Did you notice the way that she looked at me, do you think I upset her?
Did they say they wanted me there because they might prefer if I wasn’t?
Did I embarrass everyone by saying that?
Did you ever think everybody would be a lot happier if you just didn’t speak?
Just an example of the questions that bounce around in my head on a daily basis. Sometimes they are just a background hum that allows me to continue what I’m doing and sometimes they begin to loop and scream out. This can stop me from sleeping and eating and at its worst trigger anxiety attacks.
The first time I had, what I now know to be a form of panic attack, was about 13 years ago. As they often are for me, the attack was triggered by my concerns about what someone else was thinking or feeling about me. My heart started racing, I felt dizzy and sweaty as if the floor was rising to hit me in the face and my stomach started to move as if I had food poisoning. Fortunately, I had a friend with me at the time who realised what was happening, got me off the metro train I was on, and managed to get me to sit down and breathe. Gradually the panicking sensation ebbed away. Thank you to that friend.
Only people who know me very well know about my anxiety, for good reason. I never want people to have to tiptoe around me. Even though Kim and I have known and worked together for 12 years now, she, until recently, was unaware of my anxiety.
I had a full afternoon during lockdown when I was convinced that I had upset her to the point that she would never speak to me again. In my head, I’d lost one of my best friends and my favourite person to make theatre with in an afternoon with one stupid thing I’d done. I sat and felt like vomiting with my heart racing for four hours until I eventually spoke to her and she reassured me that everything was ok. It was not as bad as I had built it up to be in my head and she wasn’t planning to ostracise me for life! I think she was slightly taken aback by how I was acting and how upset I was.
To combat bad anxious episodes, I have to exercise daily, not drink alcohol and avoid social media if I’m having an acute phase, meditate, play my guitar daily, and clean my flat – mopping the floors is my go-to. Don’t ask me how mopping helps but in my most super anxious periods you could lick my floors they are that clean. My anxiety is particularly aggravated by social situations. Both in anticipation of social events and analysing how they went following them. Did I behave weirdly? Did I offend anyone? I find myself shying away from big social events because of this and must push myself to participate. But I do participate and I do that because I don’t ever want to be governed by my anxiety. I realise I am fortunate not to suffer too severely and that taking part is possible. I know for some people it is not as anxiety can be debilitating
Anxiety is common - 5.9% of the U.K suffered with a general anxiety disorder (GAD) in 2020 and GAD was most common in the North West at 7.3%. Working on our latest show Somebody Someday, which is set in Liverpool, I have started to question how much my uncle’s life was altered by anxiety. What questions bounced around inside his head on a daily basis? What did he do to cope? Would he have been able to cope better had he been living today, when mental health conversation is more open?
So there you go…. I suffer from anxiety, like many other people. However, I am so relieved that conversations about mental health are becoming more open. Long may it continue! I’ve decided to share my anxiety experiences in the hope that it will help destigmatise a common mental health condition and also that it helps those who do have anxiety to feel less alone.
Written by Bryony Thomas 14/05/22
Read what the NHS has to say about anxiety here:
For support with anxiety or other mental health issues visit your GP or in emergency situations visit or call 999:
Also here is a document on anxiety figures:
Our semi-biographical new gig theatre production Somebody Someday about my uncle Mark’s life and music will play in the north-west this Autumn.