Saturday, 23 February 2013

An Anxious Outing

The first thing we heard upon crossing the threshold of The University of Sussex was the sound of a  protest centred around Sussex House.  I smiled to myself  at the irony of it all as I held his hand tighter. We had come to take part in a study on childhood fear and anxiety and here I was confronted by something that would have brought me out in a cold sweat twenty years ago when I lived on this campus.

It has now been proven that Anxiety Disorders are genetic, inherited from those relatives that quite literally drove you round the bend. The awkward ones, those who lacked confidence or panicked at the slightest change in routine, the one you tried your damndest not to take after.  That grandmother that took a cocktail of pills to keep her together because she suffered with her ‘nerves’.  I swore I would never take after my grandmother and I fought the fight for 39 years, stomach churning, mind racing and blaming itself , the anxiety eating into my self confidence, a parasite that stopped me gaining weight and achieving my full potential. I never sought out a doctor because that would be to fail, to admit that I was like her. But then came my boy.

The thing about being a parent is that you are forced to face yourself head on.  I didn’t want him to be like me, but he was. If I couldn’t face up to and like the difficult parts of me how could I love him, help him through those daily struggles that had become part of my routine.  I sought help and vowed to help him too. Because like me he’s a strong little thing and despite the anxieties he gives life a good go.  And so together  we boarded a train, shared a packet of monster munch and strode forth onto campus to face our fears.

We spent the day answering questions on fear, I put my hand in a box that could potentially give me an electric shock and entered a room to meet a snake that turned out to be simply a shed skin. My boy had a ball but more importantly learned that it is ok to talk about the way he feels, to acknowledge anxiety.

It’s hard to write posts like this because despite modern advances in the understanding of mental health, the fear of being labelled a ‘nutter’ adds to the condition of anxiety. What people do not realise is that most sufferers of the condition do not huddle into a ball at the first sign of trouble but battle on day to day internalising their fears whilst maintaining a swanlike veneer. We are not unreliable, flaky or delicate, just hard on ourselves. Although a genetic condition, patterns can be broken and if my boy does develop an anxiety disorder I hope that he can challenge it in the way that I have.

Confidence may be genetic too apparently, which is why those with anxiety often box below their weight. Since confronting anxiety I have learned a new way to fight and my confidence has soared.  The best lesson I can teach my boy is that we are all in this mad soup together, that as complex emotional beings we all suffer in our own little way.  That worry and fear bear no fruit.

In my family we have acknowledged that we are like each other and we are standing together. Let’s hope that me and my boy's little adventure on campus add to the understanding of our particular malaise for generations to come.  Meanwhile he has already spent his Amazon voucher presented to him for his part in the study. Any clues on how to break the pattern on money burning a hole in your pocket gratefully received.


  1. Great piece - as always with you, thoughtful, intelligent and gracefully written.

    It is shocking how much pressure society still exerts to be normal and strong and how easy it is to slip through the holes if you're not - or at least to be gripping the edges of the holes for all you're worth.

  2. You have just written exactly how I feel. Amazing.