Sometimes you keep me up at night whilst the world goes by outside – people living their lives in all kind of ways, drunk people, people stumbling home after a shit day, loud people rushing home after a great day. Sometimes I wake up and you’re already in my chest, the pit of my stomach, the all too familiar heaviness that revisits when I least expect…
I picture you like a little black cloud – one that I carry around sometimes. Everything gets a little darker when you’re around, but that doesn’t mean other things don’t shine brightly. I used to think anxiety was a part of my personality – that I was somehow less fun because of it, or just less of a person in general. I now recognise that anxiety makes me more. Having struggles makes you human, experiencing sadness makes you stronger. Why is it that we label these parts unattractive and stuff them deep down at the bottom of a locked draw?
I now shout proudly about my anxiety. I let people know when I’m having anxious times, sometimes they even let me know back. These kind of interactions are invaluable – to be vulnerable in the world is to be truly brave. To be open about mental illness is to help others, to pave way for a new generation that will wear their hearts on their sleeves, not hidden under layers of pride and social shame. There is no shame in finding one day harder than the next, there is no shame in wanting to hide under the duvet because the day ahead is overshadowed by that little black cloud.
I realised recently that we must love the parts of us that ache. The parts of us that keep us awake. To bury them is to deny ourselves true happiness, and true happiness can never be flawless. In my experience, we have to face our demons head on, no matter how little energy we might have, no matter how much we wish things could be different. Anxiety isn’t a flaw.
Sometimes I tell myself that there will always be someone out there in the world that is experiencing something way worse than I am, but what kind of comfort does this offer our own experiences? We might be lucky in lots of ways, but that doesn’t mean we need to dull down our own suffering as some weird means of treating it. Maybe it’s better that we don’t compare ourselves at all, and that we just admit when we are having a bad day…
Whenever I try to picture anxiety I always think of a little black cloud. In my brain, it’s a scribbled cartoon style cloud that gets bigger and smaller and then sometimes moves angrily around the page. It follows me around and sometimes it invites itself inside to stay for a while, but then, just as all black clouds do, it drifts further away again until it’s out of sight. I get to feel the preferred version of myself again, chatty and social and not overthinking every inch of my life to the point of despair. I start to remember why life is beautiful again and become more motivated than before, I start to draw my hopes and dreams in the space around the little black cloud, and suddenly it doesn’t look so bad.
Some people say you can’t see anxiety but I disagree. I’m sure people who have suffered with it will agree there are lots of signs. Glazed over expressions, brain fog – the shortness of breath like you’ve just run to the top of a big flight of stairs….
We can’t always control our anxiety, but we can make it more manageable. We can make it more comfortable. We can co exist with our little black clouds and watch them shrink as time goes by. We are all worthy of the blue sky, and it always eventually comes back around…
Blouse by Rouje | Photographs by me