The Kiss

Am I an awkward person? Yes. Do I help myself to not be one? Absolutely not. Here’s my internal narration of what was me trying to leave my partner’s flat.

Yesterday, I learned that instead of not really liking the act of kissing, my partner is just kind of awkward about it. And by awkward, I mean very reasonable in reading my body language, which as it turns out, suggests that I don’t like kissing. I’ve been silently observing their inaction, and just came to accept that we would not kiss a lot, with equal silence. Upon leaving their flat, I decided to go in for a goodbye kiss, aiming for their mouth, yet ending up at their nose.

“Where are you aiming for?” they asked.

“I’m not sure.” I lied, thinking about the fact that I somehow missed their mouth.  “Everywhere, I guess,” I said, in an attempt to cover my bad kiss and make it seem intentional at best.

I then proceeded to kiss their left cheek, forehead, right cheek, nose, and finally, mouth. In my defense, they didn’t tilt their head when I went in for the kiss, which made the act a lot harder. I wonder, though, if this was out of their own awkwardness, or rather due to me avoiding eye contact and hugging them a few too many times over the previous 5 minutes, not clearly making the scene one where I was meant to be leaving. I’m starting to suspect it may be the latter.

After my failed kiss, I decided I needed to leave immediately to allow myself a smaller window in which to internally cringe at my own actions. I exclaimed slightly too loudly “Goodnight to you sir, and goodbye!” as I stepped out of the door and into the snow. A flawless exit. I’d return about 8 minutes later with milk for their breakfast the next day, waiting outside for a few minutes too long because I didn’t want to come across as too eager in knocking on the door for the second time. Their partner opened the door.

“Ah, we couldn’t hear you!” he said, as I handed him the litre of semi-skimmed milk. “Next time you can knock on the bedroom window.”

It did indeed make sense and was something I had considered in those few cold minutes. It was an act, however, that would require a more targeted courageousness that I did not possess at that time. I quickly said goodnight and hurriedly walked away into the night, as if that were to somehow put some distance between me and my awkward interactions. I fear it did not.

– H


Trial and error

I didn’t have any plans for after finishing university; I kinda figured at the end of my degree I’d have some clue what to do. Fresh out of student loans and in need of money, I took the quickest route to cash; I went back to work at the pub I’d worked at the previous summer.

“Really, a pub?” I hear you ask, “Don’t you have social anxiety?!” I hear you holler. And yes, yes I do. Looking back, I can honestly say for the first month I enjoyed myself. There were different people working there, some familiar regulars, and this was my first postgraduate job so it felt kinda special! Over the next 5 months, however, things just got worse; getting home at 12:30am every morning and sleeping irregular hours was starting to take its toll, I wasn’t seeing my friends or even my flatmates very much, I had hardly any time to myself, my diet was 80% fatty pub dinners, I slipped into the drinking culture, lots of the customers were generally bigoted, my boss was unpredictable in their mood (which translated into varying levels stress for me), and to top it off my anxiety could quite easily be triggered on any given day.

When did I realise that maybe things weren’t working out? The thing that first comes to mind is the day my partner and flatmate had to convince me to stay home because I was throwing up all morning because my boss made me stay back after work and drink with them. I could have refused (as I did on future occasions), but I felt obliged to as a person in a position of lower power. I could have drunk a lot less, but I was new to alcohol and had no idea what my limits were or even what effects different types of alcohol had on me. The first time I was ever drunk was the year before when I worked there over the summer and I got kept back for drinks. When I was ill the next day, I didn’t feel like I had the option to call in sick because my anxiety told me that there would be ‘consequences’ if I couldn’t make it into work. In my mind, if I had to take time off work then it would be a personal failure and I would be letting everyone down. In reality, my manager would probably be annoyed, as would the boss, and everyone working that day would be under a bit more pressure, and life would go on (which is exactly what did happen).

My naivety to alcohol and my social anxiety were a tragic combination that made it far too easy for me to slip into the drinking culture. I had to learn the difficult way to say no to alcohol. After most shifts, I just wanted to go home and sleep, but a lot of the time I’d get offers from several different people to go out for a drink. With customers it was easy enough to say no; there’s nothing more horrifying than thinking about prolonged social interaction with a stranger. But when the offer came from one of my colleagues, it was a lot harder to say no. When this happened my anxiety would tell me “They won’t like you anymore if you say no” and “You’re a bad friend for not wanting to join them”, and I believed it. So I ended up going out a lot more often than I wanted to, through no fault of theirs, and I drank a lot more than I normally would.

