Did I let anxiety win?

Preface: Anxiety affects everyone differently. If you read this and feel what I’m talking about doesn’t relate to you, that’s fine. It was nice having you, feel free to check out something different in my long line of content.

If it does, and you feel the need to speak to someone, please check out the Samaritans (or another charity of your choosing). They’ve helped me in the past, and I know they do good work:

Anyway – as you were…

When an ex-England rugby captain invites you to join her team, you don’t say no. You might preface the response text with such phrases as ‘bit intimidated by the team’ and ‘I’m a pretty rubbish player now’, but rugby is in the blood of my family, I couldn’t say no.

And it was exciting. I’d not played a game of rugby in nearly six years. I’d coached, played one game for Aylesford, reffed a little. But to play, consistently, for a team? I missed it.

When I was at university, for whatever reason, I gave up rugby. Focused on my work and my course and didn’t give rugby (or horse riding) much thought. I didn’t realise at the time that I was suffering from anxiety, and that anxiety was taking away the two things I’d enjoyed most (after writing and reading), rugby and horse riding. By the time I’d finished my course, I didn’t horse ride and I didn’t play. And to put in context for you how important those things had been for me previously, I’d played for Kent and South East England – which meant training Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, horse riding Friday, a night off Saturday, game Sunday, recovery Monday. And then? Nothing. Weekdays filled with cramming in work and focusing on my writing.

It didn’t seem like that big a problem. Until I was invited – by Spencer – to play alongside Aylesford. I went to two training sessions, met some really nice girls. Played one game. And it was a shit game. I can’t even remember if we won. What I can remember is, I missed every tackle. I was breathing like I smoked forty a day, and I felt like I’d been in a car accident for the next two weeks.

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Where had my body gone? Why was I know a size twenty not a size twelve? When did that happen?

I knew things were really bad when I was getting texts from five or six girls from the team asking if I was coming to training, and my physical response was to burst into tears. It wasn’t their fault I was shit. It wasn’t their fault I was crying because I was shit. And in hindsight, it wasn’t my fault either, but I felt like it was. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I was a fat mess. A stupid fat mess.

On a night out, a group of lads had seen me at my heaviest and sung ‘Nelly the Elephant’ at me as I walked past. My mum (and I know she hates me telling this story, but it’s super relevant) once told me I had to go to rugby training, because ‘I weighed as much as she did when she was pregnant with me’. And that was at my lightest.

I resolved not to give a shit about my body anymore. I was going to the gym, eating healthy, and it didn’t seem to make a difference. I stopped responding to texts from the girls and basically fell off the side of the earth, hiding in my work and doing teacher training, where I gained more weight.

My dad suggested I go an see a hypnotherapist. If you think that sounds crazy, well, so did I. I thought ‘what’s the point? It’s not going to help. It’s a magic trick.’

But I went anyway – because you don’t say no to my dad – and I had my first session free and another three sessions for £40 after that. I cried pretty much that entire first session. I told the hypnotherapist that I hated my body, that I hated myself. And he told me, to give myself permission to go to the gym and get better. He asked what my parents would say to support me.

And it worked. I went to the gym. I started losing weight. I could run up and down the stairs without being out of breath because I gave myself permission to. I was coaching rugby full time, I did my ref course. I felt better. Happier. I dropped out of teaching and did my MA in creative writing – the best mistake I could have made! I finally understood how lucky I was.

But I still wasn’t playing rugby. And I still wasn’t horse riding. I’d tried loaning a horse, but it threw me, kicked at me, tried to bully me out of the field. And I just wasn’t confident enough. I went for a lesson with my old riding school, and had a panic attack whilst sat on the horse. Couldn’t breathe. Felt like my chest was trying to cave in on itself. I got off. Took some deep breathes. Got back on. Had a brilliant lesson, jumped, cantered, loved it.

And then in June of this year, Spencer invited me to play rugby again. This, though I didn’t know it, would be the real test to see if I’d kicked my anxiety squarely in the nads.

I think she messaged me on facebook – or text me, I can’t find it now. But she invited me to join the Old Elthamians and my immediate response was ‘Hell. Yes.’  Folkestone didn’t have a team anymore, everyone was off playing elsewhere or not playing at all. This was my chance to get back into rugby properly.

Of course, the first week was fitness testing. And I failed. Big time.

