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 talks to a blogging big gun.
Did you see that girl, Claire Eastham, on This Morning last year, addressing the nation live with talk of her apparent ‘social anxiety’? FAKE NEWS! All this mental health bollocks. Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon.
As if anyone with crippling social anxiety would even dare do that without breaking down into a blubbing mess live on TV. Social anxiety? My arse!
Of course that’s not really what’s on my mind. It’s more the injustice of that kind of thinking. And Claire – a seriously successful mental health blogger and author – knows only too well that there’s still stigma attached to mental illness.
“I think people expect me to be a nervous wreck,” she says, “Lots of people have social anxiety and still function. It’s just that sometimes they might need extra support.”
I first met Claire, who is currently working on her second book, at a Time to Change event in London last autumn, where she was sharing her top tips for success with us aspiring bloggers. She seemed pretty confident, but she opened her speech by telling us she was secretly, albeit not literally (as she quickly pointed out), shitting herself.
Thing is, Claire could dance on a podium or belt out a Beyoncé classic and there’d still be no reason to question her diagnosis of social anxiety. Just look at others who live with anxiety. I interviewed my good mate Paul about his condition; he’s certainly no wallflower. And I’m not sure people would describe me as particularly shy either.
The definition of personality is: the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.
The definition of illness is: a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.
Two very different things.
You could be prone to regular migraines, something you might have to live with for life. But it doesn’t mean you constantly walk around with a furrowed brow and iron spikes sticking out your head. Although it might feel like that sometimes.
Similarly, a social anxiety diagnosis doesn’t mean that person is walking around with serious shakes, dark glasses, a voice reduced to a broken whisper and a sign on their back saying, ‘Please don’t talk to me.’
“Blogging definitely is therapeutic. It helps you work through your thoughts rationally and helps you apply logic to your crazy worries. It also helps others.”
Claire’s recently written about this very issue in an article for her blog, called ‘What does an anxious person look like?’ “Some people think anxiety is a form of attention seeking, or being self-indulgent. I mean how dare I be so vain as to presume that everybody is thinking about me?” she says.
“People have their own shit to focus on, so rationally it doesn’t make sense that they would be focusing on me. Yet that demon in my head keeps on whispering.” Not really an enviable frame of mind. And when her symptoms really close in, life can be incredibly tough.
“At its worst, social anxiety, to me, is like have a tiger on my back, digging its claws in deep. Then, at the same time, a demon in my head is listing all of my fears on loop. ‘You’re a freak’; ‘Nobody really likes you, they feel sorry for you’; ‘You’re pathetic’; ‘You’re a failure.’
“My body aches under the strain and I feel both exhausted yet hyper at the same time. I can’t breathe, think straight or sit still. It’s like a storm.”
So why did Claire start blogging, sharing her experiences with the world? “In 2013, after recovering from my breakdown, I realised that most of the reading material on anxiety was either intimidating or scattered with medical jargon that I didn’t understand. Serotonin? Are you fucking kidding me?! I didn’t have a clue and it all sounded very scary.
“So I vowed that once I got back on my feet I would start documenting my experiences using language and terminology that everyone could understand. It was also therapeutic, as I could write about how I was feeling, rather than keeping it bottled up.”
Blogging definitely is therapeutic. I know this from firsthand experience. It helps you work through your thoughts rationally and helps you apply logic to your crazy worries. It also helps others. I know, having read Claire’s blog, her experiences and her tips have really helped me. I’ve put some of them into practice when I was nervous about a live TV interview. And I’ve had people tell me that my writing has helped them too.
In Claire’s case, however, she has a quarter of a million followers on her blog, so I’d say she really is making a HUGE difference. Whether that be people who live with the condition themselves, people who know someone else who suffers, or people who just don’t get it.
A quarter of a million followers though! Wow. I wondered if Claire had any idea how big it was going to get:
“NO! Although, in fairness, the success was a gradual thing, and then in 2014 it started getting more attention.”
And how did this attention sit with someone who has social anxiety? “Surprisingly I wasn’t that concerned,” Claire says. “By this point I refused to feel ashamed of my anxiety anymore. I was happy to be honest and hopefully encourage others to do the same.”
In 2015, a publisher approached Claire to see if she would consider turning her blog into a book. And she did. We’re All Mad Here became an instant bestseller.
Good on her. She’s helpful, humorous and fun. And just sometimes, she might feel a nervous wreck. But that’s not who she is.
Read Claire’s blog, follow her on Twitter or get your hands on her book via her publisher.
Get to know more of Lucy’s friends and acquaintances here.
And check out her blog on all things mental health here.
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.