Zayn, Anxiety & Why Mental Illness is Never a Cop Out

When the news broke over the weekend about Zayn Malik’s severe struggles with anxiety that resulted in the cancellation of a concert in London, I couldn’t help but feel for him.

It wasn’t just because I understood his struggles with mental illness, but because of the fall out that I knew would come from it. I was certain that people would be saying that he was lying to get out of a commitment or using it as an excuse. That it was a cop out, because they can’t see the effects.

When Zayn posted the explanation below, I’m guessing he also had these thoughts in mind. Those final lines seemed to be calling out to those people in particular.

He says the anxiety has that “haunted [him] throughout the last few months around live performances has gotten the better of [him]”. I know exactly what that feels like.

For those of you who have never experience severe anxiety before, let me explain why he had no choice but to cancel. It may also help you understand why some people choose to give up their battle, even though that’s never the right answer.

Think of something you have to do that puts you under pressure. At first, you feel fine. Your head is clear, your deposition is in a positive place and you’re ready to smash it out of the park.

As time goes on, your brain starts to talk. You start to think about the pressure of the task. Your head tells you all the things that could go wrong and everything that can happen to you afterwards. It makes you think that after one mistake (even one that could be tiny and insignificant), your life is over. Your thoughts tell you that you’re not good enough to get through it. Soon, you can no longer understand what your thoughts are telling you. They’re all yelling at once, creating a deafening amount of noise in your mind.

You start to get a headache and your body freezes up. You can’t move or speak. Your head is so full that it feels like it’s about to explode. The pain moves to your chest, where your heart is beating fast. It’s so hard to breathe that your eyes fill with tears as you try to find the air. You start to hyperventilate. Your hands shake. Your body aches from the stress. Your mind and heart are still racing; you need to find a release.

You feel like you’re drowning. It’s all too much to handle.

Sometimes, with a little help, it goes away as quickly as it came. Other times, however, it lasts for what feels like a lifetime. You end up defeated, having to lighten the load by stopping what you’re doing.

But that can sometimes makes you feel worse than the overwhelming feelings that gave you the attack in the first place.

My anxiety makes me feel bad. I feel guilty because I think my anxiety disappoints others. Examples include when I’m out with friends and I need to leave sooner than we’d like to, or when I’m trying to work and I know I’m not quick enough, or my writing is not up to the standard it should be.

I know people are disappointed with me. I’m constantly disappointed with myself.

By talking with my psychologist, I’ve learnt a lot about anxiety. She tells me that everyone has to have a “normal” amount of anxiety. It’s what gives us the rush that we need to get going and do the things that scare us. It’s suppose to help, not hinder, the journey to success. When it starts to do the latter of the two, it becomes a problem that needs to be managed.

I think Zayn’s anxiety is a symbol of his passion for music. It shows how much he cares about the standard of the performances he gives and doubts whether he can continue to give his fans what they want. So much that it can be overwhelming, to the point of inability. I understand that, and so do countless others who have dealt with mental illness in themselves and in those around them.

We need to understand that it can’t be helped or pushed away. He needs to take time out to learn to deal with his anxiety. Once he can maintain the demons in his mind, he can get back to doing what he loves; making music for all of you.

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, please get some help. Visit Beyond Blue to educate yourself on the issue or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 to talk someone who can help you.

Read more about mental illness in the music industry here.

Image: Stereogum