I had strong-ish arms and strong-ish legs. But when it came to running the mile, I felt sick. I was basically walking by halfway through the first quarter. And by half way round I had to stop. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t see straight. If I’d eaten more that day it would have resurfaced.

And the girls on my new team cheered me on. They congratulated me – even though I was quite clearly the weakest link in their team. I’d thought it was going to be humiliating. Demoralising. But I couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of girls to back me. I went home exhausted, and with a smile on my face.

Then I got the flu. Flu, in the summer. That sounds like an excuse. So I went to the gym, and made myself sicker. Then I had a meeting with my tutor in Bristol. So that was week three missed as well. And by week four, I’d torn my ACL. (The muscle in your knee that you need for any kind of movement apparently!) How? By standing in the kitchen. My knee made a weird popping motion to the side, and the damage was done. Another two weeks of recovery.

I was still getting texts from girls on my team ‘are you coming to training?’ ‘are we seeing you this week?’ ‘come along anyway, help out. Support.’ – But I didn’t want to just watch. I wanted to keep up. I wanted to play. And as the weeks rolled on, I was falling further and further behind – and I’d started as their shittest player anyway!

So this Wednesday was my first training session back. I’d missed Monday’s fitness training because I had a committee meeting (because I’m social sec now), and Spence had said she couldn’t give me a lift, so I’d have to make my own way.

That’s fine, I thought. I’ve been before. The girls will be happy for the numbers if nothing else. My morning was pretty chilled, Netflix, a bit of editing and lots of tea. At lunch, I had a meeting with another young writer I’m really excited to be working with, but driving back from our meeting I started crying.

The old phrases ‘fat mess’ ‘stupid’ ‘crap player’ ‘lazy’ rolling around in the back of my head. With new phrases like ‘slow’ ‘worst player’, ‘they wouldn’t even notice if you never showed up again’ ‘they’re just saying you should play so they’ve got numbers’ ‘why bother?’. And I cried the whole way home. By the time I got home, I thought I was over it. Posted a facebook status (which I never do) calling Anxiety a wankmaggot – like name calling made me super mature and able to handle it.

But the truth was, anxiety was using phrases I’d said to make me think I didn’t want to play rugby anymore. That it was too much trouble. A waste of time. That I didn’t really enjoy it anyway.

It made me feel completely alone too. Like I could die, and people would be annoyed I’d inconvenienced them. I thought about taking the ten-minute walk to the cliffs by my house. Jumping. Leaving a note on my computer that said ‘Happy now?’ like it was someone else’s fault. And then I felt guilty. What the fuck did I have to be upset about? I’m not homeless, or drug dependent, I’m a little overweight, over-emotional, and attention seeking. Get the fuck over it.

I was making tea, and mum tried to give me a hug. I told her not to touch me. Not to pander to me. I was being pathetic. She sat me down and talked to me. Really listened. Really cared. Told me I was putting too much pressure on myself not to feel. Too much pressure to be amazing at rugby. Because I was acting like I was scared. Not scared of the drive – Bristol to Kent is three to four hours, this was nothing like that. Not the people – because they’d been nothing but lovely to me. Fear of failure then. Of letting people down.

So I had to ask myself: Does the pressure need to be there? No. Will the girls care? No. Will they be disappointed if I don’t show up – probably not. Or is that anxiety creeping in again? Could I ask them? No, that’s not their problem.

What do you want then? Deep breathe. I want this. I want to get fitter, I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I can’t let it win. So I packed my stuff, I shaved my legs and I went to training. I got a few comments about being a ‘stranger’, but people seemed happy enough to have me around. They remembered my name at least.

And yeah, the training session was hard. My knee starting hurting almost immediately. I avoided contact to begin with, but took on the tackle pad when it came to swapping people out. One girl could move me. Whether it was weight, or skill, or just planting my good leg in the way, girls were hitting the pad and bouncing off. I could do this.

We split off into forwards and backs. Had to work in pods. Take the ball, hit the pad, go down. I could do that too. But my knee collided with the floor and suddenly I felt like I was on fire. Like Someone had rubbed gunpowder into my knee. I couldn’t straighten it without it burning. I had to bow out. And I felt, again, like I was letting everyone down.

