I am sitting outside my boyfriend’s house, willing myself to get out of the car. Meeting new people always made me nervous but today, it’s debilitating. I am furious with myself. “Just open the door, and go inside, you’re being completely stupid,” I say this out loud. The malice in my own voice causes me to cry. I battle with myself, between getting out of the car or asking for help. Thankfully, I opt for the latter. I ring my mother, and her gentle voice comes through, “hiya honey, everything ok?” The poor woman, I am talking so incoherently she cannot understand a word I’m saying. The sobs are so loud I know I must be scaring her, but I cannot convey myself coherently.
I jump as my boyfriend knocks on my passenger side window, “everything ok?” He mouths through the glass. The best I can manage is to unlock the car, because everything is certainly not ok. He gets in the car, “love what’s wrong, did something happen?” On the phone I hear my mother asking me to give him the phone. He accepts and his face goes from concern, to understanding. My mother is telling him what she suspects is wrong, and how to deal with it. He nods making affirming sounds, then eventually hangs up. He goes through the process of winding down my panic attack. Eventually, I feel able to leave the car, and enter the house.
My body is exhausted, and my mind is cloudy for days afterwards. This affects everything, especially my work. This panic attack was the beginning of a breakdown.
Hello friends, welcome to this safe space. Do elements of that story sound familiar to you? It happened to me just like that. One minute I was driving to my boyfriend’s house, the next I couldn’t get out of my car. While this appeared to be a spontaneous occurrence, it didn’t come out of nowhere. The event that triggered the panic attack was just a final straw. Some of you may think, “poor weak-minded girl,” and that’s what you’re taught to think. It’s not the truth though. Present me knows this, but the girl sitting in that car, would have agreed with you, through her sobs.
I have come to realise that at the time, my generalized anxiety disorder (which I had yet to be diagnosed with)[i], was exacerbated by a simple act: Suppression. I would suppressed anger, I would suppressed jealousy, I would suppressed sadness, because these were not productive emotions. If I felt anger, instead of stopping to process why I felt the anger, I would push it away. Anger is for people who are not forward thinking, there is no reason to be angry just because someone cut you up on the motorway.
So, these emotions felt neglected, because they are tangible entities. Just because you suppress your emotions doesn’t mean they disappear. You need to understand why you’re feeling them, before they will be sated. Believe me, I learned this the hard way. The very hard way.
I am writing this blog for fun, but it also helps me distinguish my thoughts by giving them life on paper. I have been a writer for as long as I can remember (and maybe I’ll put up some really old stuff for the laugh later), but at the moment this blog is therapeutic. I know it’s right to understand that I’m not perfect. I will make mistakes, and I’m not weak because of my generalized anxiety disorder. For me to really believe this though, I have to see it here. In black in white, in words learned from my life, in concepts gifted to me by insightful people.
When I finally accepted that I needed help, and went to a counselor, I experienced such an awakening. My 10 year struggle was finally recognised. She legitimised my experience, so I didn’t feel like a fraud. My depressive episodes were born of my anxiety, resulting in exhaustion of my body and mind. She seen right through my veil. She told me once that while describing some of the most painful moments in my life, I would look up and smile, because I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable.
If you are feeling any of this, or you are seeing a loved one struggling, there are infinite ways to get help. My GP put me on a course of anti-depressants, and my therapist gave me exercises. The goal was to be kinder to myself, and to be unafraid of being imperfect. Failure is the best teacher (I believe the great Jedi Master Yoda himself said this). I will write more about this topic in the future because it is necessary. Do not view yourself or loved ones who are suffering as weak, see them as being too strong, and in need of help. There are some resources below, and there are many resources in your life you might not even realise. Your friends and family may not know how to engage with you. They might see you struggling and not know what to do. No one is perfect, and we will not all have perfect reactions to mental illnesses.
I will also leave you with a before and after photo, of someone who woke up one morning and said, no more. She said, “please I need help”. She has now realised that this is not only ok, but it is necessary. There is one woman smiling, through pain, her smile is a mask. The other is smiling, because she is joyful and happy to be at work on a Wednesday morning. Maybe you can’t notice the difference, but I can.
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