Imagine waking up everyday feeling as if someone has a hold of your heart; squeezing it so it is has to beat a lot harder than usual. Then combine that with a dread of getting out of bed, a dread of something as simple as turning on the shower. Unfortunately this is not the usual Monday morning dread I am describing, it is a morning in the life of someone who suffers from anxiety. Anxiety is a complete bitch. It creeps up in the most unwelcome times.
For me, it tends to arrive when I am feeling positive and have recently just congratulated myself on how ‘well I’m doing at life.’ Thanks very much Bitch.
When I wake up with anxiety I have to do absolutely everything in my power to not roll over and go back to sleep. My bed is my safe space; it’s where I know I am in no danger and nothing can get to me. However, unfortunately for many anxiety sufferers the guilt of not getting up can be just as bad; it’s a battle one way or the other.
Once I am up it turns into a game of stepping stones. Very often a case of one step forward and two steps back. I often find myself bribing myself to do things, if I get in the shower I will get to watch a YouTube video. (YouTube has become a good strategy for distracting myself from anxiety symptoms.) I resort to the actions of a two year old child where bribery and tantrums are two common occurrences during this regular battle of wills between my head, and my head…
The problem with anxiety is you never actually believe you have it. Still to this day I think I am just making up my panic attacks. Surely I am just letting them get too far where I can’t quite control them anymore. It’s definitely not a mental health illness. There is no way I have a mental health illness, it’s just that I am a little bit stressed….
The reality is that this is exactly what mental illness is and unfortunately a large part of why there is still a stigma attached to it. Of course anxiety is from my head, it is a MENTAL illness. The difference from my belief however, is that it is how my brain is wired. I cannot control it and it is my body’s way of telling me to slow the hell down.
So once I have had a shower I need to dry my hair. Something that I have done approximately 4000 times since I was 15. (Yes, I did just use my iPhone calculator to calculate that and yes I did allow for days when I definitely did not shower because I am regularly a lazy slob.) So drying my hair suddenly becomes on the same par as climbing Mount Everest. A f*cking nightmare. So I just sit. I sit on my futon and look at myself in the mirror and occasionally look at the hairdryer and look at how my hair is getting curly and frizzy and for fuck sake why can’t I just dry my hair?
Cue heavy breathing and heart palpitations as if I was dying at the top of Mount Everest.
I can’t possibly dry my hair because if I did I will definitely die at the top of Mount Everest…
Yeah, it sounds ridiculous because I am no where near Mount Everest but this is just a metaphor for me to impossibly explain how absolutely ridiculous anxiety can be and how I totally get that it is ridiculous but I just can’t. seem. to. stop. it.
So the fun begins, my body becomes completely overwhelmed with all the emotions I could ever possible feel. Right now my mind is working through my earliest memory of crashing my car, (well, I now definitely can’t drive to work) to last week where I wasn’t quite organised for a lesson. (I definitely can’t do my job, I’m shit at my job)
The panic attack that follows is hard to describe, the best way of describing it is feeling completely out of control where nothing you do is going to make it better. At this point my life is over, I cannot see myself carrying on. This may seem dramatic but panic attacks are dramatically real. I have read that people have gone to hospital thinking they were having a heart attack where in fact it was a panic attack. Surely that shows the impact they can have. The most ironic thing about a panic attack, a symptom of a MENTAL illness, is how sore it is. My heart literally feels like it may explode, I feel horrendously sick and often get a sore head and sinuses from the pressure of crying. This mental illness is just as physical as it is mental.
So once I have got over my panic attack which will involve me scaring the shit out of my husband and ending up, inevitably, in bed in the foetal position, we will decide to phone into work.
To say I’m not coming in.
Because of my MENTAL illness.
Yeah, I’m fucking sticking the middle finger up to that stigma attached to it. Because you know what? I actually need some time to get back down from the stress I’m feeling. Just as if I had the flu. I am taking the time I need to get my shit together.
Because that’s okay.
And I’m one step closer to recovering by doing it.