A project by me, for me and all of those who suffer with anxiety.
Anxious Characters ... Featuring Me
The ‘research’ tab above is home to a wide array of information that shows that although both the illness itself, and the conversation surrounding anxiety have evolved over time, we still have a very long way to go. However, in order to fully progress in the mental health world, as a society it is important to understand why any of this truly matters.
As mentioned before, anxiety, as the underestimated illness that it is, affects approximately 284 million people throughout the world, according to an article on the World Economic Forum, making it the number one mental health concern that people deal with. I am one of them.
In order for me to explain why discussing anxiety is so important to me, allow me to properly introduce myself, Emma Harris and my mother Ilka Farmer, who shared some of her own experiences as well as thoughts.
I am Emma Harris, a 24-year old from Trinidad and Tobago. A very small island, that is vastly behind the mental health conversation - as you will also hear from Rebekah Nieves and Julia Wells.
I’ll start from the beginning. I remember being seven or eight years old when I first felt it. I would lie down in my bed at night and close my eyes to this insane movie playing in my mind.
It was always the same scene, I was standing in a kitchen, not my own and I was washing the dishes, looking out the window at this older Caribbean lady, I didn’t recognize. She was having a conversation with my mother, before my mother would drive away and leave me behind. I was being abandoned.
I watched this movie on repeat, every single night when I would try to sleep just holding my eyes praying that it would stop. It would bring me to tears and I would just sit there shaking.
Eventually after a few months, every time it happened I would run into my mother’s room, holding my eyes saying, “it’s happening again, make it stop,” but she had no clue what I was talking about. She would just hug me and I would stay in her room until I stopped crying and then try to fall asleep again.
It wasn’t until I asked my mother to talk more about it for this project that she told me she had similar feelings of abandonment when she was younger.
That was her, my mother, Ilka.
I never really understood why I was so anxious about being left behind. No one has ever really explained to me, in my years of therapy, that it was something that could be passed down to me or that anxiety was even genetic at all.
When I finally came to terms with my movies, and I told my mother about them, she didn’t quite understand it at first, nor did she see the correlation between her moments of anxiety and mine.
Photo of myself. (2022)
Photo of my mother, myself and my sister, Rachael. Photo provided by my mother.(2002).
When my parents got a divorce, my sister went to therapy immediately, she was older than me and was dealing with things a bit differently.
I didn’t quite process everything at first. My dad worked in the oil field my whole life, so he traveled a lot and him no longer living with us didn’t really feel like that big of a deal at the time. I however, slowly started feeling abandoned again. My mother had to get a job so she was not around when I got home from school. Seeing my dad just didn’t feel like something I wanted to do, so they never forced me.
I remember the relief of finally having an answer. Those heart palpitations literally knocked me out a couple of times. My ‘movies’ were now being called anxiety or panic attacks and my reaction to certain situations in my life started making sense to me.
I mended my relationship with my father. Both of my parents got remarried, my step dad, Michael was the sweetest man. My father and his wife, Emalene had a lovely little boy, Joshua. Emalene and I spoke a lot about my anxiety. Her and my dad took me to my follow up doctor's appointment and everyone around me was extremely supportive. My family life was getting better and better and my anxiety around their divorce was disappearing especially seeing them all so happy.
As I got older, I joined the gym. This was even better than therapy for me. I found a great personal trainer, who worked alongside me every single day and would tailor my workouts based on my anxiety levels.
When I got into a relationship, my anxiety soared once again. Anything my partner did that made me uncomfortable or feel as though I could not trust him, my anxiety would be triggered and I wouldn’t be able to eat, I would get nauseous and go to the gym and try to work out on an empty stomach.
That soon became rapid weight loss and I was quite unhealthy. Unfortunately, I hid this fact from my parents and just told them that my working out was paying off and I was reaching my goals.
When my partner and I broke up, it got better again, I nourished my body and continued working out. That changed when I came to Canada in 2018. Yes, I continued to nourish my body, but going into a new gym setting without my trainer from back home was the most anxiety ridden task I had to face.
I make friends quite easily but this was different. So, I stopped working out, I ate a lot of cafeteria food and I soon got a job in a restaurant where all I did was eat.
I put on weight very rapidly, I went from 130 lbs to 172 lbs in a little over a year, and that just made my social anxiety much worse, I hated myself.
I went back to Trinidad in February 2020 for our Carnival celebration where I had to wear many swimsuits. I came back to Canada a week later, looking at photos from my trip and I hated myself a little more.
When the COVID-19 lockdowns began, I decided to come out the winning end. Everyone was anxious about what the future held, but I knew the only thing that helped my anxiety was working out. So with a lot of time on my hands, I did at-home workouts every single day and I cooked healthy meals.
I lost a lot of weight, the right way this time and my anxiety was low again. Until, I got into another relationship. With every weird or uncomfortable feeling I got, my stomach was in knots, and I couldn’t eat, my anxiety would keep me up all night. I lashed out at him, I got into fits of rage and would accuse him of being unfaithful and after would have to apologize and explain that, "anxiety got the best of me."
By this time, I was a college student, working towards my Bachelor’s degree, with no source of income, an entirely anxious world around me and nothing to keep me going. I was diagnosed with depression in October, 2021.
My partner and I have since ended our relationship, but I am still in this. I wake up every day hoping that I have the desire to get out of my bed, that something won’t trigger my anxiety or my depression. I am the same, confused little girl that watched movies play in her head at night.
That little girl hid those movies from her mother because she thought she was crazy. I was undiagnosed for a very long time because my family was not educated about anxiety, that this could happen to people. Anxiety was not openly discussed in Trinidad when my mother was growing up, so she could not understand what was wrong with me, let alone her as a child.
This is my story, it's time to read from four other strong women, who don't all have a mother like mine. To read, hover over the 'Anxious Characters' tab for a pop down menu - first we have Sherrie Ancheta, then Julia Wells, Rebekah Nieves and we end with Jordan Truckle.
Photo of myself, my step mother Emalene, my younger brother Joshua and my father Michael in Houston, Texas. (2022)
Photo of my step father, Michael, myself and my mother, Ilka at a winery in Niagara-on-the-lake. (2019)
Me at 3-years-old. Photo provided by my mother. (2000)