As a child, I used to worry about the monsters under my bed. Not whether they existed, obviously there were monsters under the bed. My worry was, were they comfy? How could they sleep on a hard floor surrounded by dust? Sometimes I slept under the bed so that they could have a turn on top.
My mum tried to help with my anxiety by buying me a teddy – someone who I could tell my worries to. But you only had to look at the bear to see that he had some serious issues. His eyebrows were knitted (in both senses), his little mouth was wonky and his ears looked extremely perturbed. I named him Anxious Bear. I tried to help him, but this was a bear with multiple neuroses... Or was that me?
For a neurotic child, the most innocuous comments would trigger a worry spiral. If I left a piece of Lego on the floor, my grandmother would point an accusing finger at it and say, ‘What if the Queen comes round for tea?’ She said this a lot. I began to be really scared of the Queen. The threat of one of her impromptu visits constantly hovered over me. I knew that my worrying was extreme, but it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with it; I presumed everyone’s minds worked in the same way. And, yes, worrying was an obsession, but it never tipped over into a psychological problem or necessitated medical intervention. While anxiety as a psychiatric disorder is utterly crippling, for me, worrying was more like a hobby. It was just how I was wired.
But around the time I turned 13, it became increasingly apparent that I was, in fact, different from my friends. And, as a teenager, ‘different’ is the very last thing you want to be. My classmates would be worrying about their nails or hair, and I would be worrying whether I had Robertson’s Giant Limb – a rare condition that causes one limb to be ginormous. I kept measuring my legs against each other.
I envied my friends and their (relatively) carefree existences. This, of course, made me start worrying about the amount of time I spent worrying. I was different from other people and I really, really didn’t want to be.
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