Anxiety is why that split second of panic or irritation when I can’t find something in a supermarket can result in me feeling like I’m on the run from the CIA – about to be attacked at any moment.
Anxiety is why I can start the day thinking about a piece of work which is due and end the day having convinced myself that I’m about to get fired.
Anxiety is why I rarely trust my own reactions and feelings. Sometimes there is no Debbie, only Zuul. It would be safer not to react at all. I am happy? I am sad? Who the fuck knows anymore.
Anxiety is why the smallest thread of past experience can be pulled until it strangles any hope for happier outcomes.
Anxiety is why I spent two hours hyperventilating before the first time I met Polaris, and why my first words to him in person were: “Don’t look at me. I’m dying here.” He got used to my funny little breathing practices, which control my anxiety attacks.
Anxiety is why if someone is horrible to me or something bad happens, it feels cataclysmic, as a hundred voices in my head start screaming: “SEE, WE WERE RIGHT, YOU’RE FUCKING AWFUL AND YOU SHOULD GIVE UP.”
Anxiety is why I can no more let go of something which is bothering me, than Atlas could stop holding up the sky.
Anxiety is why all the above seem normal to me, with my mind presenting a thousand reasons to retreat or re-think throughout the day, negative thoughts competing for space the way that fish in a pond fight for food.
One of the main things I wanted to be try and talk about honestly is anxiety and mental health. Having anxiety has allowed me to recognise and understand similar issues in others, and provides a constant reminder that how people behave is the result of many intentional and unintentional reactions.
I have always been somewhat introverted, worried about how people would respond to me. I have always been secretive about my writing, afraid of what people might think. I don’t think that’s anxiety. However, I do think those personality traits are the weaknesses in which anxiety delights – like Regan in the Exorcist, targeted and fed upon. We are told that the demons are attracted to emotional turmoil – and I am certain that over the years I have kicked up quite the stench for them to follow.
In many ways I consider myself a strong person, and I am lucky that I can see my anxiety as separate to who I am. I know the thoughts in my head are irrational and exaggerated. I just don’t always know where I end, and the anxiety begins.
My anxiety proper started a few years ago when I was bullied at work. The exclusion and unfair treatment from my manager and his cronies was bad enough but when I stood up for myself and went through the grievance process, I was told: “we know what he’s like but we’re not going to do anything”. It was a feeling of utter madness and complete rejection. If you are not believed about something of which you are certain, suddenly the most outlandish becomes believable. That feeling of “why me” gradually turned into a certainty that I was somehow different, somehow other, even somehow contemptible. I started having anxiety attacks, developed OCD and could not compute the reality with which I was faced.
Friends will be surprised to hear that. I always rationalise and minimise, and stay at home licking my wounds. I hide my monster – but it makes me hide myself with it. I took medication for a few months but it just made me sleep all day. I had to find healthier solutions so I left that job and felt immediately much better (or so I thought).
Three years ago I had a car accident. I was hit from behind at 40 mph and was left with Post Concussive Syndrome. Possible triggered by PCS, anxiety crept its way back in. This time was very different to the first. At first, the anxiety attacks were not linked to emotion; they came from nowhere like random visitors knocking on the door. At times, it was almost comical. I had an attack in the Dead Sea because I couldn’t put my legs down and my son and I laughed as he dragged me to the shore. Gradually I became aware that the uneasy feeling had settled in and made itself at home.
A tight-chested, nauseous feeling can hold me in its grasp for days. I make elephants of the smallest flies, taking the weight onto me. I have found meditation the most effective way of shrinking elephants – at times I am moved to tears of happiness from this incredible practice.The doctor also gives me lovely little purple pills (Propranalol) which mask the effects of social anxiety (I have refused anything stronger). The pills remove the symptoms but not the cause (reverse Frank N Furter) – it’s like being drunk on the inside. I only take them when things are really bad, and I have to deal with outside.
So far, so anxious, so manageable. But as I approached the end of 2016, the horsemen of the apocalyspse seemed to gather. Work was stressful coming into year end and being between houses created hassle, my son started sixth form and continues to slip away, my parents upset me, Polaris split up with me… It feels as though the harder I try and the more I love people, the worse they treat me and the less they value me. All the evidence holds out the answer: “Don’t bother. No one cares.” In a crippling moment at New Year, I realised I could no longer distinguish between the worst things I can think, and the worst that others think of me.
I have been robbed of meditation – if I opened myself up to what I truly feel, I am afraid I would be washed away by sadness. I start therapy/exorcism proper this week – to understand the “why” and “why me”. If anyone needs me, my monster and I will be hiding under the bed.