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Talking about anxiety at university

Wednesday, 24 September 2014 Emma Togneri

Emmie blogs about her experiences of managing relationships and anxiety whilst at university.

My name is Emmie, I’m 21 years old. I’m a vegetarian, I love tattoos, piercings and having brightly coloured hair, I have just graduated from Edge Hill University with my degree in Drama and I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Almost every time I tell anybody that I suffer from anxiety, they either don’t believe me or attack me with a barrage of questions: how can I love performing yet be held back in ‘normal’ situations due to anxiety?  I would have thought the answer was obvious. I am an actor and my whole career is about pretending and putting on a front and alternative personality. 

During my time at university, my anxiety held me back a lot. Fresher’s week completely destroyed me. I was surrounded by drunk people, all of them loud and in my face. Crowds make me shut down. I feel sick, I get dizzy, sweaty and I get the shakes, it makes me want to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. 

I wasn’t living in halls and so not being with any other students meant making friends seemed impossible. I tried to force myself to go out every night and ‘socialise,’ but it just made me worse and whenever I told anyone I suffered from anxiety, people would roll their eyes and walk away. I felt completely alone with nowhere to turn.

When my course started, it immediately became clear that everyone was confident and bubbly, but I just can’t do that until I feel comfortable with people. I wasn’t really talking to anybody and it was so exasperating that my head wouldn’t let me show everyone the real me.

However, things improved so much as people got to know me. I was able to explain how I felt and how my condition affected me. As my classmates began to understand, I was able to feel better in myself.

Often when people hear the words ‘Anxiety Disorder,’ the shutters come down and people try and distance themselves, but this is simply because they do not understand what it means. Far too often people use the term ‘anxiety’ to mean shy, and it isn't the same thing at all. Anxiety restricts my life every single day. I can’t walk down the street without thinking that everyone is looking out of the windows, pointing and laughing at me. Whenever I hear a whisper I instantly think it is about me, and I keep away from many forms of public transport as, if they get too crowded, I have panic attacks. 

I am known for my smile and a lot of people know me as ‘happy’, but sometimes that is just another performance, another role I have to play. I love the stage because it allows me to explore and be someone else for a change. I don’t take to the stage to be the centre of attention. If I have to give a speech in public out of character, I freeze and forget how to speak.

I guess what I am trying to say is that you never know what is going on inside someone else’s head. Just reducing a person to how they appear can be really unhelpful and even insulting a lot of the time. I am not defined by my appearance, mental health or my career – I am just me. I’m Emmie, I love the stage, and I’ve got GAD. As they say, people shouldn't judge a book by its cover!

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