In a new series, Lucy Nichol proves you never know who mental ill health will come after next by celebrating the diverse qualities and eccentricities of her lovable friends and acquaintances. First up, The Hipster.
The bearded hipsters of today didn’t exist when I first met my fabulous friend Paul. However, it’s safe to say that this hairy trend was firmly on his radar (and his Grindr app) long before it was on mine.
In fact, I’d say that the hipster beard was even more ‘pop’ than Britney before I realised they were grown on purpose and nothing to do with a month-long trek in the Himalayas or a Movember which had got away from itself.
He’s always had his finger on the pulse and his thumb on the touchscreen. A furniture designer and digital guru, Paul applauded the new men with beards and buns. He introduced me to the selfie, Periscope and vlogging. He is one of the most at ease, chilled-out people I know when putting himself out there for the world to see.
Even though I’m way behind him in the ‘cool stakes’ (except in terms of music where it has got to be said, his love of the Spice Girls and Britney go squarely against him), we do have one thing in common. We shared the same therapist in a bid to beat our anxiety disorders.
“The first time I really remember having what I now know was anxiety and panic was returning to the second year of comprehensive school after the summer holidays,” he says. “I can remember not wanting to leave the house and, for the first week, I actually didn’t leave the house.
“Every attempt resulted in panic taking over and me being physically sick. The following week I would make it halfway to school then run home to be sick. I remember thinking I had something wrong with me because I didn’t know what it was, and I hadn’t heard anyone else talk about anything similar. So I convinced myself that, if I told someone, I would become some sort of medical experiment and appear on the news.”
Saved by a Spice Girl
As one of the most committed Spice Girls fans in the UK, Paul read Geri Halliwell-now-Horner’s autobiography, and was relieved to learn he wasn’t the only one who experienced these symptoms. “I realised that it wasn’t just me and that anxiety is an actual thing that many people live with,” he says.
“‘When I tell people I suffer from panic and anxiety the reaction is always one of disbelief,’ Paul says. ‘They can’t believe someone like me, who they see as outgoing and in no way shy, could suffer from anxiety.'”
Anxiety affects people in many different ways. But Paul’s experiences often focused around being physically sick. “Initially, my attacks forced me to tense up and become rigid, unable to turn my head or speak for fear of being sick. If anyone or anything, such as my T-shirt or even the breeze, came into contact with my throat during an attack, I would inevitably start to throw up.”
Not very pleasant is it? So, let’s tackle some anxiety myths.
Only women get anxiety
Wrong. Paul certainly isn’t the only bloke I know who has succumbed to a panic attack. And I’m not talking about the kind of panic attack he had when he found out that Ginger’s recent pregnancy announcement might have put the mockers on the upcoming Spice Girls reunion.
More the kind that appears from nowhere, for no apparent reason.
Olympic medallist Chris Hoy, musician John Mayer and One Direction’s Zayn Malik have all spoken out about panic too. So, while it might be something that creeps into the lives of us ladies more often, it still comes after the fellas too.
He’s too outgoing to be anxious
There are many different forms of anxiety. And yes, social anxiety is one of them. But even people with social anxiety aren’t necessarily shy or reclusive. Everybody is different. So yeah, Paul would revel in the chance to play to an audience. And he’d be bloody good at it.
But he could lose himself to an anxiety attack on his way out with a small group of friends just because. Not because he feels nervous, not because he is worried about meeting people and not because he is shy. But simply just because he has an anxiety disorder. It is an illness, not a personality trait.
“When I tell people I suffer from panic and anxiety the reaction is always one of disbelief,” he says. “They can’t believe someone like me, who they see as outgoing and in no way shy, could suffer from anxiety.
“I’ve never been sure why I suffer with it. Panic attacks can happen during the smallest, everyday things, such as getting my hair cut, or meeting friends for food in town. Yet jumping off a high cliff into the sea on holiday doesn’t faze me.”
Now then, I’m not saying Paul doesn’t like the attention. He did the ‘Ice Bucket’ challenge in this outfit and he would happily welcome the Gogglebox crew into his living room with open arms to offer his wisdom on the week’s soaps. But while he is not ashamed of his anxiety, he definitely doesn’t use it for attention.
If he were, I doubt he would have chosen the back of a stuffy city cab, on route to a marketing awards ceremony to stage a full blown panic attack. Vomiting into a paper bag while trying to regulate your breathing in front of your boss isn’t something that a well-versed selfie king would do.
Nope, if he was after attention, he’d have waited until he was called to the stage.
In modern society, just like the hipster beard, anxiety is a prevalent ‘thing’ (while both are unwanted ‘things’ in my opinion, I fear anxiety isn’t likely to disappear as quickly as the beard). But anxiety doesn’t exclusively hang around the diddy wallflower, hiding in the shadows at a party. No. Sometimes, you might find it smouldering inside that confident geezer on the dance floor, surrounded by fashionistas, taking a group selfie while re-enacting a carefully choreographed routine to a Spice Girls medley. Zig-a-zig ah*.
*Zig-a-zig ah – noun/verb with no apparent meaning or reason to exist, other than it just is. As in ‘anxiety’ – an illness which has no apparent reason for attaching itself to any type of personality. It just does.
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Neurotic hen-keeper, feline friend and mental health blogger. Prone to catastrophisation and over excitement at the garden centre. Caution: do not give Diet Coke after dark.