Fear and Anxiety at The Warschauer Straße

Anxiety has plagued me for most of my life. Since I was a child, panic attacks were a regular staple of my week.

Though I don’t remember much of my youth, I remember the feeling of dread and defeat that came over me as I was confronted with the problems of the world around me. This would lead to a flare-up of Eczema and finally depression. When I was taken to the doctors they would see the external problem but be unaware of the affliction that lies behind it slithering in the shadows of my psyche.

Unfortunately, we still live in a world where mental illness in all its forms is for the most part seen as a case of the ‘Monday’s’ and will soon pass much like the famed English 24 hour virus. But it isn’t. These things can’t be cured and eradicated. Though drugs exist to ease the symptoms they offer relief only with the sacrifice of a large part of self. Though the drugs were not my salvation. In fact, I didn’t even realise that Anxiety and depression were part of my life until a few months ago.

My revelation came in a drunken bonding session with a Hungarian psychologist just outside Oslo. We had both made the smart decision to buy duty-free vodka and now due to a combination of been incredibly poor and still in shock at the price of a pint in one of the most expensive cities in the world, we were sat in the hostel bedroom chatting about anything and everything. He mentioned the roughness of my skin and I waved it off and he listened carefully as I outlined the symptoms of a panic attack before laughing it off as something that happens all the time. Concerned he probed deeper and I, always open about myself, answered. After this, we sat in silence for a minute as he nodded quietly.

‘You have anxiety and depression’ 

When he said these words they were not a possible diagnosis or a theory. He said them as if they were common knowledge. Like science teachers telling students the light from the sun takes over eight minutes to reach earth. After this, we spoke more and in the morning he was gone.

Since then every time my chest was tight and I found it hard to breathe, every time my fingernails subconsciously tore my skin apart, anytime I wanted to curl in a ball under the duvet and remain invisible to a world I knew it wasn’t because I was simply having an off day. It was because I was struggling with things that thousands upon thousands of people the world over also had. As I wrote music, stories or articles I would see large parts of this darkness in my work and knew that it was part of me.

And if life had taught me anything, it was afflictions are not something that can be defeated. They are part of us as much as the skin we wear, the birthmark few people know about, that snorting noise you make when you laugh sometimes. From then on when I wrote I steered into the skid. Anytime I felt the darkness overriding my thoughts or my words I went with it and I still do. Every day I found a way to show the darkness that I knew it existed and even though it was there it would not rule me. It would not control my life. And so I reached Berlin.

Arriving with little money, a guitar bag and almost more uncertainty than I could bear, desperation drove me to the streets with my music. At this point, I was the only street musician I knew who was terrified of playing in front of people. But as I remembered the war within me and my will to come out the victor, I pushed myself. Firstly I played in the Holocaust memorial near Brandenburger Tor, the maze concealing me from view as I tried to become comfortable in the air outside of an isolated room. Next, I moved to a small alleyway near Hackerscher Markt where the fear was still strong and then Warschauer Straße.

Each day the fear grew less, the tightness in my chest eased up and even though today these things still sneak up on me, I find the strength to play not for the money busking brings, not for the people, but for me. Each chord, each word that fits together makes me feel a little stronger and as it does the darkness that tries to creep out seems a little less.

On those days I look at the mass of people around me and wonder how many around me are still waiting for a random, nameless stranger to let them know what they were feeling was normal and they weren’t alone. And though I remain hopeful in a distant future that mental illnesses of all types will be taken seriously, for now, I see the same darkness behind many lost souls that wander through this city.

By Joe Dino Mullings

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