My first ever acting job was a nappy commercial (thankfully, at 14 months, I was #nappybodyready). From then on, my career flourished with other commercials, TV jobs, and film roles steadily coming in over the next ten years or so. Words cannot explain how jealous adult Carli is of child Carli’s acting career.

As a child actor I was happy, bright, and attentive. I loved acting, I loved the company of adults, and I was very possibly definitely borderline precocious. To meet me, you probably would have thought I was the most confident child in the world. Yet even in those early years there were the seeds of something wrong. I struggled with eating in front of other people, sometimes even my own family around the dinner table at home. During acting jobs my mum would have to bring me sandwiches or snacks to eat hidden away in trailers or the back seat of our car. I was diagnosed with most types of eating disorder but the diagnoses never seemed to make sense.

Acceptance to an academic secondary school sadly put paid to my career for a while, and I didn’t return to acting until my early 20s. By this point, my ‘quirks’ had developed far beyond weird eating habits. Most events that occurred outside of my duvet became rapidly out of bounds. At university I developed a skill set of avoidance – my attendance at lectures, tutorials, and group work was nigh on zero and I had to switch from Drama to Film and Philosophy to narrowly avoid failing. I saw my acting peers form friendships and professional collaborations without me. Any social or professional situation I couldn’t avoid, I drank my way through instead, usually with fun-at-the-time but ultimately catastrophic results. Eventually things came to a head and I sought help. In a bright white little room at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, I was diagnosed with GAD – Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is great because, rather than feeling anxious about a specific event or occurrence, you just feel endless debilitating dread at all times! About everything! If you enjoy a constant but vague sense of foreboding, I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

It seemed obvious to me that I could never be an actor if I felt terrified just sitting on a sofa, let alone acting on set where a lighting rig might fall on my head, or on stage where I might forget all my lines and vomit copiously on the front row. I got a job as a copywriter instead, at an office where the people were nice and I could take my lunch to a bench outside and eat in peace. Despite being the world’s flakiest friend, I had managed to retain some fantastic ones from school and university and I felt content in my life, if not entirely fulfilled.

It wasn’t until much later, when my would-be husband moved to London to study, that I realised that I needed to move too and give acting one more go. I took my own headshots, signed up to casting sites and, to my horror, began to get auditions – the majority of which I stammered and perspired my way through. Suddenly success became not about getting the job but just about making myself go to and get through the audition, a frame of mind which actually took a lot of the pressure off and helped me immensely over the years. I did this thing once, now I can do it again the next time, and better.

That being said, my first real acting job as an adult was booked from headshots only. Telling. It was a small internal commercial for a phone company and was so fraught with terror I nearly passed out. Every time I wasn’t needed, I would go and stand in the tiny dingy toilet for a bit so that the wall could hold me upright. Wardrobe had to give me tissues to put in my armpits because, apparently, growing sweat patches don’t sell phones. I inhaled Diet Coke all day to keep me going because I was so sick with fear I couldn’t eat anything. At the end of the day, I felt absolutely awful and knew with 100% certainty that I had to do it again.

Over the next few years, I battled my way through each ensuing audition and job, not quite sure why I was putting myself through it but still feeling like I had to. It turned out my own personal brand of daily terror responds well to repetition; each time I do a thing that terrifies me, it gets gradually less scary. Jobs started to get easier and I actually began to enjoy myself again. The fear abated long enough for me to remember why I was pursuing this career and how much I love acting and creating. I still struggle with auditions, where I rarely get the time I need to settle into a situation and stop hyperventilating, but it gets better every time.

Not that I can say forcing yourself into a situation that terrifies you or puts your mental health at risk is always the best answer. Everyone is different and different methods work for different people. Nine times out of ten, I’m glad I’ve pushed myself but, every so often, things go terribly wrong. I did a corporate job a couple of years ago that I very nearly didn’t get through. My mind went into overdrive, I developed a stammer, forgot all my lines, couldn’t carry out simple motor functions, and fled at the end of it, in tears. Surprisingly, I don’t think the resulting footage was ever used.

Still, I carry on – mostly because I don’t quite feel myself unless I’m wracked with blinding panic, but also in the hopes that things will continue to get better and that I’ll get to keep on pursuing the career I love. I also hope that, in writing this, I can be of some comfort to other actors out there who have experienced something similar. Claire Foy recently opened up about her anxiety in a Guardian interview and it meant the world to me. It was so incredibly refreshing and reassuring to read that one of my all-time favourite actresses (I’ve loved her since Adora Belle Dearheart, don’t you know) had managed to achieve my idea of career success while going through all the things I was feeling. Trying to keep my anxiety hidden always makes it ten times worse so let’s make like Foy and talk about it. I don’t have any answers but, at the very least, I can say: “Hey! I feel the same way. It’s shit, isn’t it. Let’s keep going.”

Series 3 of the podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Acast. Episodes already released feature full-length interviews with Adrian Lester, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Riley, Kate Fleetwood, Sarah Ball and Jonjo O’Neill. Click here to listen!

Series 1 & 2 are also available free, along with a special live episode for Equity recorded in November 2018, and follow-up inteaviews with all seven of the emerging actors, conducted in October. Go have a listen