Originally written for Standard Issue Magazine. Illustration by Jo Neary.

The bearded hipsters of today didn’t exist when I first met my fabulous friend Paul. However, it’s safe to say that this hairy trend was firmly on his radar (and his grindr app) long before it was on mine. In fact, I’d say that the hipster beard was even more ‘pop’ than Britney before I realised they were grown on purpose and nothing to do with a month-long trek in the Himalayas or an extreme kind of Movember.

Hardly the shy and retiring type, Paul can struggle with crippling panic attacks.

He’s always had his finger on the pulse and his thumb on the touch screen. A furniture designer and digital guru, Paul applauded the new men with beards and buns, and his relaxed office attire would be complemented by New Balance trainers. Meanwhile, I was still giving my other half grief for wearing the same brand, claiming they were so ‘yesterday’ when in fact they’d come full circle and I was still at the start line completely oblivious.

Paul introduced me to the selfie, periscope and vlogging. He is one of the most at ease, chilled out people I know when putting himself out there for the world to see. I’m amazed he hasn’t made a big name for himself in the world of reality TV yet.

Even though I’m way behind him in the ‘cool-stakes’ (like he would ever say such an un-cool thing!), we do have one thing in common. We shared the same therapist in a bid to beat our anxiety disorders.

So, let’s tackle some more anxiety myths.

1. Only women get anxiety.

Wrong. Paul certainly isn’t the only bloke I know who has succumbed to a panic attack. And I’m not talking about the kind of panic attack he had when Britney shaved her head. No. The kind that appears from nowhere, for no apparent reason. Blokes get them too. And not just those ‘in touch’ with the feminine world who would kill to take up the position of Cheryl’s bezzie (sorry, Paul, but we all know it’s true and you’d trade us in tomorrow). Olympic medallist Chris Hoy, musician John Mayer and One Direction’s Zayn Malik have all reportedly spoken out about panic too. I mean, if the lad bible are going to run a big feature on it, it must be prevalent in the lad community, right? So while it might be something that creeps into the lives of us ladies more often, it can still come after the fellas sometimes.

2. He’s too outgoing to be anxious

There are many different forms of anxiety. And yes, social anxiety is one of them. But even people with social anxiety aren’t necessarily shy or reclusive. Everybody is different. So yeah, Paul would revel in the chance to play to an audience. And he’d be bloody good at it. But he could lose himself to an anxiety attack on his way out with a small group of friends just because. Not because he feels nervous, not because he is worried about meeting people and not because he is shy. But simply just because he has an anxiety disorder. It is an illness, not a personality trait.

3. It’s attention seeking.

Now then, I’m not saying Paul doesn’t like the attention. He did the ‘Ice Bucket’ challenge in a bright lycra outfit and he would happily welcome the Gogglebox crew into his living room with open arms to discuss the week’s soaps with the entire UK population. But while he is not ashamed of his anxiety, he definitely doesn’t use it for attention.

If he were, I doubt he would have chosen the back of a stuffy city cab, en route to the marketing awards to stage a full blown panic attack. Vomiting into a paper bag while trying to regulate your breathing in front of your boss isn’t something that a well-versed selfie king would do. Nope, if he was after attention, he’d have waited until he was called to the stage.

It’s all over society

In modern society, just like the hipster beard, anxiety is a prevalent ‘thing’ (although both are unwanted ‘things’ in my opinion, and anxiety isn’t likely to disappear as quickly as the beard). But anxiety doesn’t exclusively hang around the girly wallflower, hiding in the shadows at a party wearing a broderie anglaise top buttoned to the chin. No. Sometimes, you might find it smouldering inside that confident geezer on the dance floor, surrounded by fashionistas, taking a group selfie while re-enacting a carefully choreographed routine to The Spice Girls Medley. Zig-a-zig ah*

Definition

*Zig-a-zig ah – noun/verb with no apparent meaning or reason to exist, other than it just is. As in ‘anxiety’ – an illness which has no apparent reason for attaching itself to any type of personality. It just does.

If you liked this, check out my podcast, The REALLY Cast for more on mental health and stigma. Available on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcast

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