In this 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. This week, she revisits an old flatmate.
“Oi! You lot! Get away from that car!”
Our house. A random Sunday morning sometime in 2002. My housemate, Samara, runs full speed through the garden wearing a pink dressing gown, towel turban and fluffy slippers, screaming at a bunch of teenagers.
They were clearly bored, as running round and round my old Toyota Corolla seemed to generate more excitement than getting served at the off licence with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.
Despite the far from intimidating appearance, Samara’s order was obeyed and the teenagers even offered an apology… and her face dropped. She’d been caught off guard. Here she was, without her slap on, wearing a manky dressing gown and screaming like a fishwife.
“Sorry Miss Bryan!”
She made a note to put herself on detention as her pupils slowly skulked away.
When we lived together, Samara worked at a Catholic school. She was one of those teachers everybody loved – always coming home with cards and things the kids had made her. She was a fun and interesting teacher with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. And she regularly won the ‘best dressed’ accolade.
Samara was the kind of girl you wanted to hang out with. She lit up the room and commanded attention. She was outgoing, intelligent, heaps of fun – and I, for one, was chuffed to bits when we became friends and housemates.
Mind you, we clashed pretty bad. The crescendo came over some budget Shiraz her boyfriend spilled on my cheap cream carpet. And that was it. One – just one – of my major overreactions and Samara packed her bags, turned on her platform heels and left.
Little did she know that I had anxiety that would cause me to overreact. Little did I know that she had anxiety that could cause her to overreact. Without sharing that knowledge, our living arrangements were only ever going to be as successful as Harry Potter and Voldemort in a flatshare.
“I only realised that my real issue was anxiety last year,” says Samara. “When I was at uni, I suffered with depression after getting run over by my own car. I had tried to stop the thief! I conquered it but, looking back now, I think I always suffered with anxiety as well. Even as a kid.”
Samara describes her anxiety as like ‘wearing a mask’ and that the anger all came about from a fear of some sort. “I have a very good mask of confidence. But I can see now that when I’ve been angry it’s been because of some sort of fear. I disguised the fear with fight in my younger days. Now, I tend to take the ‘flight’ option.”
Samara’s anxiety symptoms are irritability, anger, avoidance and a plethora of physical counterparts, including feeling sick, getting the shakes and fidgeting.
“While management made her life hell, Samara spent countless days sobbing in the classroom cupboard and the location of her head was as questionable as Basement Jaxx’s.”
Her more extreme anxiety manifestations include panic attacks, something I can wholeheartedly relate to. One attack was so bad Samara describes “falling down the wall of the shower, shaking and rocking”. Her boyfriend tried to hug her but, in a state of extreme panic, she threw him off and he went flying across the room.
Not long after shower-gate he cheated on her. His excuse? He just couldn’t deal with her ‘issues’. What a guy.
Having not seen the gregarious Samara for around 15 years, and having not known about her illness, I would never have doubted her self-confidence. Her mask was good enough to land her an Olivier. Little did I know that, at one point, she spent an entire summer mostly asleep, watching TV and hiding from the outside world.
So when did it all get this bad?
Bullying. In the workplace. It seems it’s not just the kids who can face bullies in the education system. Samara felt passionate about changes that were being implemented in the school and spoke out about the possible negative impact on the kids who studied there.
It wasn’t long before she was being labelled ‘unstable’, a ‘troublemaker’ and ‘nuts’. She was also called a bitch by some gentle soul.
“Sadly, my very good mask just happens to be my resting bitch face,” she says. It didn’t end there. She was trolled online too.
So, while management made her life hell, she spent countless days sobbing in the classroom cupboard and the location of her head was as questionable as Basement Jaxx‘s.
She still pulled herself together for the sake of the kids though. And guess what? She was so bloody good at her job, her pupils got the best results in the entire school (100 per cent A-B, 89 per cent A*-A). Go girl! Who said anxious people were weak and useless? Oh, quite a few people. Particularly her bosses.
Samara ended her email to me about taking part in this series by saying, “Even writing this I’m anxious that you might say I don’t actually have anxiety – that I’m just a nutjob female version of the Incredible Hulk.”
Nope. I won’t say that. Because I wrote the exact same thing in a text to my colleague today. Well… more or less.
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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.