I don’t know how to start this so I’m just going to say it; I’ve been suffering from extreme anxiety for the last six months. I’ve known for a while things haven’t been or felt right with me. My mood is different, the way I look at my life is different, the way I see myself – it’s all just different.
It’s only after I went to my local GP that it was confirmed I showed signs of anxiety and mild depression. Nothing to warrant medication, but the evidence was still there. I was shocked, but not at all surprised. I was only shocked because I’ve always thought I did a good job of monitoring my mental health. My aunty, my mum’s sister, has struggled with her mental health for as long as I can remember. Depression, bipolar, intense paranoia – they’re all feelings my aunty knows all too well. After seeing what it’s done to her – what it continues to do to her – I made a conscious decision to check in with myself from time to time and make sure everything was good… or at least as good as can be.
If I really think about it, I’d say I noticed things changing in me last year. I’d recently come out of an emotionally abusive relationship with a guy who used his struggles with mental health as a tool to guilt me into staying with him. It was only after I finally stopped worrying about him and worried about myself that I rid him from my life. I didn’t realise how draining the experience was. It left me feeling awful because I felt like I was abandoning him but then angry with myself for wasting my fucking time on him.
Around the same time I was going through a big change with my career. After years of jumping from one temp job to another to then training to become a teacher, to then realising that was the worst decision I’d made, that I finally decided to follow my life-long passion of becoming a qualified journalist. I completed the course and it was the best time of my life. I was so happy. The happiest I’ve ever been in any sort of work capacity.
Shortly after, I landed a job as a reporter and I thought I was finally on track with my career. Sadly, I was wrong. To cut a very long story short I was bullied out of my job. The working environment was hostile, on more than one occasion the CEO called me a faggot and my credentials as a journalist were constantly called into question. It was at this job that I had my first (and sadly not last) panic attack. I remember being overwhelmed with everything and rushing out the office because I couldn’t breathe. Knowing I would get no sympathy or understanding from my colleagues, I went back into the office and acted like nothing happened.
The next week I handed in my resignation and left. But not before the company took it upon themselves to contact my friends on Facebook and query whether I had a history of metal health issues because my resignation “came out of nowhere”. And while the initial relief of leaving felt great, in the back of my mind I worried how I would manage now that I was essentially unemployed with no savings. They say you can be anyone you want in London and this is true, but what you can’t be is unemployed.
I did some freelance work but truth be told my previous job did such a number on me the confidence I had in my writing was gone. Hell, the confidence I had in myself was gone. I second-guessed everything I wrote and would deliberately miss deadlines because I was so scared. Some days I’d just lay in bed and think what the fuck has happened to me?
By default I am a worrier. I come from a family full of worriers. And while worrying about stuff like bills is pretty ordinary, I started panicking about where my life was heading. I made this big thing about chasing my passion and making a career out of it, yet I had nothing all to show for it. I began to worry I was a failure in the eyes of my family. I moved to London in 2014 and I was still dillydallying three years later while everyone else around me seemed to have it all together. One day I was on the tube and I just burst into tears thinking about it all. The tears just kept coming and coming and all anyone else could do was try and look away.
What made things worse was that I had no one to talk to about everything that was going on. I’ve struggled to make friends since I moved to London. For all the people that live in London, very few of them are actually nice. The one friend I did make moved to Amsterdam last year and I’ve felt alone ever since. There was so much stuff happening in my life, none of it good, and I didn’t know who I could turn to.
I slowly stopped going to the gym. The gym used to be the place I went to clear my head. It was my form of therapy. But my body ached from carrying such a weight of dread around me that I just gave up going. Instead I turned to food. Now is a good time to admit that I’ve always had a weird relationship with food. I used to be a really big boy, at my heaviest I weighed 16 stone, and I’ve developed a complex about myself when it came to food. I panic eat. Whenever I feel the walls closing in on me I just eat. It’s not healthy I know, but it’s the only coping mechanism I know. I’ve put on weight as a result and my dad never forgets to mention it to me whenever I see him. This is the same man who, when I was eight or nine years old, asked me in front of everyone at Pizza Hut, “Yusuf, why are you so fat?”
While I’m talking about my dad, I’ve still not come out to him or his wife. Truthfully, I don’t think I ever can. He hates gay people. Always has, always will. Whenever I visit him my whole body tenses up and I have to put on an act. I talk about a life that doesn’t exist and deny everything that’s really going on with me. All the while hoping I don’t slip up and it comes out that his Pakistani son – his only son – is gay.
I have good days, I have less good days. It changes and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next and that scares the shit out of me. I’m a control freak and not being able to manage how I feel is foreign to me. What I do know is that I don’t want to stay like this. I want to get better. Writing about everything seems to help. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’m not expecting there to be some switch that I turn on and voila! I’m better. It’s a process and part of that process is me working on realising my self worth again. I guess that’s a good place to start.