I’ve discovered that there are many, many unpleasant factors involved in suffering from anxiety and depression. Nowadays, my brain can betray my trust, after always being one of my favourite features. I used to think quickly, able to assess a situation faster than most. I remembered things (apart from names, always been useless with names); and I could multi task. My wonderful brain allowed me to coast through my degree. I sat, and passed exams on anthropology books I hadn’t read (I quickly realised the introduction and conclusion contained the vital information needed to pass). I wrote essays on the day they needed to be handed in, chattered through lectures, and only revised minimally. My almost photographic memory saw me through, and my ability to blag did the rest.
Suddenly, I can’t believe my own assessment of a situation. In the past if my brain told me I’d forgotten something, I had. If it kept worrying over a situation, it meant there was something wrong, and something horrible was actually about to happen. If I was startled awake, with adrenalin flooding my system, to go over and over a small detail of the day, it meant there was something about that detail I had failed to notice at the time. It meant if I re-examined that memory, something important would reveal itself. That’s no longer the case.
There’s other delightful symptoms to my anxiety too, and they all feed into each other wonderfully. My brain has acquired the new habit of waking me up with a non-existent text, a middle of the night alarm, or an imaginary doorbell, when I don’t even have a doorbell any more. It’s just to make sure my heart is pounding and I’m thoroughly attentive, ready for the magician’s show to start, when my brain produces an array of unrequested magic tricks- creating worries out of nowhere, and disappearing all normal logic up its sleeve.
Next is the vomiting, I was never sick before. I hate being sick, I went years and years without vomiting. Now I puke when I clean my teeth, when I cough too hard, when I’m sat minding my own business, even when I’m fast asleep. I’m lurched into wakefulness with milliseconds to get to the loo before I turn myself inside out.
I hate the brain function slow down. I hate the way I can’t learn properly anymore. My brain used to be so quick, I was the one who would explain a concept to other people. Now I have blank spots when my concentration vanishes and it feels like trying to squeeze a huge marshmallow into a tiny jar when I’m trying to shepherd my thoughts back into cohesion. Bits keep escaping.
There’s the exhaustion, every bit of my body hurting for no reason; and the headaches that start in my shoulders and slowly paralyse me. Or in my forehead and become all I can think of.
However, the worst symptom, the absolute worst, is that happy excitement, anticipation of a long awaited delight, or pleasure in a hard won achievement brings exactly the same up surge in symptoms as negative stress. So when I launched my first novel online, I was sitting on the sofa, clutching my laptop and my sick bowl, sleep deprived and delicate, while I tried to sparkle at my online party.
Accepting there was a problem, seeing my G.P, and finding out that my fears are illogical was such a relief. I’d been taking all these extra terrors seriously, and life had become extraordinarily scary as I tried to make sense of the messages of danger. However, it was equally horrifying to discover the deception; I couldn’t trust me anymore.
I won’t let it defeat me though. I am more than the sum of my ills, I am nothing if not stubborn, and that grit will see me through. So what do I do? Do I curl up, retreating from the world? It’s very tempting, God, it’s so bloody tempting. Do I give up all together, bereft of all hope for a future free from pain and exhaustion? Do I make a ‘special’ cup of cocoa, I’ll never wake up from? I can see the temptation there too.
No, what I do is I stick out my chin, I grit my teeth, and I look up. I keep moving, no matter how little. I accept that some days I won’t be able to do much, and those days I filter my To Do list down to one, easily manageable point. That way I don’t get lost in self-hatred for not achieving anything. I accept that on PMT week I will need one day of doing absolutely nothing- my To Do item for that day will be ‘survive’.
I make sure that I appreciate something beautiful at least once every day, the green of a leaf against the blue sky, the daring silence at the centre of a song, the first sip of filter coffee my husband has made me with love. And do you know what? I love myself and my life far more now than I ever did before, so thank you anxiety for centring me back to me.
You see, that’s what’s amazing. After a lifetime of putting other people’s needs before my own, of tying myself in knots to people please, I just can’t anymore. It’s not a choice, the physical consequences of ignoring my own needs, are so awful that I won’t do it anymore. Even considering an action that isn’t in my own best interests, like applying for that job that pays better but would chew my soul again causes a resurgence of symptoms, and guides me towards a happier work /life balance. I may be broke, but I’m happy.
For everyone’s benefit, I have to look after myself, which is bizarrely liberating. The outcome is that I’ve got to know myself better, and I rather like me. I’ve shed some extra pounds, and become much physically fitter, which I also like, I enjoy feeling ‘in’ my body again. I’ve realised that I was living in a tiny corner of my brain, not in my whole body at all.
Writing isn’t an option, it’s no longer something I delay until a mythical, perfect tomorrow. I have to do it, my creativity is my saviour. I live in the moment more, and I’m softer for it, kinder, more fun. So, I smile my secret smile, armed by my strange weapon, and face life bravely, with my dark blessings to guide me.