Admitting that you’re not ok: Why it’s good to talk about anxiety
In a one-off documentary for BBC One, Nadiya: Anxiety and Me, Nadiya Hussain gives voice to the feelings of many invisible anxiety sufferers when she speaks candidly about how she used to hide her anxiety disorder behind a smile every day. When filming the show, Nadiya met blogger and campaigner Claire Eastham, who described how she had also kept a lid on her anxiety for many years. Whilst anxiety didn’t stop Claire from achieving academically or at work, ignoring her health made her symptoms worse and she found herself living with constant worry, panic attacks, sweating and feeling sick.
It was only when Claire suffered a mental health breakdown at work, and subsequently took time off, that she got her formal diagnosis six years ago. Her time off work led to a complete change of direction. Claire discovered that blogging about about her feelings was very therapeutic and the blog led to her best-selling book, ‘We’re All Mad Here,’ which she wrote about her personal experience with anxiety. She felt there was a real need for more accessible and empathic information around mental health - "I noticed that a lot of material on mental health was either littered with complex medical jargon, or bleak in tone. I wanted to write something that everyone could understand and relate to."
Claire now dedicates her time to writing, blogging and public speaking. She wants to get the message out there that you don’t have to get to breaking point before you seek help. She is passionate about the benefits of talking about mental health and now regularly faces her fears by speaking publicly about her social anxiety. Hoping to raise awareness and reduce stigma, Claire cautions against ignoring your mental heath because once you name it and own it, you remove a block on the road to recovery – "Being open about anxiety is liberating. I spent so many years hiding it and carrying the weight of secrecy and shame. It’s OK to talk about mental health!"
Claire explains how her breakdown was actually one of the best things that ever happened to her: "I finally gave myself permission to be ill, and tell other people about my diagnosis. Both my family and friends were very supportive. I explained how my anxiety made me feel and how they could help."
Claire’s advice for anyone concerned about opening up:
"Start small. If you don't feel comfortable talking to a family member, friend or even a doctor, maybe phone a charity. For example, the Samaritans phone line is manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can also call Childline. Talking over the phone is less intense and might help build your confidence."
So, what would Claire go back and tell herself at the most difficult point?
"In the words of Dory from Finding Nemo: ''Just keep swimming!' Take it one step at a time: you'll get through this."
Nadiya: Anxiety and Me is on BBC One on 15th May 2019 at 9pm.