A few months ago I wrote and performed a poem called ‘Talk About It’ for a BBC radio event on mental health. When I was originally approached to write a poem, I was asked to write about how mental health affects young people. Just the thought of writing and performing a poem on such a serious and sensitive matter made me feel anxious. The feelings reminded me that I would not have been able to perform in front of people and on live radio as little as 5 years ago, due to my anxiety. So I decided to write about my experiences of having anxiety, and how I have learnt to cope with it.
I was a very shy kid growing up. I didn’t like being the centre of attention. I never put my hand up in class. I always had friends and people that I got along with, but I was much happier being in the background. Most people would’ve known that about me. But what most people didn’t know was that it was more than just a case of me being shy. Everything felt like an ordeal to me. Especially school. Most days I would beg my mum not to make me go. I would run out of class if we had a supply teacher. If anything unexpected happened, such as an activities day, I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. My mum had numerous meetings with the school in order to see how things could be better for me, but it was to little avail. There was no real reason for me to be like this; I was well behaved and didn’t find the work particularly hard. I was just scared. I was at an age where I didn’t know why I was scared, but I definitely knew that I was scared.
I figured that I would grow out of it as I got older, but when I got to secondary school it felt like the problems intensified, if anything. I would tell myself that I was at an age now where I should be able to handle something as straightforward and everyday as school, but it didn’t help. My friends would knock for me on the way to school each morning and I would often be on the other side of the front door, crying and telling my mum that I couldn’t go, begging her to let me stay off. While my mum was incredibly supportive of me (and has been throughout my whole life) she never let me miss a school day due to these feelings. She probably called my form tutor every day for the first year of secondary school at least, and had numerous meetings there. Similarly to primary school, I had a big group of friends at secondary school, and was in the top set for every lesson, so there was no obvious reason why I was struggling with anxiety. I couldn’t say. I remember one incident in Year 7 when I had a panic attack in my Maths class, and the reason was that I had run out of space in my workbook! My Maths teacher was another member of staff who my mum had regular contact with.
I’ve often had trouble sleeping due to anxiety, especially when I’m not in my own house, although it has been tough many times when I’ve been in my own bed also. This was apparent from quite a young age, and, again was something that I thought I would grow out of. It’s still something I struggle with. It’s a vicious cycle; I’ll worry that I’m not going to sleep, and then because of that, I won’t sleep. I then start feeling as if I’m never going to sleep and therefore I will eventually die because I haven’t slept. Or I’ll worry that I’ll fall asleep and never wake. I’ve had a lot of panic attacks in the night. As I write this in the light of day I can see that it’s completely irrational, but at times these fears have felt very real, so why have I been filled with this crippling anxiety every day? I couldn’t say, but for whatever reason, experiencing anxiety has been somewhat of a reality for much of my life.
If someone had told me as a child that I would embark on a career as a rapper and that this would involve performing to thousands of people, travelling to different places and being in many different environments out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would never have imagined that I would be able to beat the feelings of anxiety, which were holding me back in so many different ways. So how was I able to overcome my anxiety? The truth is, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without talking with people. In this area of life, I’m aware that I’m very fortunate in terms of the people that I’ve had around me. My parents have always been incredibly supportive, and I’ve had great role models around me outside of my family. People who always encouraged me to share how I felt, creating an environment where I knew that I wouldn’t be mocked or ignored. Even with this great support network, it took me a long time to really be open about how my anxiety was having a detrimental effect on me. But once I got to a point where I realised that it wasn’t something I was just going to ‘grow out of’, I was able to open up to people around me, including my parents, among others.
I would encourage anyone going through anxiety of any type to speak to someone. It helped me rationalise many of the things that I was feeling anxious about, and while I would say that I’m not completely free from anxiety, it doesn’t have a hold on me in the way that it used to. I’m aware that not everyone will feel they have someone to talk to, either because there is no one in their life that they feel comfortable enough to talk to, or because their anxiety is holding them back from even be able to open up. And that is ok. Take your time, and do it when you feel ready. If you feel ready to talk to someone about it but don’t know who to turn to, there is a great charity called Anxiety UK who have a helpline, and I would recommend giving them a call. I would also encourage those of you who do not struggle with anxiety to be aware of people within your family or friendship group that may be struggling, and try to be as approachable as possible.