One thing I learned working at the bar is that people buy rounds of drinks for each other, and, depending on who you’re with, saying ‘no’ to another drink means you won’t necessarily not get one. So, depending on who would join me after work, sometimes I would inevitably get stuck with a bottomless glass of alcohol that anchored me to the spot.

Eventually, I learned my limits and how to stand my ground (after several unfortunate hangovers), and that it was up to other people if they wanted to waste money on me after I declined an offer for another drink. Even though I knew I had the right to say no, the pressure I felt from those around me to drink was crushing. The social anxiety I felt when I was out with people was huge and made me desperately want to fit in. I felt embarrassed to say no to drinking because I thought I would be labeled as ‘prude’ and ‘no fun’. I was terrified of what others thought of me. I felt like a pinball in a pinball machine, trapped in my decisions by anxiety and flicked around by the suggestions around me.

I did eventually cotton on to the fact that I shouldn’t be doing things I didn’t want to do, and with a lot of effort, I worked on saying no. Saying no isn’t easy when there is a lot of peer pressure and you just want to fit in, and social anxiety definitely amplifies the experience, but it’s important to respect your own personal boundaries. I went along with something I didn’t want to do, and I won’t be making the same mistake again anytime soon. At least from this whole ordeal, I’ve now got plenty of experience saying no to alcohol.

Watch out.png

It’s no wonder this job contributed to my gradually worsening depression, and it’s funny that at the time I didn’t even think I was becoming that depressed. When you’re in the middle of experiencing something it can be hard to put into perspective, especially if it gradually changes. And for me personally, when I’m mentally in a bad place I can find it hard to remember what being happy is like, making it easy to make a nice little nest and get comfortable in a bad place.

As I got settled into my bartending role, my current reality and the new norm was redefined; and I accepted it without question. My anxiety likes to tell me a lot of the time that I’m the one that needs to change or is at fault, and not my surroundings. This meant that I was accepting working at a job that drained me both physically and emotionally.

Four months into the job, I realised that at some point I’d started internalising the views of those around me. Most of the time when the topic of gender or sexuality came up in a conversation between customers, it would end up being ridiculed or mentioned just to be the butt of a joke. And this happened a lot. It wasn’t the same people each time, either. Honestly, it still astounds me that so many people joke about gender and sexuality. And every time they laughed about it, I felt like they were laughing at me. I also clearly remember the time when I listened to my boss talk about, and consistently misgender, a “transsexual” employee to one of the customers.

I desperately wanted to raise this issue with them, but I felt like I couldn’t challenge someone with power over me. I couldn’t get away from these issues; they were so wide-spread that I felt like I couldn’t even begin to tackle them (although I did educate some of my colleagues and some friendlier customers). For months I’d slowly started criticising myself in a gender- and hetero-normative way because that’s what everyone around me was doing. Without realising it had come from an external source, I started believing that I was lesser for being queer. That I was lesser for being gender non-conforming. That the ways in which I’d come to know myself were somehow invalid. This carved a big chunk out of my self-confidence that I’d built up over the previous year.

Even after discovering these thoughts were coming from external sources, I became painfully self-conscious of acting or looking different. Luckily, this hadn’t been going on for long enough to have a prominent lasting impact, and on the day I finally quit my job I decided to just fuck it and wear my fancy shirt and be Mr. Dapper Bartender.

Having social anxiety, a job working at a busy pub in central London might not sound like the most intuitive thing in the world, but I was able to do it because I viewed talking to people as part of the job. In most interactions I’d have a limited set of words and sentences to pull out; it was a bit like a video game really! As soon as I went off script, however, I’d stumble over my words and my life would flash before my eyes. The longer I spent working at the pub, the more I had to go off script because the regulars would expect increasingly diverse and personal interactions with me. This might have been fine if the crowd of customers comprised people I’d want to mix with, but it didn’t. So to get through these interactions, I resorted to using my best coping mechanism:

… Which I would not recommend to anyone, it’s not fun. But it was better than constantly feeling like I needed to jump out the window. This went hand in hand with the depression, and it left me feeling out of touch and empty. And as my depression got worse, so did my anxiety.

