Author Sarah Wilson’s struggle with anxiety.
AT 12, SARAH WAS DIAGNOSED WITH CHILDHOOD ANXIETY AND INSOMNIA. NOW AGED 43, THE AUTHOR AND ENTREPRENEUR EXPLAINS HOW MENTAL ILLNESS IMPACTS AND AFFECTS HER PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Anxiety is a very lonely condition. I’ve hidden my anxiety from the world, so only a small handful of people have had direct exposure to it at its worst. It’s pushed a lot of people away. My way of coping has been to run. When I feel people can’t cope with my intensity, I disappear; I take off overseas, change cities or go on a five-hour hike. I have to retreat and sit in loneliness until it settles. That’s not a healthy coping mechanism, but you have to do what you have to do.
It can be hard for people around me. When you’re in the worst of anxiety you need people the most, but it’s also when you push them away. It’s a cruel irony.
It’s also ironic that anxious people are often attracted to easygoing, laid-back people (who I call Life Naturals). They are a nice influence, but they’re not always equipped to handle the intensity of people like me. My whole family are Life Naturals. I have really grounded brothers and their company is wonderful. I get a lot of acceptance from them, but I can’t expect them to understand what’s going on with me.
We can spend our lives thinking the people around us need to understand us better, but they don’t. This is something I have really struggled with. You want your parents to understand you, to accept you. Well, it’s not their gig; they weren’t born with this situation – you were. That, in itself, is a call to arms. It’s a motivator to become the bigger adult in the room. I don’t always succeed, but it’s my aim.
I try to keep people happy, but I’m not always good at it. The hardest part about being in a relationship when you have anxiety is letting yourself be vulnerable. But if you’re too exposed, things spin out of control. I’m learning to balance that.
Once, when I was having a panic attack, my ex-partner took me fishing. It was such a mundane activity, but it corrected me immediately. It didn’t take long. You can break the cycle of anxiety by just being anxious and accepting it.
I’ve chosen to see anxiety as beautiful, not as a burden or something I have to change about myself. That’s the premise of my book, First, We Make The Beast Beautiful. Writing about my anxiety was quite exposing. But I’m at an age where I’m comfortable with that and I’ve got nothing to hide. I’ve done enough caring about what people think of me; now it’s time to live more meaningfully.
First, We Make The Beast Beautiful (Pan Macmillan, $34.99) is out now.