Like Nadiya, I know too well how crippling anxiety can be

Like many others, I was swept along by the 2015 winner of the BBC’s Great British Bake Off, Nadiya Hussain. It wasn’t just her astounding baking skills. Her personality — open, spontaneous, joyous — made her a star. TV loved her, and she seemed to love it.

The reality, however, was rather different. She had to make a tremendous effort every time to put on that smiley face. For her life was spent trying to manage anxiety disorder and panic attacks, which arise from a dramatically and irrationally heightened fear of danger.

We know this now because Nadiya allowed a camera to follow her as she sought diagnosis and treatment, and the BBC screened the resulting film last week.

It turns out that cooking was her way of dealing with the “monster” in her head, the terrible anxiety that had never gone away and the belief she was a worthless person. Her husband revealed she would cook frantically and always far more than was appropriate. Obsessed with order, she avoided anything unpredictable and therefore threatening, even seeing her friends. In her cookery demonstrations before large audiences, she would fail to put on her spectacles so she could pretend the audience wasn’t really there.

The film demonstrated that you should never judge someone by how they seem. Who could fail to have been startled by the pain behind Nadiya’s smile? Well, me actually.

To read my whole Times column (£), please click here.

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