At this point, I could see I was stuck in a cycle, and if I didn’t leave the pub soon then I would be stuck there for much longer than I wanted to be. Fortunately, I was in a position where I could quit, so I handed in my notice a month in advance and left two weeks before Christmas (to my boss’s horror). I’m proud of myself for having quit when I needed to, and ignoring the voices that told me to stay

Although I had a pretty terrible time, I’ve grown as a person for experiencing what I did; I know my limits with alcohol, I feel secure in saying no to alcohol, I eventually accessed the local mental health service, I understand what internalised prejudice look like, I know to avoid people who push you when you say no, and now I can make a pretty mean bloody mary.

Once I’d moved away from the pub, I was able to focus more on myself and the people in my life that support me and push me to be my best self. It’s important to put your own wellbeing first and ask yourself what you need to be doing in order to take care of yourself. It’s also important to build yourself a supportive and nurturing environment to exist in and to cut out what makes you feel bad. It can be hard to figure out what helps, and it can take a lot of trial and error to get it right, but in the meantime keep trying your best and don’t be afraid to stand your ground, be your authentic self, and reach out for help when you need it. The hardest times are what help us grow the most.



This bird gets it. Find more comics by Reza Farazmand here!

This is fine

Hey there peeps! So as I’ve already established the reason I’m here is to talk about my life in a way that’s constructive, and hopefully gives a takeaway point. What I want to talk about today is a problem that I’ve been facing on and off for the past few years that’s related to anxiety. Keep in mind that this is just my experience and it cannot be broadly applied to everyone who has to deal with anxiety! But maybe you’ll find yourself doing something similar in other situations.

I don’t know any names to refer to this by, so here I’m going to refer to it as stacking. What this means is that I can experience a situation or thought that brings me anxiety, and instead of going through that anxiety and overcoming it, it sets a new baseline. This means the next time I experience anxiety it gets stacked on top of the last one, which can lead to lots of stress. I’m absolutely certain that other people have experienced something similar at some point in their lives, it’s a ‘the straw that broke the donkey’s back’ kinda situation. Look, I even made some graphs to illustrate it:

  1. How I’d ideally experience anxiety

    An event/thought happens which causes anxiety. It could vary in how long it lasts, or how much anxiety it causes, but it’s only temporary.

  2. How I experience anxiety when stacking

    An event/thought happens which causes anxiety, and every time another thing happens the anxiety is added on top. This way it’s a lot easier to reach high stress levels.

  3. How I feel when anxious

    Regardless of how anxious I feel, I always feel that internal panic and dread.

So this is something I’m actually going through at the moment. On Monday I was feeling pretty good, but now it’s Friday and I’ve accumulated lots of anxiety over the week. My mind has picked at things and proposed many questions to me. Most of them are along the lines of “Hey you know this thing? What if it doesn’t work out?”, “So this thing you have to do, why aren’t you doing it now?”, and “Oh look at this thing you’re doing, surely you’re not good enough”. Clearly my anxiety has combined with my low self-confidence, and it’s become tailored to what’s going on in my life at the moment. And that’s why it can be so difficult to deal with, it’s personal. Anxiety makes you question your decisions in the most personal ways possible, and it usually has the biggest effects when you’re going through some other feelings/events at the same time. This is why it’s important to take into consideration what other factors could be contributing at any one time. These can sometimes be obvious, for example you might have a big workload, or have just gone through a breakup, but in other cases it can be a bit harder. And when it’s harder to see if there’s an underlying cause/contributor to anxiety, I find that it’s easy to let it sit there and progress into stacking. In order to deal with this, the first step it to actually realise that things are building up, and once you’ve realised that, you can start to look into what’s going on in that big tangle of anxiety. I find it helpful to think about the questions my anxious mind is asking me, and work backwards from there. So I’m actually doing this at the moment, and I’m going to go through my thoughts here and aim for a positive outcome:

  • The anxious thought: “You’re never going to get a job in the field, you have no experience and you’re not good enough”. The cause: anxiety around uncertainty after graduating. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: focus on looking for experience, this is the next step after graduation.
  • The anxious thought: “You don’t have any friends, and nobody wants to talk to you”. The cause: anxiety around the thought of being alone, low self-confidence, having gone through a recent break up. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: reach out and make more friends, talk more to existing friends, focus on doing things that you enjoy you build up your self confidence.
  • The anxious thought: “You’re being irresponsible every time you spend money on yourself, you don’t deserve it and you’re only going to get into money troubles”. The cause: having recently spent some money on myself, having grown up with the idea that money is only for the absolute essentials, not keeping a strict budget. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: re-evaluate my budget and see what extra money is free to spend.

