I first remember having a feeling of anxiety when I was five or six going to a friend’s birthday party. Although, until recently, I have been unable to understand, or put a name to the feeling. I was excited to go, but as we arrived at the front door, I just couldn’t go in. I remember a crushing wave overcame my whole body, my heart was racing and I felt sick.
I still went to the party.
I remember this feeling happened at other times in my childhood when I felt, sometimes seemingly inexplicably, uncomfortable. At the time the feeling had no explanation, so my coping mechanism was to push on through and try to do whatever it was anyway. It didn’t prevent the feeling from happening the next time I was in the same situation, but I didn’t change my response, I just learnt to accept the feeling.
When I was a teenager the feeling particularly escalated at points of pressure. The pressure was only ever placed by myself, but I remember before some exams being physically ill and not being sure I’d even make the exam hall. I remember having to be picked up from 6th Form when I was so overwhelmed by the feeling I needed to just go home, cry and sleep. But, I went back to school the next day and I changed nothing.
I remember having the feeling every Friday as I went to my part time job. An older male colleague would grope and forcibly kiss me as I fought him off while he laughed. I didn’t know it was sexual assault. I didn’t know why I felt so bad if it was funny. I told no one. I just worked past the feeling.
The feeling returned at university when I was injured and could no longer play hockey, something I had built my friendships and daily routines around. I was consumed by the feeling and this was the first point at which I felt that, without the thing that defined me, at this point hockey, I wasn’t good enough.
For me the feeling then became linked with not being good enough.
I am capable. I know I have been able to achieve a lot through hard work, natural ability, privilege and luck. But these facts couldn’t shout down the loud ‘not good enough’ voice.
The feeling reached its most overwhelming on returning to work after my first child Laurence. I was in a job I was incredibly passionate about and lucky to have. On lots of levels I was really good at it. Whilst I was pregnant I experienced a mild pregnancy related panic attack whilst doing a presentation, a task that I usually loved. When I returned to work following my maternity leave I was overwhelmed by three things; I didn’t want to leave my child; I hadn’t worked for a year and my last memory of work was of me failing. I believed that any feeling I had, I had to push through. I remember not being able to identify the feeling, just that it proved my internal mantra, I wasn’t coping because I wasn’t good enough.
At my worst point I would take myself off to an unused room and sit in the dark and cry. I was probably depressed. I don’t think people knew. I would finish crying, put on a smile, and carry on. My coping strategy, the same one I had always used, was exhausting, and emotionally and mentally draining.
The feeling meant that I missed out on going to events, or on being able to fully enjoy events. It meant I analysed everything I said and did. It meant I missed out on being able to access support from friends and from giving support to friends. The feeling had a huge and negative impact on my life.
Fast forward to today.
When I had a son with Down Syndrome, in response to some people’s reactions, I wanted to make a statement to the world about how much my son is loved. I felt, and feel, so passionate about him being celebrated for who he is, that I created Unique & Loved.
One day, whilst looking at print samples a thought overwhelmed me. Why did I believe my son should be accepted, when I hadn’t been able to fully accept myself?
From then I worked hard to understand what was holding me back. And things started to make sense.
I am now able to identify that I experience anxiety. I am able to feel comfortable telling people and not feel like it is because I am not good enough. I am able to recognise my anxiety and deal with it as that. I am able to see that experiencing anxiety is only a part of me. I am able to recognise my whole value and accept and like who I am.
I am celebrating who I am.
I am Unique and I am Loved.
And it feels good.