So, I’ve been talking a lot about skin care and products recently and felt like writing something a little bit different. This post is something I have been mulling over for a while but kept putting off because I simply didn’t know how to put it down on paper, and I still don’t really, so bare with me! This isn’t an easy post to write, but I feel that it’s incredibly important to share.
Anxiety is a funny thing, even if you know you’re suffering due to something small, it doesn’t feel small, and those feelings are very, very real. And thats why I want to open up a little about my experience with anxiety, and more specifically, the first anxiety attack I endured. Now, I am conscious enough to see that my anxiety attack was a build-up of events over time that I simply couldn’t cope with any longer. I am also quite sure that the reason it affected me so badly, is because my situation at that time was mirroring the bullying I had gone through on a daily basis in primary school.
When it happened I worked in retail and had done since 6th form. My initial plan had been to study photography at university to study photography. However, as I started working I realised that while I still liked photography, I didn’t see myself doing it as a profession, With this I thought I might as well stay in retail until I decided… I was in retail 7 years (until just 6 months ago!). As far as enjoying retail goes (the hours are shit and the public can be both amazing and absolutely horrible) I liked it. The people you work with absolutely make the job and I have made some lifetime friends along the way, and lived with a colleague too. I fitted in at every store I worked at and never felt out of place or like I didn’t ‘look the part’. I am no fashionista, and definitely air on the side of casual, but I dress professionally at work and have never once been told that I’ve broken the uniform guidelines, because I never have.
This all changed in my last retail job. It started very slowly, a side glance here and there from one person who was in a position a few levels above me. A few comments sprinkled into conversation – ‘I wish you wore lipstick, go put some on, you would look much better’. I would laugh and assume this was a joke. However gradually the situation worsened. For example, I would be stood speaking to said person about a work related issue, and they would clearly check out of the conversation. Instead, they would slowly look me up and down, from my shoes, up my legs, linger on my stomach, up to my arms and then peer around the side of my body. I would make me turn around thinking that something must be behind me, and then they would look surprised back to my face, startled as if coming out of a trance. It was humiliating.
Working in retail, these conversations were always on the shop floor and I knew my colleagues could see it all. I would stand there feeling my eyes welling up, waiting for it to be over but the damage had already been done.
This person wasn’t always horrible. In fact, I knew they generally liked me and respected me, they thought I was a good employee and could trust that I was good at my job. They were often really kind and upbeat, this was why it destroyed my confidence when the other side of them showed. After some months of this emotional abuse, in a one-to-one meeting, they brought up that I should start ‘dolling myself up’ more, and it struck me as odd. This wasn’t written down in the meeting notes either. I realised that when I was buying new work clothes and I wasn’t looking at the clothes thinking ‘Will this suit me? Do I like this?’ Instead, I was searching for work clothes thinking ‘Will they like this? Would they wear this?’.
It came to a head on a particular day when it was snowing heavily in the morning, with thanks to ‘Beast from the East’. I went to work in heeled boots, fitted trousers, a fashion cable knit roll neck jumper, full face of makeup and my hair half up half down with a black bow. I know, to this day, that I didn’t look unprofessional. Yet, when they saw me they looked absolutely furious. I got a swift stare up and down, a scolded look and they shouted ‘OH, CAN YOU JUST GO DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF? GO PUT SOME LIPSTICK ON OR SOMETHING!’. With that, I left the office like a deer in headlights in search of some lipstick – not because I wanted to, because I was been made to.
‘Jumper gate’ was the height of it but the criticism and looks carried on from there. Every morning was turning into complete dread. When getting dressed I was worrying about what I would be met with when I arrived at work and it was becoming unbearable. Then in July (4 months afterwards), Jack had a CrossFit competition and I promised I would go along to watch this one. But when I woke up on the Saturday, the thought of leaving the house had me sat in a ball in the corner of the bedroom crying. The thought of leaving my room, let alone the house was absolutely crippling. My skin felt prickly all over, uncomfortable in my own skin, I was flustered and shaking, every time I caught my breath all it would take was the thought of putting on clothes or taking a shower ready to leave the house and I was a sack of nerves again.
