When Andy Horner was a boy, his neighbours “jokingly” asked his parents if they should set their Alsatians on him to force him to attend school. The reason for his truancy? Severe anxiety. Yet fast forward to today, and Horner is known online as “Anxious Andy” — his posts about managing mental health attract thousands of views, while his Facebook page has more than a million subscribers.
Considering anxiety levels among the population are at a high — 49.6% of people in the UK
reported high anxiety during the first lockdown — the message people like Andy are spreading
is more poignant than ever.
A difficult childhood
Andy was adopted at six weeks old and showed signs of anxiety from a very young age (although nobody around him knew enough about mental health to realise that at the time). Back in the 1980s, anyone who refused or struggled to participate in social activities was viewed as being naughty and disobedient.
As a result, he encountered a lot of rejection and resentment, starting with a failure to integrate into his primary school. With the exception of another “outsider” called Julie and the dinner ladies, Andy failed to make friends and spent his playtimes alone — whenever his birthday came around, his mother would set the table for multiple guests, only for nobody but Julie to turn up.
Mostly, Andy stuck to his imaginary friend — the one person who could never hurt or reject him. Struggles with the school system
After a while, Andy’s parents decided it would be better for him and his brother to attend a private school instead. There was just one problem: the entrance exams made him anxious, and he failed them twice. Not about to be deterred easily, his parents arranged for him to attend a different private school, where an exam wasn’t necessary (but fees were higher).
The outcome was similar to last time. Although Andy excelled at sports, allowing him to make a few friends, he continued to struggle with the academic side — even if the teacher asked him a question as simple as “2 x 2,” his nerves made it impossible for him to answer. Worse, his classmates would laugh at him.
In fact, Andy’s anxiety was so strong that he sometimes wet himself because he was too scared to ask to go to the toilet. He’d hope that nobody noticed, then rush off to the bathroom as soon as class finished.
While Andy’s brother was achieving impressive results in class, Andy was falling further and further behind his classmates. He dreaded parents evening every year, where teachers would tell him that his learning was poor because he couldn’t pay attention. This would have a lasting negative effect on his self-esteem.
Eventually, it got to the point where the school asked Andy to leave; he was so behind that they
felt bad for taking money from his parents. That meant saying goodbye to the few friends he’d
made and starting from scratch again.
New beginning, same problems
This time, Andy went back to a public school. Again, his parents did their best to make provisions for him by discussing his difficulties making friends with the teachers, and he was assigned two “buddies” to look after him. But it didn’t have the desired effect — Andy didn’t get on with his buddies or feel particularly supported. Instead, he felt like a burden.
Over time, Andy became more and more disillusioned. He made no friends, was unable to learn, and lived in constant fear of being picked on by teachers to answer questions.
Andy dreaded school so much that he’d barricade his room at night and insist to his parents that he wasn’t going; when that stopped working, he’d lock himself in the bathroom and escape through the window to the wooded area nearby. Even when he did get to school, he’d sometimes escape through the fire exit.
It was at this point that the neighbours with Alsatians made the cruel offer to his parents to let them use their dogs as a threat to him.
“I remember one occasion where I came out of the woods and I was chased by two grown men. These men were waiting for me and were shouting ‘we’re taking you away!’ They didn’t catch me as I literally ran for my life,” says Andy. Little did he know that those grown men were social services.
Although Andy eventually managed to make a few friends, he left school with no GCSEs, an uncertain future, and significant yet undiagnosed mental health problems. Facing similar problems in adult life
As Andy went from being a child to entering his twenties, he gradually began to integrate into society and develop relationships with others — but his mental health problems continued to plague him.
He got his first girlfriend in his 20s, but sadly, he was an easy target for abuse. The relationship lasted a few years, and he was controlled the entire time; if Andy ever wanted to go out with friends, he was kicked, punched, or bitten.
Finally, he found the courage to leave, but ended up jumping into another relationship with a similar dynamic. Due to his low self-esteem, he simply couldn’t face being alone. The relationship led to a marriage, which led to having two children.
After years of being mentally and physically abused again, the couple split, but Andy ended up losing all contact with his children after his partner turned them against him. Then, shortly after, his mother died. This was an all-time low for Andy’s, and tragically, he tried to take his own life.
Yet it was also a turning point. Fortunately, Andy managed find purpose and meaning from his experiences by turning to mental health activism. Social media success
Although Andy’s story is an extreme example of how mental health problems can wreak havoc in our lives, many people are facing similar problems today. Society is more aware of these issues now than it was when Andy was growing up — but there’s still a long way to go.
That’s why influencers like Andy are so passionate about helping people to understand their anxiety-related struggles and stop feeling ashamed. Judging by his social media following of one million and counting, the message is clearly resonating.