So I’ve written and deleted the first sentence of this post multiple times. How do you describe your anxiety without feeling like you’re exaggerating? Or without making people think ‘but that isn’t Liv’? The truth is that you can’t. Over the last few years my anxiety has increased to the point where, a few months ago, I was suffering with really bad insomnia and panic attacks. Usually in the evening as I was about to go to bed, I would lie awake thinking about things over and over in my head. Things that I either couldn’t change or that shouldn’t have stressed me out anywhere near as much as they did. Sometimes I’d even start to stress over the fact that I was stressing that I couldn’t sleep. Like, oh god I have work in 6 hours, I have to be able to function and then train.
When I’m having an anxiety attack I get this horrible feeling in my chest like my heart is racing and this weird panicky sensation is rising up. It isn’t even that there is always something specific that is bothering me. Sometimes it will just be that I feel really on edge and panicked and I have no idea why. I have literally tried everything to distract myself. I tried herbal tablets, focussing on my breathing, ringing my dad, meditation tapes, reading and anything else I could find on Pinterest. After months of not being able to sleep and being told by people that it was because I was on my phone too much or drinking caffeine before bed (I don’t even like coffee and prefer to stick with a hot squash later on), I finally went to the doctor. The doctor – after telling me that mental health problems were his ‘forte’ – gave me a few printed off leaflets and off I went. In the end, the only way it’s improved has been by taking some of the pressure off myself by sharing how I feel with my best friends and settling into my new life in Cardiff.
I put incredible amounts of pressure on myself in every aspect of my life. In competition especially, I have had times where I’ve felt absolutely inconsolable after running an average time because I feel that I’ve let my family and my coach down by not running as well as I felt I should have. Another factor that contributed to my anxiety was moving into my own flat and living alone for the first time: trying to figure out how to pay bills, council tax, monitoring the heating and the water and just being in my own company every single night. Moving to a brand new city (which I have now completely fallen in love with) was something that I found difficult to adjust to, which I wasn’t expecting. I had nights where I felt fairly lonely and I am so so lucky to have met some of the most wonderful people to do fun things with.
People have always seen me as a confident and bubbly person, which is totally true. I love being happy and sharing that with others. However, in the past people have also made judgements about me without actually getting to know me which has led to some pretty hurtful comments. Anxiety affects even the most confident and larger-than-life people. It isn’t something confined to the shy and quiet. The pressure that society produces affects everyone, some more than others. Whilst I adore social media, and am very active on my Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts, it’s all just another platform to watch your anxiety manifest in a way which can become fairly dangerous. Even something as simple as taking a selfie can become a pretty triggering experience.
The art of taking a selfie is a difficult one. Stand in front of a window so that the natural light is shining on your face which can also help with editing. Take around 124 pictures, then go back and use one of the first ones you took. Some days you can have a great selfie day and others you feel like what is coming up on your iPhone screen is in no way reflecting what you see in the mirror.
After you’ve finally decided on the selfie you like the best, and have sent a couple of options to your best friend for reassurance on that, edit it subtly by changing the exposure, the contrast, the highlights and shadows and the saturation. Then add a filter before uploading to Instagram.
Uploading to Instagram is actually such a stressful experience though. First off, you can’t just upload at a random point of a random day. Upload at 11.32am and you might get a handful of likes because who’s looking at their phone then? Upload at around 6pm on a Wednesday evening though and there’s a better chance your phone will light up with notifications of likes.
Stressing if you don’t get five likes in five minutes, debating whether you should delete it, seeing that someone else has posted a gorgeous selfie at around the same time and comparing yourself to them and everyone else who’s uploaded photos that day. Not only that, but how dare you upload two or three selfies in a row: you’re so vain?
I’ve been called vain, self-centred and many other things by people who have pre-judged me or made assumptions without actually getting to know me. Yes, I like to take photos of myself. Yes, in some of the pictures I’m like yeah I feel good today, nice one Liv that’s a decent picture you look good there. However, the amount of time I spend standing looking at myself in a mirror, stressing over parts of my body or how much I weigh or how defined my stomach is at different parts of the day is ridiculous. I’ve never had issues with body-image. Yet the older I’ve gotten and the more time I spend with people in crop tops and running knickers the more I obsess and compare myself to others.
As a teacher, I see girls as young as 9 comparing themselves to other children. Taking selfies and being mean to each other over social media. I feel so passionate about helping them to be comfortable with who they are and how they look. Why shouldn’t they celebrate that by taking selfies? What’s so wrong with celebrating ourselves?
In an attempt to help with my anxiety-related insomnia, I started writing in a journal before I went to sleep. This was fun because I got to treat myself to a beautiful new notebook and somehow I’ve managed to keep it up. A journal is very private though, and I wanted to be able to write something more public which people could hopefully relate to. In writing this blog, I hope to share my thoughts on other topics which are super important to me- both silly and serious. Talking to one of my best friends, Anna, has helped me to confront my anxiety and distinguish between what is real and what is my brain working overtime. If anyone else feels like they need someone to talk to about the craziness going on in their head, then my ears are open.