I did manage to get myself dressed and leave the house. It took me three hours longer than I wanted it to, but I did it. Hands shaking locking the door, crying walking down the road, hyperventilating waiting for the bus, crying, shaking and hyperventilating when I thought anyone was going to sit next to me on the bus. These were all things I have been doing every single day of my life, but now it was a nightmare start to finish.
I didn’t want to let Jack down which it why I forced myself to go through it. Eventually I arrived at Jack’s gym, but as soon as I saw the doors and ran away, hid behind a wall and broke down. My battery had died so I knew I needed to continue to the gym otherwise I wouldn’t be able to even let Jack know why I never showed. I turned back about 4 times until I literally forced one foot in front of the other into the gym, but as soon as I saw Jack I dropped my belongings on the floor and ran out of the building crying and hyperventilating. I was a wreck and I couldn’t work out why I was going through this. Jack followed me and sat with me behind a wall while I cried and shook for a while, and he drove me home and understood that what I was feeling was very real. I spent the rest of the day in a ball on the sofa trying to come to terms with what I was feeling and why.
I have always completely empathized with how serious anxiety is, and have never dumbed it down or thought it was something anybody could ‘just get over’. However, I do think its a hard one to fully appreciate or know how to help if you’ve never been through it, which is why it can be so hard for people to talk about. People want to help, but how can they help if the person suffering doesn’t know how anybody can help them either?
But it was Jack who put the pieces together and had the lightbulb moment, and everything clicked into place. He asked if I was happy at work and the dread and anxious feeling hit me like a smack in the face. It wasn’t thet I didnt like my job, I loved it, and I loved the people I worked with and loved the products I worked with, but there was one aspect of the job that was tearing me apart. I don’t know why the gym competition brought it out, maybe it was because I was feeling so crap about how I looked every day that the thought of walking into a gym full of people looking their best was too much. It took this conversation with Jack , to make sense of the fact that it was how I was being made to feel at work, that had got me to this point. And it was something I wasn’t prepared to take any longer.
The next day I plucked up the courage to speak to HR about what had been happening, who had been doing it, and my anxiety attack. I didn’t want to take any action, but I wanted something to be on record incase I was to have another anxiety attack at work or everything got too much, at least somebody knew it hadn’t come out of nowhere. It made me a feel a lot better, they reassured me that no colleagues had ever raised any concerns about me to them, appearance or otherwise. They assured me that I was well within the uniform standards and seemed genuinely shocked that something like this has been happening and that it had gotten to the point it had. Although it made me feel like a weight had been taken off my shoulders the damage had been done and I started looking for another job, and a few months later I landed one that I had been after for a long, long time. The end of my retail days.
Now, when I feel like I’m being unfairly treated or unfairly judged the same feeling arrises. This is shit, but I feel like now I know where it stemmed from I can control the anxiety a lot better. A struggle is a struggle and no matter how big or small, your feelings are real and should be taken seriously. I don’t look back and wish the person who treated me like that any misfortune, but do I wish I had taken action? Yes. Why? Because I know that somebody else is now being treated exactly the same as I was, and my heart absolutely goes out to them and wants to tell them that it isn’t their fault.
I suppose what I’m trying to get at, is that anxiety is very real, incredibly common and extremely damaging. It can be hard to identify what you’re feeling or why, but in my experience it was the conversation with a loved one that helped me to make sense of it all and see a way forward. Anxiety is the invisible little douchebag that can creep in at any moment, but I don’t feel as scared when I feel that feeling any more. Instead, I feel like the understanding I have gained through conversation has given me some level of power over it. Plus, I have a new job which I probably wouldn’t have been motivated to apply for if this hadn’t happened!
I hope this post is helpful for somebody, and if not, it has actually been incredibly helpful for me to write about it – so thank you for reading, if you’ve made it this far. Also a big thank you to my dear friend Isabel. Writing this was hard, and once I had my words on the page I realised half of it was a jumbled mess. Isabel very kindly proof read and helped me give this post more structure. So, THANK YOU ISABEL.
Love, Chelsea xxxxx