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Photography: Anthea Simms. Artwork: Phoebe Sing. Posed by model.

Have you got the fear?

Robyn Wilders battle with anxiety dened her early 20s. Here, she charts her surprising recovery
Baby aisle. Other shoppers looked on in horror as, when I came to, I clambered out from under the breast pumps and scarpered. Id never experienced anything like it before, so naturally, I assumed Id contracted Ebola, or that the zombie apocalypse had hit. But, after a restorative cup of tea, I felt perfectly normal again. And as I was neither bleeding from my eyeballs nor craving human esh, I decided it was Just One Of Those Things. However, the next day I went funny again in the local newsagent. My vision blurred and warped, I couldnt catch my breath, and everyone around me looked as though they were melting. I ran from the shop in tears. After that, I felt ill when I tried to get on a bus, go into a shop, or enter any other enclosed public space. I tried to get a train to see friends but was ooded with a tremendous wave of nausea that only dissipated when I stumbled out on to a platform, miles from my destination, and walked home. Days later, I was red from my bar job for spending my shift in the toilet because, suddenly, being behind the bar

When I was 21, I thought I was fearless. I wasnt, of course say spider to me and Id jump. But during my teens Id done brave things, like hitchhiking to Glastonbury and running away to the USA. Now, I was fresh out of university, at-sharing with friends and having the time of my life. I wasnt completely condent of what I wanted to do career-wise and my income depended on bar work, but who wouldnt be happy boasting a guitarist boyfriend, a mane of waist-length, pillar-box red hair, and their own not-thatterrible-actually band? Not me. Life was good. Until, very suddenly and completely without warning, it wasnt. One morning, I was aimlessly browsing in Boots when the ground tilted sharply beneath my feet. My palms ooded with sweat and I was struck by the kind of wooziness you may have felt if, and I dont mean to be presumptuous here, youve ever drunk too much cheap cider. With my stomach threatening to explosively empty itself, I scanned the shop for the closest exit. But by that point, the world was see-sawing so violently that I blacked out in the Mother &



I tweeted a cursory call out and it prompted an overwhelming response from anxiety suerers. Feeling overwhelmed triggers Siobhans panic: The dog falling ill, on top of family and nancial problems, set o a major attack. Amy was overcome with anxiety when she moved to London: At my worst, I couldnt even get in the shower. I was so scared of anything that wasnt exactly what I was doing at that moment. Exams were also a common cause I heard from a student called Jessica who becomes extremely anxious before every single one, and Andie, who goes into panic mode when she thinks shes running out of time. Granias trigger is driving on the motorway and Abbi, a novelist, becomes anxious when shes travelling but not in control. Im a decent driver but a terrible passenger, she told me. My heart races, I get short of breath and a strange sinking feeling in my gut. When I was ill and in recovery, I was reluctant to talk about my experiences, for fear of being judged. I didnt want to be the singer who faints in Sainsburys. In stark contrast, these anxiety suerers were open about their issues sharing anecdotes and trading coping strategies that varied from podcasts to Pilates. Practically everyone recommended cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to reroute the subconscious thought-processes that perpetuate panic something I wish Id done when I rst fell ill. But before I was diagnosed, and for a long time during recovery, I wasnt aware I was anxious. I was so used to subconsciously pushing worries and even my own ambitions to the back of my mind, that when they seeped deep into my psyche and started causing panic, I had no idea what was happening. In the four years following my diagnosis, my life changed dramatically. I scraped by on Incapacity Benet and lost 2st thanks to the constant ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I quit my band, my fair-weather friendships fell away, and my guitarist boyfriend swapped me for someone as outgoing as I used to be (although, I was pleased to note, with less amazing hair). But I also gained a lot. I started writing and began running every day (I liked being outside it was enclosed spaces that triggered attacks). Other anxiety suerers swear by mindfulness or meditation, but Im not terribly good with sitting and being I cant help but start making lotterywin wish lists or wondering what that weird smell might be. Through psychotherapy, I realised that, before the panic attacks, Id suppressed upset over my uncertain future by focusing on an unfullling relationship and shallow friendships. Lying to myself was the root of the problem and, at least in my case, this unaddressed anxiety went into palm-sweating overdrive. Now, several years later, Im a fully integrated, Oyster cardwielding Londoner. I still have an oversensitive stress response if I argue with my boyfriend or theres tension at work, Im always tempted to clamber into my onesie and lose myself in Netix forever. But Im functional I hop on the bus on a daily basis, chair meetings and even occasionally speak in public. I surround myself with good people and interesting things. I regularly take myself out of my comfort zone ailing around in a dance class, or making everyone else panic with my pronounced dyspraxia in an archery lesson. Somehow this works and I havent had a serious panic attack in at least ve years. But I still experience anxiety, and probably always will. The dierence is, now I see it as a signal for change, rather than something to fear.

immobilised me with dread. And it wasnt even a Wetherspoon. I didnt know what was happening or what to do with all the voicemails from friends wanting to know where the hell I was. In the end, I turned o my phone and stayed in my room for days, at which point all said friends called my mother. Three weeks after my rst episode, she took me to the doctor, who diagnosed me with panic disorder and agoraphobia. Your episodes are panic attacks, he told me. They happen when the bodys ght or ight response is activated with no obvious trigger. Thats when the dizziness and nausea arrive, unbidden. But I dont panic, I rolled my eyes. I just suddenly feel awful, and then I faint. I then gave the doctor my most serious Im-a-graduate stare. I really think you should test for Ebola. But he was insistent, signing me o work and making me promise to rest. I agreed because after living on the outer reaches of my nerves for the best part of a month, a rest sounded heavenly. I moved back in with my mother and stepfather, and reluctantly ploughed through the reading list of self-help titles like Im OK, Youre OK. I rolled my eyes when I read the words inner or heal, but recognised their descriptions of paralysing fear. I was curiously

I blame landing with a bump in a dwindling job market and being forced to conjure up a life plan involving a baby and a mortgage
unemotional about leaving my old life behind all I felt was an odd sort of blankness. My mother made me endless cups of coee but otherwise I was left to read, take long baths and nap. Once I was settled, I began aversion therapy combatting my fears by going to places that triggered attacks, and staying until the panic faded. I started small, with bus stops, but I was going nowhere fast, quite literally. Travelling three bus stops took me six weeks. Eventually, I began conquering railway stations and cinemas. It was a gruelling process I had severe panic attacks daily and often fainted (thank you, old ladies of Berkshire, for propping me up when I keeled over). It was two years before I was declared t for work, and four whole years before I could really claim to live a life unmolested by anxiety. All the while, as I was grappling with my own issues, anxiety was becoming the most common mental disorder in Britain. Between 2007 and 2011, NHS hospital appointments for panic and anxiety quadrupled, and a 2012 report found that it aects one in three female graduates in their 20s. Symptoms range from loss of appetite to being too crippled by fear to commute. Some experts blame the recession. I blame landing with a bump in a dwindling job market and being forced to conjure up a life plan involving having a baby before youve even met a partner and a mortgage before youve paid o half your student loan all while battling Instagram-inspired FOMO.


Find a newly fearless Robyn online at robynwilder.com or on Twitter @orbyn



Artwork: Phoebe Sing.