• Fiona Martha

Model European Parliament: A Journey with Anxiety

What most people who have already read my blog are aware of, is that I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder that presents itself in quite extreme ways, most commonly through panic attacks. As I have recently come to the end of my time as a delegate in the project 'Model European Parliament', I thought I would reflect on my journey, and how it has been affected by my disorder.

As many others of you know, I live in Germany, and speak both English and German fluently (at least, now I do). The first year or two in Germany, my language skills were sub-par, and I constantly made grammatical errors and stumbled over my words.

In December 2017, I participated in MEP for the first time. I represented Denmark, and spent hours researching the topic. When it came to the committee work, though, I was so crippled by the thought of saying anything, ready for the snickers if I didn't conjugate properly, or stuttered or forgot a word, that I didn't raise my hand even once. Speaking was so terrifying that it made my hands shake. I was, despite this, eventually given the task of reading out the finished resolution in the General Assembly. Standing up there, eyes squinting to make sure I didn't mispronounce even the slightest of words, my heart raced and the world tilted. Back in my seat, I spent the next few minutes trying not to pass out.

The next year, December 2018, the time to sign up for MEP rolled around again. So terrified by my previous experience, I swore I wouldn't ever do it again. Lucky for me (though it didn't feel like it at the time), one of my teachers pushed me to do it, and so I ended up a delegate of Belgium, funnily enough, debating the topic of Brexit (something I still refuse to believe was a coincidence). This year, my anxiety was no better, but I decided to push myself. People still smirked when I messed up my words, and God knows, I messed them up a LOT, but I decided to talk anyway. My hands still shook when I spoke, and the world tilted when I voiced my opinion. But this time, in the committee work, and the General Assembly, I did my best to participate. On the final day, I had scribbled enough notes together to deliver an attacking speech against another committee.

That speech changed a lot for me. I balled my hands into fists to keep from shaking, and leaned on the podium to keep from fainting. I hardened my voice and ignored my language errors. And it worked.

Amazingly, I then got nominated with a few others to participate in the national MEP in Berlin, in February 2019. This was next level (we were in official government buildings equivalent to the Houses of Parliament), and my heart felt like it was being strangled the entire time. But by the time the General Assembly rolled around, I was chosen to answer all factual questions for our committee, and I even managed to hold another attacking speech against another resolution - this time (due to a livestream) it was in front of hundreds of people. I remember vividly, finishing my speech and returning to my friends with the biggest smile - and spending the rest of the assembly trying to fight the black spots in my vision that willed me to faint.

A week ago, I was in Budapest, at an MEP with teams from all Central European and Eastern European countries. I was head of my delegation. It all came down to this - months and months of work, for my final session. This time, it was in English, and I already felt I could breathe more easily knowing I could use my mother tongue. I delivered not just one, but three speeches in the General Assembly. I held an opening speech at the beginning of the week, too, and didn't stutter once. My heart pounded in my chest, but I no longer worried I would fall. By the end of the week, I had a new sense of confidence, and had made a lot of new friends.

Now that I won't be a delegate again, it makes me realise how beneficial this entire experience has been for me. I went from someone who couldn't raise her hand, to someone who could hold spontanous speeches in front of masses of people. I used to sit at the back, dressed in unremarkable black clothes - now, my red suit has seen more use than I thought possible. MEP has genuinely taught me to stand a little straighter, and helped me banish the tremor from my voice.

I've met so many wonderful people, and I'm so grateful for the push that got me to try it again. Don't give up on your first try!

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