Now I’d had quite a positive response to the Facebook post. People, especially other rugby girls, sharing their support. I didn’t want to leave the pitch. That felt like giving up, and letting those people down too. I felt stupid. Pathetic. And it hurt so much.

Eventually, the training ended. I dropped one of the girls off at the train station, called my friend and told her I was fine. I was fine. I’d done it. I’d gone to training, I’d given it my all. I’d hurt myself, but no one had died. That was a win.

400076_10150598927390659_328815983_nThe next day my knee didn’t hurt at all. And I was left with this deep, deep fear that it had all been in my head. That I was putting up physical roadblocks in the way of getting fitter. Because I feel trapped in this flabby mess I call my body. I’m stuck on the days when I could make every breakdown and high levels of competition. Run fast enough to be in the right place at the right time, make a tackle worthy of Spencer mentioning it in the newspaper article she was writing.

I went to a BNI business meeting, and one of the members who has me on Facebook came up and gave me a hug. Told me he’d seen my status and thought I needed it. I told him I’d just had a stupid wobble, and he said ‘we all have those’.

So to Priscilla, Claire, Yvonne, Bex, Katherine, Lina, Mark, and Andy – thank you so much for taking your time out to give me the nudge I needed when I needed it most. You’ll never know how important those comments and messages were to me at that moment.

And as for whether I let the anxiety win or not – I’ve no fucking idea. I’ve got serious DOMS today, which has annoyed me because I could/should have done more at training. But I’m also kind of smug, because I know somewhere in me is the capacity for good rugby.

And if you’re looking to join a really good, high-quality rugby team full of girls, let me put you in touch…

So what can you take away from this (frankly grotesque and self-indulgent) essay. Everyone has their own shit, sure. But it’s okay to ask for help, to feel inadequate, or insecure. So long as you know you can ask for help from those around you. And if you see someone is having a hard time, spare them a kind word, a quick message or a hug. It might make more difference than you realise.

 

Have you ever dyed your hair?

Dying your hair is a lot of hard work and commitment. I’m not really a fan of either of those things when it comes to my appearance – which is why I’ll never dye my hair again.  The first time I dyed my hair should have been an experience to put me off for life, but I like to learn mistakes a couple of times just to be sure.

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Allure

You know?

PHASE 1 – The Blonde Highlights

I’d wanted blonde highlights – either because they’d been suggested to me or because everyone in my class was getting them. I can’t remember – I  just remember thinking it would be easier to do than it was. But my mum came home with one of those ‘highlighting’ caps and good lord…

Have you ever experienced someone digging into your head rhythmically for hours, to get to the smallest strands of hair? Because that’s what this is. It feels like hours of life you’re never getting back because when you see your hair poking out of the cap it’s like ‘is that it?’

But it looked okay, I didn’t hate it. And then we went on holiday…

NERD ALERT – Copper is found in traces in water, thanks to the pipes and wells used to store water. You can also use copper-based algaecides to keep your swimming pools clean. But when copper is oxidized by chlorine is binds to the proteins in hair.

TLDR – Copper water + Chlorine + hair = green tints.

And because bleached hair is so stripped down, dyed hair can look fluorescent. So I went to Margarita with gorgeous blonde highlights and came back looking like I’d stitched a witch’s wig into mine.

Copper is an alkali though, so I was told to put something red and acidic in my hair and it would counter the oxidation. We were recommended – I kid you not – tomato ketchup. So I washed tomato ketchup into my hair a couple of times and got most of the blonde back. Only in some lights could the green be seen.

PHASE 2 – Bottle Black Emo Kid

Because each phase should rebel against the last right? Black hair was sweeping through my friends shortly after the blonde highlight fiasco – so I jumped on that bandwagon too. The problem was, I had a bob. And glasses. And a school uniform. I looked less like the cool anime emo kids and more like Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo.

And there was no fooling my classmates. My roots were lighter than the rest of my hair, so required constant upkeep. Being called ‘Bottle Black’ became a sort of slur for someone trying too hard and I gave up after that. If I were to go and dye my hair again now, this is probably the phase I’d return to. I’m pale, I think I’d look good as a casual goth.

PHASE 3 – Colour Colour

Like I said, every phase has to rebel against the last. And the last phase was to go big and bright with colours. My friends hit the bright red hard. All of them, pretty much, and I became the ‘unique one’ for not bothering. For letting my hair grow out long and brown and natural.

