(image: Emma Johnson at Worry Knot)
Trigger warning: talks about self harm, anxiety, depression and mental illness
For 10 or so years, throughout adulthood, I have battled on and off with something invisible and something I still don’t fully understand myself.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
I’m now 29 but my illness started at about the age of 21. In my third year of University, I started to dread things, I started to worry about everything I said, did and I started to question if anyone liked me. I have always been apologetic but this was different. I felt like apologising for walking into a room.
I was unable to switch off, unable to focus on my University work and I withdrew a lot socially. Life moved quite slow back then.
For me I knew this was out of character. I’ve always been fun loving and outgoing, with a smile on my face. I became confused about who I was. I developed an uneasy feeling that would take almost 8 years to learn to sit with.
During the first few years of my disorder, I definitely still achieved a lot. I often feel my disorder makes me thrive more, sort of like overcompensation, a little bit like proving people and myself wrong. I graduated with a BSc in Psychology and at the age of 24, I went on to gain my MSc in International Development.
I don’t think I truly recognised these achievements until about the age of 27.
Whilst studying my MSc life changed quite a lot for me. I had gone through a bad break up in my younger years but then I finally met someone who lifted me back up, who challenged my thoughts, someone who was completely different to me in every way. This was oddly comforting for me, a bit like escapism from my own ruminating thoughts.
Then I entered the world of professional work. I started out as a fundraiser, and in my most recent role I tried my hand at facilitating group therapy. In 5 years I have moved through 4 jobs within the charity sector. Sometimes part time.
During this time my anxiety disorder would often become too much. I often sunk low and developed bouts of depression. I would cry and sob. I was back and forth to the GP, often teary, often red in the face and always a bit embarrassed, even though I didn’t need to feel embarrassed.
At one point I was signed off sick from work, bed bound for 3 months, with no motivation at all, just me, myself and my catastrophic thoughts. I was pretty exhausted, shaky, drained and more confused than ever. My physical symptoms manifested as sweating, chest pains, palpitations, shortness of breath and the odd panic attack.
One thing I started to do was open up, I began to share things with my partner and colleagues. They let me cry if I needed and at the same time my GP was stabilising and finding the right medication to suit me. But I was clearly still unwell.
I quit another job I enjoyed through my inability to cope and my lack of self esteem. My Imposter Syndrome led me down another uneven path. Always overworking. Always overthinking. Always overcompensating. I didn’t slow down until I was forced to.
Another behavioural symptom of my anxiety is skin picking and nail biting. In early adulthood I would sit for 3 hours picking at my face and over the years I have made the skin around my thumbnail so sore it would bleed. It is now scarred.
My need to fiddle with something to ease anxiety is always apparent. Earlier this year, I was talking to my friend about making jewellery and how cool it would be to make my own. I have always been into accessories, fashion and jewellery so I said I’d love to make something I can wear and carry with me discreetly but also fiddle with, to stop me from picking so much.
She mentioned worry beads and I was intrigued. I wanted to make my own twist on them. A prettier version, merging them with jewellery design that I would more likely wear, so I did and my life has changed. I have started a small business called Worry Knot.
(image: Emma Johnson at Worry Knot)
Alongside selling calming jewellery, I’m blog writing. I’m advocating more widely about the importance of opening up when confusing and sometimes debilitating symptoms develop. Not only is it therapeutic for me to make my jewellery but it’s extra therapeutic playing with this jewellery a few times a day.
Having something to focus on, things to make and to write about has been crucial in managing my own anxiety, especially at such an anxious time for the world. I hope my jewellery can go on to help those feeling anxious not only now but going forward into the future too.
(Images: Emma Johnson)
You can also find me @worryknotuk on Facebook and Instagram.
Emma Johnson is a writer with lived experience of mental health issues. She is the founder of Worry Knot, a jewellery brand to help others who have anxiety.