Just doing this right now has given me some instant relief, and I feel like I’m unstacking. Instead of feeling like I’m under a crushing pile of undoable tasks, I have an action plan to work on and I feel more in control of the situation. Feeling generally anxious a lot of the time for me stems from worries, so evaluating the anxiety when certain thoughts come across my mind can help me trail back to the underlying worries. Putting them under pressure makes them fall apart when they don’t hold any ground. I tend to find that my worries are actually quite useful, like above, they can help point me in the right direction. That being said, worrying and feeling anxious still sucks ass. And I know that even though I’ve tackled some of these worries, I will still feel anxious in the future, worried or not. And that’s okay. When that happens, I’m going to try and not criticise myself and give myself a little time to recompose. I find it’s helpful to try and have a positive inner voice (when possible), which gets easier to use with more practice. Next time I feel like someone is staring at me in public, I’m going to try hard to consciously think “Oh hello there! Are you looking at me? Because I bet I can look at you harder, I would totally beat you in a staring contest. Or can you not handle my dashingly good looks?”. This helps me to recover from anxiety faster, or in some lucky cases avoid it altogether! It’s hard work though, and it takes a lot of mental effort. But practicing using a positive inner voice makes it a little easier over time. Personally, I like to give my inner voice a lot of sass. Heck, if you wanted you could have Alan Rickman as an inner voice.

To summarise: don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself, and hone your inner voice.

– H


Comic by KC Green

Dancing in the rain

Hi guys! So in this post I wanted to talk about anxiety and making friends because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve always considered myself to be a bit more secluded than others ever since the start of high school. And that worked out well for me at the time, I didn’t feel like I needed loads of friends. Being at university forced me to move away from the friends I had made and start living independently. It kind of forced me into making friends (as living with 9 other people would), and now I have another best friend as a result! So far I’ve made friendships when they come along my way, which has gotten me this far, but now I feel the need to seek out people to connect with. This might not seem like a big deal, in fact you might be thinking “good for you, so what?”, but for me this marks a change in my life- from going it alone to outreaching to others.

I feel like anxiety has played a big part in how I’ve made social connections in the past, and it would be an understatement to say that it’s limited who I talk to. Anxiety is very good at getting you to think about things in a certain light, and it’s a master of coming up with any excuse available to talk you out of doing something. For some individuals this revolves around people, for others it crops up in everyday situations. For me, during high school and the start of university it was clearly related to interacting with people. If I talked to anyone my mind would masterfully come up with 20 negative opinions that the other person could be thinking. Over time this essentially convinced me that nobody liked me, and so I didn’t try to make friends and generally avoided talking to people when I didn’t have to. As of the past few weeks I feel like I’m moving away from these thoughts, for now at least, and my slowly growing confidence is making it easier to reach out and form connections. This past week I’ve talked to over 10 new people and spontaneously asked someone to coffee (!!!). That’s more than I’ve done over the past year, and in all honesty it’s felt exhilarating. Right now I feel like a completely different person and it’s so bizarre to me. I always had such an anxiety around talking to people and fearing their judgement of me. Now I’ve been doing it with such ease and it’s a lot easier than I ever expected it to be. And to be able to do it without the anxiety feels absolutely amazing, to put it lightly.

I’m not expecting this to last forever, there’s no guarantee my mental state will stay this way, but there’s also no expectation for me to stay socially anxious forever. For now at least, speaking to people is giving me confidence, and I want to embrace that.  Now that I’ve experienced social interactions with no anxiety, I will be able to sit comfortably with the knowledge that any future anxiety is not forever. But further than this, I want to be able to experience anxiety and become more comfortable with experiencing it (as much as one can be). When feeling anxious, it’s very easy to listen to the voices in your head that tell you something is wrong with you. When I went Brighton for New Year’s, there was some text on the front of a beach hut, and it read:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.

I think sometimes it is best to wait out the storm that is anxiety, it can be absolutely exhausting. Now that I’ve experienced this new confidence, I think I’ll be able to chill a bit more when talking to people (dancing!). I don’t expect this to be true for everyone- people feel different things at different points of their lives, or in different situations. But that’s okay. And accepting that is a big step. It’s okay to not dance in the rain. The point to aim for is to be comfortable, no matter how much anxiety is happening, it’s okay.

– H