This blog post originally appeared on RUComingOut, founded by our Youth Programmes Manager Wayne Dhesi (@WayneDavid81)
I was always a nervous kid I guess. I remember avoiding arguments and confrontations. I used to get nervous about certain lessons at school because the teachers were strict and used to shout a lot.
It was at uni when I first experienced anxiety. I was in a seminar in the first proper week of study (Fresher’s week obviously doesn’t count!) and there were about 20 other people there too. I didn’t know any of them; they were strangers to me – although some would become good friends later. The lecturer asked us to introduce ourselves and tell the class something interesting about our lives.
Instantly my heart started pounding. I started sweating more than I’d ever sweated before and I was suddenly unable to swallow properly. And I became really hot. Not in a sexy way, but in a ‘can someone please open all of the windows in the entire building’ way. It wasn't nerves, it was more than that.
Going to uni was the start of me accepting I was gay. I’m pretty sure that what triggered that first attack was the fear of being exposed to a new group of people. I felt that by putting myself on the spot, I’d open myself up to people making assumptions about me. I was scared I’d be found out.
It was too much for me and I got up and walked out of the seminar without an explanation to the lecturer. I stayed in the toilet for the rest of the seminar. I returned to the class a few weeks later and settled in pretty well. I assume my lecturer thought I was just ill. I never spoke to her about what really happened. This is one of my biggest regrets.
As time went on I began to manage my anxiety in various ways. I’d sit next to the door if I could in lectures and seminars so I didn’t feel trapped, I’d always have a bottle of water with me in case my mouth became dry and I’d wear light clothes so I didn’t get too warm – which was a big trigger for me.
Years went by and I did a great job at keeping a lid on my anxiety. I still didn’t talk to anyone about it. I didn’t see the point.
But then something changed.
Last summer my anxiety monster came back – with a vengeance. I had a wave come over me on the tube so I had to get off. I was sat in the cinema with a friend and the wave hit me again. I had to stop presenting in a work meeting and once I didn’t even go into a team meeting because I felt so bad. I’d wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to be around people. For someone who loves being around people but feels that they can’t, it’s a confusing and frustrating experience.
I work at Stonewall, an equalities charity. We work towards a world where everyone can be comfortable being who they are, whether that’s at home, at school or at work. The irony is that while I was finally working in an organisation where I could be out about being gay, I wasn’t out about my anxiety. So I came out – again! I started to talk to colleagues, my line manager and HR manager. I even spoke to the chief executive about what triggers my anxiety and she was amazing. She reassured me and told me that I was in control and to let her know what I needed to make things easier.
The truth is I didn’t actually need anything other than for those people who I work with every day to know that I have ‘this thing’ and that sometimes it may affect the things I do and how I behave. Mental health is an open topic of discussion at work. We know that most people have had issues with their emotional and mental health and that’s why we find it easy to talk about it. Talking really helps.
I’ll always have anxiety but I’m beginning to own it. Public speaking is another massive trigger for me, which is awkward because it figures in a lot of my job role. Every time I stand on a stage or at the front of a room about to deliver training I have that feeling. I ride it out and try and take control. It doesn’t always work but mostly it does.
I’m hosting a panel discussion at National Student Pride this weekend which will involve me talking to around 500 people. I’ve been worrying about this for weeks. When I say worrying I mean having sleepless nights, feeling sick when I think of it and having the usual thoughts of pulling out of the day.
I won’t sleep well on Friday night, I already know that. The reason I put myself in these situations is because I know it’s important – not just for me but for the cause. I challenge myself every day and I’ll continue to do so but that anxiety will always be there.
If you are at Student Pride on Saturday and you hear my voice shake, or you see my hand shake when I’m drinking water that’s me fighting my anxiety monster!