Wednesday, 12 December 2018

I Am Afraid of Nothing

These words still blaze down from my bedroom mirror in my family home, and I used to consider them every morning as I psyched myself up to leave the house. Torn from the front cover of an old UWE prospectus, the phrase I Am Afraid of Nothing has always been almost amusing to me in how far it is from the truth, but it's also been something I try and live by despite being a very naturally anxious person with a busy, rarely peaceful brain.

I often think about how this has shaped and continues to shape who I am, as a person and as an artist, and over the last few years my perception of anxiety and fear has been completely altered. I didn't know anything about mental health until very recently, and always thought I was just well, me; that being scared is just part of who we all are and that I just had to keep rising and overcoming it as best I could. And largely that's true, and, mostly, it's worked; if something scares me I pretty much move towards it and face it head on, and that has led me to be involved in so many exciting, creative and wildly far-from-my-non-existent-comfort-zone projects, ones that if I had moved away from stress I would never have experienced. As I've shared in previous reflections on taking care such as Drowning Not Waving - not all stress is negative, and being excited and being stressed feel equally exhilarating to me, the presence of neither making me feel quite bored, under stimulated and even a little lost.

What I had never appreciated or understood, however, was that this can be incredibly draining, and that we may have developed deep coping mechanisms that we no longer really identify as something we do to offset or respond to anxiety and stress, rather than facing, communicating or managing it in a healthy way. Amongst a rich, very blessed life and career so far, in my personal space I've struggled quite a lot to believe in myself, keep moving through what I find a heart-racing, complicated, extraordinary world; one that I see as being laced with infinite possibility. I am rarely found tucked up in bed at any kind of normal human time, often struggle with what should be really basic everyday tasks and have recently sought help for what turns out to be a whole muddle of disordered eating, all of which boils down to trying to find my own ways to deal with anxiety internally; alone.

I have always raised up independence, resilience and determination as key assets, but I am learning a newfound appreciation for the quality of vulnerability in others because it brings me closer to them and teaches me something; about them, myself and more broadly about the realities of being human, some of which we share and some that make us different to one another. I've been so inspired by the courage of zine-makers I've come into contact with this year, as well as working in an incredibly open and supportive team, both influences, and privileges, that have encouraged me to acknowledge my own vulnerability, and how to consider its transformation into a form of strength and power, something expressed wonderfully by Melody Hansen (via @themelodyh):

"Vulnerability is scary, but only because it's powerful." 

Unacknowledged, anxiety can be a trap we lay for ourselves over and over again, that holds us back from what we're capable of and from the deep connections with others we all so sorely need to be happy and feel accepted. Understood a little more and turned into an open dialogue, I think that honesty, that in turn makes us more uncomfortable, exposed and ultimately vulnerable, can be a true force and site for transformation, for ourselves and others that we choose to share it with. It's like the first step of letting it all go, so it can't hurt us anymore.

In that spirit, I'm lightly sharing these reflections and some of this terrifying, powerful new vulnerability with you to say, contrary to the neon mantra of my teenage years: I Am Afraid. But I refuse to let it make me disappear.


Resources for themes discussed in this blog post:
  • Beat Eating Disorders  for information about how to get help for or how to support someone with eating disorders.
  • Dogs Not Diets  really useful zines around themes of mental health and taking care, with particular volumes around anxiety, depression, eating disorders and OCD.
  • Mind  resources for all things mental health, including helplines and information sheets.
  • Blurt  a social enterprise dedicated to helping those affected by depression. In their own words: A little movement that says, “I understand”, “I’m listening” and “I’m here for you”. That's us.
  • Headspace — Meditation and mindfulness info for beginners, with 10 free sessions available with unlimited listens / no need to subscribe beyond basic free membership unless you want to.

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