On writing about Anxiety for On Anxiety

It’s too obvious. And yet, yes, getting someone with anxiety to write about anxiety is likely one of the hardest, most anxiety-inducing things to do.

I changed jobs about 18 months ago, after starting a masters to change careers 4 years ago. One of the byproducts of that has been if not having less time to read and write, then doing both these things with possibly more purpose. To dedicate myself fully to the task at hand, I have made sure to reduce my writing time, which has only led to procrastination in the form of taking more writing classes and doing more workshops than I spend time writing. One of the consequences of working with books and seeing what others have to say, the brilliance with which they do so, and the time they have spent painstakingly researching their subject matter, is that you realise how much you still have to learn. Mostly, I resigned myself to learning from others first and writing later.

Somehow, perhaps because one of my stray mid-retweet-spree-tweets mentioning anxiety, a keen reader noted the abyss-screaming undertones of my playful words. Late last summer, Clare contacted me asking if I would be interested in contributing a piece of writing to an anthology she was publishing about anxiety for a new micropress, 3 of Cups Press. As someone whose mind is always bubbling up with writing ideas, my response was the usual: Yes. The flood came after.

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I love creative non-fiction, so I wanted to do something in this space, recollecting some of my own experiences but also how they relate to my wider communities. I have read a number of excellent essays chronicling the trauma of watching black and/or queer death, sometimes live through pixels; the paralyzing fear induced by the rise of far right and right-leaning politics with hostile and punitive policies for people from nonwhite demographics in Europe; the covert yet, to anyone not White British, palpable racism and xenophobia that primarily motivated the Brexit vote and should ultimately define its outcome; the plight of womanhood in the face of rampant toxic masculinity. While all of these events have influenced my anxiety in various ways, I wanted for my writing to be personal first, which here meant political by incidence, not design.

The result is my essay ‘Black Girl Healing’ (the title a wordplay on ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson, which many view as a modern classic Bildungsroman). I mapped the manifestations of my anxiety, with past experiences of loss and limerence as its starting points and wrote an ode to my favourite therapist and the tools she equipped me with. I read close to 50 items about mental health in the UK, the US, South Africa; talking therapies, drugs, exercise, love. In consultation with the anthology’s editor, I focused on talking therapies and included a resource of research, books, practitioners and mental health centres available for different communities. Looking at reports from mental health charities and pieces from psychologists and psychotherapists, reading from surveys and looking at pop culture – Citizen by Claudia Rankine, “Insecure” by Issa Rae, CTRL by SZA and Plato’s Cave – I argue for the need to have, if not a customised service, more informed practitioners who can embrace cultural relativism where it respects human rights (in other words, get woke). For the need to see ourselves mirrored in all our complexities.

I wrote with candour and hope. Every word committed to paper like dragging a stiletto in the mud. Forever with bated breath, with anxiety, everything’s a trek. I’m glad about where writing this piece took me and I hope it encourages others like and unlike myself to tread those sodden paths.

You can get On Anxiety from the 3 of Cups Press shop now.

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