out abs a-plenty in the advanced screening of Gregory Jacobs’ Magic Mike XXL staring Channing Tatum. Exciting stuff but it doesn’t come without it’s demons.
For a little background information, my main issues with anxiety revolve around my personal safety and general social anxiety. Often, when I’m out of my comfort zone, the irrational part of my illness means I convince myself that somebody will hurt me or my loved ones. This can make thing’s exceptionally frightening and in extreme cases, this can lead me to doing some very dangerous things. When I’m in such a high state of anxiety, it’s often difficult to remember exactly how I felt but I’ve tried my best to give an honest account of what happened.
THE NIGHT BEFORE 10 pm
It always starts the night before and it’s been a long day already. My mind doesn’t feel focused at all and something cloudy is looming in the back of my mind. I live with my parents and before I head to bed I hesitate by the living room door, where they’re enjoying Sunday night television. I can say goodnight to my Mum, that’s safe, she’ll be there in the morning. Dad is another story, he’ll be at work by the time I wake up, so this could be the last time I ever see him because if my anxiety is correct; I won’t be coming home tomorrow. Panic bubbles up in my chest. I’ve got to say goodbye to him in exactly the right way, or that could mean THAT will be the reason something terrible happens to be tomorrow. Obviously, because that’s super rational, Elly. I say goodbye to him and I know it doesn’t feel right but I push as much of the worry down as I can. The nagging feeling of dread doesn’t quite leave though.
THE NIGHT BEFORE 11 pm
I’m in my bed and I am safe, I know that, but my legs are restless and my skin itches. Family Guy illuminates my dark room and the muffled sounds help to sooth my worried mind. It’s not long before I’ve drifted off to sleep but I’m the worry doesn’t leave me there. My dreams seem normal, my over active imagination ensures I’m dreaming every night, but this time something’s different. Everything has an anxious haze and I’m dreaming of missed trains, hidden shadows, looming strangers and before I know it; I’m awake again. It’s going to be a long night.
THE MORNING OF THE SCREENING 9 am
Despite my disturbed sleep I’m surprisingly chipper, the sun is out and if I really concentrate; I can pretend there’s nothing to worry about at all. Ignorance really is bliss. My Mum looks at my with worried eyes, it’s easy to see she’s putting on a brave face but I know when I worry, she worries. A quick phone call from my boyfriend boosts my confidence and I’m ready to actually do something productive. I’m going to need coffee.
THE AFTERNOON BEFORE THE SCREENING 3 pm
I have made a monstrous mistake. Knowing her love for Channing Tatum, I’m taking my sister along with me after bagging an extra ticket. Surely, you ask, having another person there will sooth your anxiety? No, that would be too easy. Usually, I’m alone or with my boyfriend and that’s hard enough but now there’s a whole new person to worry about. Irrational thoughts bulldoze their way into my mind and all I can think about it letting her down or putting her in danger. What if I change my mind and neither of us can go? Christ, what is something terrible will happen this time BECAUSE I’m taking her? What if I have a full blow panic attack and freak her out? Over and over again my mind flashes panicked question behind my eyes and before I know it, I’m shattered.
ON MY WAY TO THE STATION 5 pm
Our Mother is driving us, I’m too shaky to be behind the wheel. We’re in the car and I really, really need quiet. Too much noise and I’ll snap. I feel like a women on death row. I can feel the shackles on my feet, the cuffs on my hands and it feels like a meaty hand is clasped on my shoulder; leading me to doom. My palms are like Niagara Falls, I turn to my Mum and try to make a joke but my stomach feels like it will explode with nausea. Why am I doing this? It’s too hard, my heart’s going to explode. My chest is so tight and my stomach is in knots. My mind feel’s fairly calm but my body has totally betrayed me, bastard.
We’ve arrived at the station and I’m lingering by the car. My sister is ahead of me but I keep glancing back to my Mum. I feel twelve again and it’s humiliating, making everything just that little bit worse. I asked the same question I always ask; “It will be alright, wont it?”. With shaky legs I arrive at the ticket desk. It’s noisy and I hate it. I get that biting urge to scream at everybody to shut up and as I’m inching closer and closer to the front of the line, I’ve got that overwhelming urge to run. I’m this close to throwing my sister over my shoulder and running full pelt back down the road to catch up with my Mum. My sister gives my one of her trademark eye rolls and I decide it’s probably best not to pick her up and leg it.
We’re on the platform and out of nowhere, I’m calm. Then the train rolls in and so does all my anxiety. Screw you false sense of safety. My legs are like lead and my mind is screaming “DON’T GET ON THE TRAIN”. My mind reaches it’s most irrational point and in that moment, I think of anything that will get me out of that situation and my go to thought is always; “If I just in front of the train, this will all go away”. I can feel the tears coming and I get on the train.
The next hour is spent attempting to hide my absolute terror. Stifling my frightened breath and attempting to make some kind of effort for my sister. I’m not thinking of anything in particular and all those specific worries I had before have left me. All I can think about it pure, crushing panic and absolute dread. I’m drowning in anxiety and I can feel it trying to spill out of me. I feel trapped under water with thick glass over me. It’s relentless and comes in huge waves.
We’ve arrive at Leicester Square and the fresh air feels amazing. My heart rate finally slows down and the adrenaline finally kicks in in the right way. Channing is waiting and I must be strong. Shame starts to creep in as my mind quietens and I just feel embarrassed. I feel like everyone is looking at me and they know what I was thinking, how silly it was. All of a sudden I am overwhelmingly aware of what I look like. I feel huge and hideous as a crowd of beautiful people file in with us towards the screening. When one anxiety door closes, another opens. Nice one.
AFTER THE SCREENING 10 pm
I am on such a huge high. My blood is electric and I feel like a bad ass Queen. The train is a breeze, I arrive home and I’m totally chilled. Calling my boyfriend and he’s as proud as he ever is. I feel great. Exhaustion hits me but it’s comforting, it’s well deserved and I head to bed. My limbs feel lose and sink into my mattress in blissful surrender. With my head heavy on the pillow, that familiar and hateful feeling creeps back into my mind. It’s dark smoke and it burns the back on my eyes. I’ve got another screening next week and I know I’ve got to go through this all again.
I’m really proud to say that the majority of the time, I’m able to push through the anxiety, accept it and still manage to go ahead and experience the thing’s that I love. It’s difficult but it’s necessary and without the help of my amazing CBT doctor, there’s no way I’d understand how to deal with such mental and physical turmoil in the throws of anxiety. It’s taken me a very long time to accept that this is just the way my mind works and while I can help to control it with medication and therapy, it is a battle I will always have to fight.