I’ve been anxious since pretty much the beginning of time and there’s always two people I want to reassure me, take away my pain or to just be cried on – my parents. Only, there’s a slight problem and it’s one that has a tendency to increase my anxiety: they’re dead.
Dad (Chris) was a soldier in the Royal Engineers from when he was 18 and he met Mum (Gillian) when he was on a night out in South Shields. She was working behind the bar at The Voyager pub, one which I’ve still never summoned the courage up to visit, and apparently they locked eyes and fell in love. Cute. They met in the summer of ’94, got married the following January then little Lauren comes along nine months later. I’m literally a honeymoon baby.
Shortly after I was born, my Dad was posted to Bosnia & Herzegovina and he never made it back. He got trapped in a fire and sadly there was nothing that the professionals could do to save his life. Jump forward four years, six months and 13 days and my Mother took her own life, three days after I turned five.
For the past 15 years, I’ve lived with my maternal Grandmother, more commonly known to everyone as ‘Nana’. I’ve had friends in the past who literally just thought that was her first name. I couldn’t really complain about the life I’ve had living with Nana either and I think she needed me as much as I needed her.
I had my first notable panic attack last year in April where I ended up in hospital, moments away from a heart attack and potentially death. While I was lying there in the hospital bed, barely conscious, I felt a warm hand hold mine and I suddenly came plummeting back to Earth. Was it my Mum or Dad coming to let me know I was going to be okay? To tell you the truth I don’t believe in ghosts but I do like to think I had a visitor. And the idea of that really kept me going for the following months of recovery. Almost as if neither of them really were dead but were hiding from me and it was all a massive game.
When I was younger I used to wish like mad that I’d actually been adopted and it was my adopted parents that died and I had two shiny parents waiting for me and everything was going to slot back to normal and I’d go into normal family life with a nice house, car, dog, few siblings… But wishing for that only meant that I never really dealt with the pain of losing my actual parents.
As a child that had newly started to live with her Nana, the one who spoiled her on weekends and it was a real treat getting picked up from school by her because I’d spend the bus ride shoving sweets in my mouth, I was noticeably anxious from that age. School became counting minutes until I could see my Nana again and I’d spend the five hour panic stricken that something bad happened and I’d have to go and live with another family member and that would be my life – forever rotating around family members until they’d all died and I had to be put up for adoption.
This is still me to an extent today. I worry if my Nana doesn’t reply to my text in three minutes. She’s definitely dead or suffered a stroke and there’s absolutely NO chance that she’d not even heard the phone or fallen asleep… Nope. I feel sorry for Super-Nana because she has a 20-year old granddaughter that requires as much attention as she did when she was five. But that’s anxiety, isn’t it? Once you’re under, you’re under.
I feel very sorry for my boyfriend as well. He’s a saint, he really is and he gets the brunt of my anxiety these days because some days I’ll have the most ridiculous of thoughts. I’ll randomly get worried that he’s going to look at me one day and realise that Lauren is a bit spotty and she has extremely rosy cheeks and she’s not got a symmetrical face and her eyebrows could do with a bit of work and she could definitely lose a few pounds and run happily into the sunset with someone the entire opposite of me. I mean, it’s possible, right? He didn’t put a heart in his last text so no doubt he’s halfway across the rainbow with a perfect girl. But lo and behold… He reassures me that I’m being a dafty and that he loves me. Me! Nobody else (other than his playstation).
I’ve learned that anxiety is really normal, though. And recently, I read about a study conducted in America which proved the hypothesis of ‘Losing a parent at a young age contributes to mental health problems’. So like, I’m not alone?! There are other orphans out there who’re struggling with their mental health, too. I realise that my perspective on anxiety is completely different to the majority, and I get anxious about absolutely everything. But onwards and upwards and anxiety won’t stop me getting where I want to be in life. And remember: a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
Words by Lauren McLeish
Art by Harriet Speed