Swaying to the pub loo aged 26, wrecked from tequila and stinking of cigarette smoke I had an epiphany... My young, expectant brain told me that in just four years time, this drunken, lairy girl who drank pints of John Smith's would transform into a confident, sophisticated and glamorous woman. Aged 30, I was destined to ooze the allure of Juliette Binoche.
That transformation never happened.
I sit here today, 40 years' old, having had my breakfast of anti-depressants and propranolol to quash the anxiety, surrounded by cats and wrapped in a fluffy dressing gown and I have to wonder, where did Ms Binoche go? It's safe to say she never arrived. But I did. Finally.
Does that mean I'm packed full of confidence? A successful, assured woman who knows what she wants and how to get it? Not quite. But accepting the imperfections, accepting the uncertainty, and accepting the fact that I sweat, fart and whine like a baby when I'm under the weather and desperate for a strong cup of tea kind of takes me further towards assurance than I ever could have imagined.
It's not about giving up, or demanding less. It's not about leaving the lifelong anxiety behind me once and for all. It's about learning to be kind to myself. And there's a shed load of enjoyment you can find if you give that a try.
I had no idea that anxiety and self-esteem were linked. Sounds silly looking back. Why was I so shocked when my therapist pointed this out to me just last year? I was always incredibly socially shy. And I have lived with panic and anxiety for at least two thirds of my life. And as I write this, it was only last night the panic raised its nasty resting bitch face and dared to suggest I might be having a heart attack (don't panic - it was just wind).
So I haven't conquered it. But what even is 'it'?
I started writing for Sarah Millican's Standard Issue magazine in my late 30s. And I realised that the 'in crowd' wasn't the sneering bitch crew from high school who only let you in if you perfected the sexiest smoke rings from your Embassy no 1s and lost your virginity illegally. Nope. It was an open-armed, warm, bubbly, funny crew who let you in if you were, well, simply just quite nice. All the writers cheerily exposed the things I would have previously described as serious imperfections. These writers were not Carrie Bradshaw. Oh no. They had no qualms farting in bed with their other half present. They'd have no qualms sticking on a pair of Dr Martens for comfort over sass. The writers of Standard Issue, and the readers too, celebrated who they, and each other, were.
It was a bit of an eureka moment. It wasn't about suddenly overcoming body confidence issues and strutting around the bedroom naked a-la Belle du Jour. It wasn't about suddenly ‘overcoming’ anxiety, sticking two fingers up to it and waving goodbye to panic forever. No. It was about acceptance. It was about making peace. And with that on the horizon, strutting around the bedroom a-la Belle du Jour and kicking anxiety's arse came one step closer. In fact, there are days when I am already there.
But, there are days when I am not. And that's OK. It's OK not to be OK.
I am not perfect at being imperfect. I still scowl at my cellulite in the mirror and I still get tortured like a teen about my seemingly low levels of popularity. But the difference is, I don't strive to pretend otherwise. I am me. I am imperfect. I am unique!
So in my 40th year I embrace this uniqueness. Having the occasional night sweats will not compel my husband to leave me. Sprouting the odd stray hair in the oddest of places will not seal my fate as a failed woman. And suffering from the dreaded anxiety demons that pop up and surprise me every so often does not make me weak.
Life is uncertain. Life is impure. And life is real.
If we embrace that, life is a much happier place to be. And surely that's more important than trying to squeeze your puffy, red, size five feet into slim line, size four killer heels. Let's skip merrily through life in our Dr Martens, rather than attempting to run this bumpy path in ill-fitting stiletto heels.
Bye bye Carrie Bradshaw. And hello life. You'll do for me.
A Series Of Unfortunate Stereotypes, my book about mental health stereotypes and self-stigma, published by charitable mental health publisher Trigger Press, is available now.