The truth was, I wasn’t very well, and all my hair fell out. Well, not all my hair – but enough to make growing it out a mission because it was stress induced and stress perpetuating. So it was a few years between being ill and dying my hair purple. Yes, purple – because if everyone else went red, why would I bother?

I’d expected a bright Cadbury purple, but my hairdresser ‘knew better’ and gave me a soft magenta purple. It was nice. It was different. No one cared. By this point, different hair dyes that change colour in the rain and under heat was a thing. Dying your hair multiple colours and having the top black so no one would know until the wind came along or you put it up into a ponytail.

And when it grew out it looked like a cheap Balayage. It went a bizarre red/ombre/ginger colour which did suit my long brown hair but it only sprung to life through my lack of commitment. And that was years ago. I don’t bother dying my hair now.

I might try low lights though – when it’s colder and I’m not wasting the money on something I’m going to sling out of my face with a hair band.

Let me know what you think.

 

 

Is there anyone you’ve ever given up on?

The sad truth of it is, there’s going to be people in your life who let you down or let you go. And the trick isn’t to avoid those people or those who remind you of them, but to recognise why it happened and whether it’s likely to happen again. Being hurt is part of life, but being hurt repeatedly from not learning from the mistake isn’t.

Let me put in context for you: I had two very close friends. We’ll call them February and January.

January’s mum and mine had met at mother/toddler group. We’d fight like sisters, screaming and shouting, but we’d play for hours. We love each other. We’re still friends. Because regardless of all the times we’ve made each other cry, or said the wrong thing or hurt each other’s feelings, we’ve got ten times the amount of moments of joy and happiness we’ve shared. She’s family.

February and I met at school. To begin with, she was the closest friend I had. We were both nervous about being at secondary and we found comfort in our awkward dorkiness. We’d argue too, scream, shout, berate each other. Promise we’d never speak again and then make up two minutes later. But February made friends with other people too, and she listened to the things they said about me. She sided with them, refused to hear my side of arguments and spread rumours about me.

It took me a long time to see the difference between February and January, but it was clearer to me, the older I got and the nastier February was. I had to let that friendship go because it wasn’t good for me. It hurt my self-esteem having my ‘friend’ spread nasty rumours about me, call me names and encourage people to mock me. Especially because we’d been so close for so long.

But now, when I meet people who remind me of her I keep them at arm’s length until they show more ‘January’ about themselves. That loyalty and kindness. That friendship that shows familial compassion.

Because you learn – unfortunately, a little too late – that friends from school are your friends because you see them every day. The friends that last are cut from a different cloth. Diamonds in the rough. And like diamonds, those bonds can’t be broken by anything. Time. Distance.

January lives abroad now – but she calls. She writes. I was the bridesmaid at her wedding. I don’t even know where February lives, or if her number is the same. I don’t really care. I wish the best for her, and hope the feeling is mutual. But I doubt it.

 

Have you ever been on an aeroplane?

I have, a few times actually.

When I was growing up – a lot of our holidays were either in Scotland, the Lake District or France. Mum’s family have family in Southern France, so we did a lot of EuroCamp and Villa Holidays. Which meant a lot of driving, no flying. Whilst we were ‘comfortable’ enough to have a holiday every year, flying out just seemed out of reach financially – especially as there was five of us (parents and two younger brothers). But also, I think my parents were worried about taking younglings on a plane. We’d either hate it, and be bratty. Or we’d love it and get overexcited. And nothing says ‘the holiday has begun’ quite like screaming children.

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But my parents had spent their honeymoon in Menorca, and wanted to spend their 10th anniversary returning there. But, because we’ve never been on time for anything, they missed it and went on their 12th anniversary – taking us kids with them. I’d have been 10, my brothers 8 and 6. Old enough to recognise the ‘look’ our parents had for when we were being bratty in public, and that we’d pay for it in private.

I remember being nervous. I was sitting in the window seat, with my dad next to me and my mum and brothers behind us. My dad didn’t take my hand, but told me it would be fun. The engine was so loud. The plane shook like an old bus and then we were shooting down the runway and into the air. People cheered and whooped, which made me giggle. And I was fine after that. The landing was a bit bumpy, but the ride between England and Menorca was just like being on a loud bus, and that analogy has stuck with me every time I’ve flown since.

