Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Jen Quinn, co-founder of the Business Sorority, a community for young women in male-dominated industries in the United Kingdom. She’s passionate about feminism, equality, and smashing the patriarchy, as well as dancing around the kitchen in her pajamas.
Interested in contributing to a future installment of Anxiety Chronicles? Fill out this form.
I was first diagnosed with anxiety when I was 19. I was in my first year of a drama degree and social anxiety seemingly came out of nowhere. While I was able to perform onstage and gave an outward appearance of confidence, inside I was terrified. I ended up taking a year off of university to get myself better. I was able to get my symptoms of social anxiety under control, but they unknowingly presented themselves in other ways. It took me a long time to realize that I hadn’t overcome it as much as I had thought, and it was impacting my personal life a great deal.
At first I was hit by chronic tension headaches and was prescribed beta blockers and amitriptyline; I’d never known thirst quite like it when I was on those. I’ve not had headaches for many years now, but instead get a build up of stomach acid, making me feel nauseous for days on end. My mind also races to the point where I begin to struggle to sleep. That tends to happen when I’m run down or feeling overwhelmed, but certain events can trigger violent panic attacks that can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a number of hours.
I cannot stop thinking. I replay events over and over, I imagine things that most likely aren’t happening, and I obsess over tiny little details. Aside from the panic attacks, I don’t get any other physical symptoms alongside my mental symptoms. They tend to both happen at different times depending on the trigger.
I won’t even get out of bed. I’ve canceled counselling sessions before because I’ve had a panic attack at the thought of going, despite knowing that it’s beneficial and even enjoyable at times. Then, of course, the guilt comes because I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be defeated. My internal guilt and feeling of burden is probably one of the most difficult manifestations of anxiety that I experience. I also get really anxious over the time and if I get trapped in that state I find it near impossible to get anything done for fear that I won’t have time to. Of course, give me an extra thing to do in a busy day and I’ll do it no problem. Give me one task in an otherwise empty day? Forget about it.
Time on my own away from everyone. I curl up on the sofa under a fleecy blanket and watch Netflix. It’s taken me a long time to acknowledge that this is my mindfulness practice. I used to berate myself for watching TV instead of meditating, having a pamper session, or going for a walk. I felt like that’s what everyone else did when they were trying to relax. Since I’ve realized that binge-watching a series on my own is what calms me down, I’ve felt less guilty about doing it.
That you can’t assume anything about what a person is going through. I’ve had people make judgements about my social anxiety because they thought I was “too confident,” and I’ve had people assume that I’m feeling well because I’ve been active on social media. These are just masks that I put on to pretend I’m fine if I don’t want to talk about it. And that taking medication is okay. So many friends I know who talk openly about their medication are told by apparent well-wishers that exercise, healthy eating and meditation is all they need to get back on track. Well, that’s great for them, but shaming someone about their coping mechanism of choice isn’t helpful to anyone.