So I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of days, but struggled getting even the first words on the page. See, I’ve battled anxiety my whole life. Not knowingly – it’s not like I was born and as a newborn had the word “ANXIOUS” stamped across my forehead in big red letters – but seriously, how useful would that be? I was just an anxious kid – not to extremes, but enough that looking back I just see that’s how I am.
It got worse as I got older, and all culminated in what I lovingly refer to as a “shitstorm of epic proportions” when I was about 19. I was diagnosed with depression and generalised anxiety disorder – something I don’t really share with a whole lot of people in my life, but something that is, and always will be, a small part of me.
I fought my depression, and I won. I still have down days, but my down days are the normal kind, not the isolating loneliness they used to be. I fought my anxiety, and backed it into a corner – it still commands a part of me, and always will, but it generally takes up residence in a small black part, and the rest of me is bright and colourful and usually enough to work through my day to day life.
When talking to other people, I explain that to me, anxiety is the ocean. If you don’t have anxiety, you’re standing on the sand, looking out at the water and seeing how beautiful it looks. If you have anxiety, you’re always in the water. On a good day, you might be ankle-deep – the anxiety is lapping at your feet, and you feel it every now and again but it’s not scary. On a bad day, it hits your thighs, your hips, your bellybutton. It gets overwhelming, it’s tough to move, and I really have to drag myself through days like that. On awful days, I am drowning. The ocean is inside of me, the ocean is a part of me, the ocean is all of me. I cannot see my way through, and I cannot even raise my hand to wave for help.
But I haven’t had a drowning day in a long time. I use my tools (guided meditation, positive self-talk, mindfulness, and grounding exercises) to work myself into a functional member of society. But the other night, I almost drowned all over again.
Last week was a big week for me – I started work, in a high-stress environment, with a lot of responsibility, and a whole lot of change. And change and I have never gotten on well. Change and I are estranged cousins and while I try to avoid it, it comes around every so often and makes things unpleasant. So last week I walked on eggshells, and talked myself out of belly-high ocean anxiety more often than usual. And last Saturday night, it all came crashing down.
I was supposed to head into the city to meet a friend for birthday drinks. I got on the bus feeling okay – there were no real signs of what was about to happen, I felt a little anxious but nothing new considering I was going out in public, into a bar which in general makes my anxiety a little heightened (lots of people, affected by alcohol, being a woman walking alone in the city, not enough personal space etc etc, the list of reasons why I felt uncomfortable go on and on and on). Anyway, to cut a long story short, I had an anxiety attack on the bus. It wasn’t a loud or overly embarrassing one thank goodness, but when it came down to it, I was still a 24 year old woman, crying on a public transport bus.
I was mortified. I tried everything that usually helps to calm me down – everything I mentioned above, plus music and talking to close friends which also helps me out. Not that night. Every time I calmed down, I set off a fresh wave of silent tears. Eventually I gave up, I gave in, and I got off the bus in the city and walked to the opposite platform and came straight home. I felt really defeated, and ashamed.
My mum met me halfway, bought me ice-cream, and drove me home. I ate my ice-cream, went to bed, and slept through till the morning. I woke up still ashamed – because I let myself get to drowning and I couldn’t really figure out why. But at the end of the day, I am here – in this body – and even though I cried in public, today is a new day and my anxiety is only at my ankles.
So I guess I’m writing this because it’s easy to think that you can just be “cured” of anxiety and everything is fine. There are plenty of people in my life who have no idea I suffer from anxiety – because usually, it doesn’t limit who I am or what I do. But sometimes it does, and sometimes I have to be okay with that.
If you have any tips on self-care (which I find really important after an episode), let me know in the comments.