Strange coincidence but for a long time, the only place I flew to began with the letter M.

Menorca. Morocco. Margarita (an Island of Venezuela). Maldives, The.

We did, as a family, branch out into other letters like R: Rome. Romania.

And my first trip without my parents was to New York – because I’m a white girl. Basic to the bone.

Of course, that was a drama all of its own. When we arrived at the airport, my friend and I were so excited about flying to New York. It’s a dream destination – everyone’s been and everyone recommends it. And it’s in all the movies and television shows and it’s full of excitement and money and WOW. So we’re sat in the gatehouse, waiting for our flight and the news is playing on a massive widescreen television. The headline? ‘American Airline Plane Catches Fire on Runway.

Who are we flying within ten minutes? American Airlines. My friend starts freaking out because the woman behind us (having seen the news) has started hyperventilating.

And I say something that could only come from my mouth because I’ve spent time with my dad. “Well. It’s unlikely to happen twice in two days.” That did not make people feel better – FYI. But we made it to NY City in one piece. No exploding planes.

Image may contain: sky, skyscraper and outdoorSince then, each trip has felt more and more like being on a conveyer belt. This could, in part, be because each time I’ve flown I’ve had the airport security grope and man-handle me like I’ve got something hidden in my shirt. Some airports want you to take off your shoes, some don’t – and people get really snarky if you’re not aware of the rules specific to the airport you’re in. And I can understand why this has to be the case. But it doesn’t stop flying feeling like a loud, shakey conveyor belt. I’m not one of those people who ‘loves traveling’ because of the travel. It’s not ‘the journey’ for me. But the experience of being there. Eating their food, walking their shores. Planes are just the awkward bit in the middle.

So, yes I’ve been on an aeroplane. Yes, I’ll fly again (once I’m less poor). And who knows to where!

Got any suggestions? I’d love to hear them! See you soon!

Have you ever done a prank call?

My friend’s house wasn’t like my house. My house wasn’t clean, but at least there was colour. Her’s was brown, and brown, and beige. Maybe there were more colours, and I don’t remember any more. In my mind’s eye, everything was brown in the way every council house has a faded brown and red upholstered sofa, with brown detailing which might have been ‘golden’ when the sofa was new, and leather sofa-cushions that deflate the moment you sit on them mimicking the deep sigh the adults release when they finally get to sit. Beige linoleum flooring in the kitchen, with brown rings where the cat bowl was put. Beige walls with scuff marks and posters in frames chipped corners and ring marks. Net curtains you could see in through. Waste of time if you ask me.

But for all the brown, it’s where I liked to be. In her room, on her bed, watching her straighten her long – don’t call it ginger – hair. Freckles on her nose. Blue eyes she’s pop wide to make me laugh. White shirt, untucked. School kilt – yeah we had those even in 2003 – rolled up around the waist like a thick belt. Or a thick belt with studs on, half the studs missing because she played with it. Black eyeliner, only on the bottom waterline of the eye. Mascara. Lipgloss if you were feeling fancy. And the strong smell of hairspray, to keep it straight.

For her birthday she had a sleepover, about six girls crammed into a small living room in front of the television to watch The Ring. Not a good film. But in the dark, girls crept out of their sleeping bags and hid upstairs with her mum, one by one, until it was just she and I left. The girls came back when the film ended, and my mum called to say good night. It scared the crap out of everyone, except me – who could see the caller ID.

It gave us an idea though. We could prank call someone. Anyone. Pick a number at random. So we did. Put in our area code and then six random numbers. No idea who it could be. It was late too, some people didn’t bother answering. Finally, someone did. She put on a voice, we tried not to laugh. They got angry, asked who it was. We laughed out-loud and hung up. Continued with a couple more numbers. Called people we knew, told them our friends fancied them. Or we knew where they lived. Or that their car had been stolen.

Then the first person called us back. Asked to speak to her mum.

We’d forgotten to do that 1471 thing – where you block your number. Her mum went mad. Not just because we’d wound people up late at night, but because we didn’t pay the phone bill. How long had we been doing for? Who knew. We kept pretty quiet after that.

When I went home, my mum asked what we’d gotten up to – and I told her about The Ring and how her phone call had freaked everyone out. She laughed, so I left it there and didn’t tell her about the prank calls. That was kid stuff anyway.