May 08, 2017

Anxiety, More Like An-sigh-ity. (TW: self mutilation, anxiety, unhealthy coping mechanisms)

I like the stupid title - puns are funny. 

I have anxiety. Let's just get that out in the open in case anyone has difficulty reading past the first few lines of anything. 

We talk about it a lot nowadays but I don't know when exactly I realised I had it. I only remember, very clearly, the feeling of everything suddenly just making sense - it was a very strange mix of happiness and trepidation. Knowing I diagnosed myself was what made me question it; we believe in medicine and psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors so much, we question our own ability to say for ourselves, we don't feel this is normal for our minds, or our bodies. I'm not saying we don't need them, I'm saying it's ok to listen to your own body once in a while and know when to take a break.

Anxious Men, by Rashid Johnson

Let's break it down. 

  • I'm anxious about speaking to strangers, whether its work, or just ordering food or social events.
  • I'm anxious with speaking in public to a large forum. 
  • I'm anxious when faced with change. 
  • I'm anxious about merging in heavy traffic, or travelling in any form of transport.
  • Anxiety is the voice that says to me, 'you're boring this person and they are going to spend the rest of their life avoiding you so they don't ever have to speak to you again. Who's irrelevant? You! Ding ding ding.' It's what makes me talk loud then pull back into not speaking at all. I practice what I'm going to order while I'm in line, so it doesn't hiccup when it's actually my turn to order food. I avoid eye contact and study hands and shoes and blank spaces between a person's eyebrows to stop myself from rambling on.
  • Anxiety is the crushing panic that shows me how many people here it would take to actually crush me alive - it's what makes me get to the venue half an hour early to check where all the washrooms and exits are. 
  • Anxiety is what pulls me back, mumbling quietly that change is not good - it won't help me get away from it. It keeps me awake at night, pushing my brain and muscle tension into overdrive until I get to my dog, feeling the warmth of his fur and mimicking his breathing patterns to stop my heart from pounding out of my eyeballs. 
  • Anxiety is my minds' eye imagining me causing a traffic collision; i won't die, but everyone else will be killed and I will live with it for the rest of my life. It's why I constantly research my seating plans on my booked flights -  if the plane crashes I will die on impact and not suffer for two hours until the plane explodes. 

Do you see the difference? Sometimes I think speaking about it never helps because I see the incredulous expression that people have when they actually hear me tell them this. It's the same expression they have towards people who preach that the world is ending on the streets while wearing an adult diaper with a placard sticking out their bum proclaiming the apocalypse. Not fun. 

I didn't write this for the sympathetic vote - i just felt that it's something people need to be aware of. Don't dismiss someone as just being shy, or antisocial or unfriendly. Everyone has issues they have to deal with - some are better, some are worse. We can't judge, we can only try our best to help or leave them alone to heal on their own terms. 

We never question it; we never say, 'Are you sure you had a bad day, or was it just all in your head?', or 'I think you thought you had a bad day but you're just being too sensitive.' 

If you've ever said that to another person in your lifetime I hope you got slapped with a spade. 

(If you created this image, please let me know and I will credit you or remove it.)

The Japanese have a beautiful word for putting broken things (pottery) together again, often with gold lacquer, called Kintsugi

The ability to do this requires the mind to be detached from clinging to the ideal visualisations of what is perfect. That we can create our idea of beauty or loveliness from even broken things; being imperfect is a human condition that we have to accept. 

I don't know how to fix myself. I find that doing hot yoga helps me, because I focus on that intense heat and trying not to fart in classes. Having a cute-as-hell dog helps, especially when he's not against the prospect of me resting my head on his chest to hear his heartbeat and steal his warmth. I often read and write as I am now to you, whoever you are who is reading this. My family distracts me from my anxiousness by not really getting it so they deflect by feeding me or buying me shiny things or being complete goofballs. I draw sometimes but I stop when I feel angry at myself for not getting it right. I shop sometimes, but money is hard to come by. 

It's not easy. I sometimes smoke to calm my breathing down. The smoke opens up my air ways and buzzes me into a calmed state, tingling my fingers and gives me a sense of quiet I cannot have anywhere else. I can't drink, because the effects of alcohol mimic the panic attacks, so I smoke. I used to go through a pack a day six years ago - and now, it's gone down to one almost every other month.

I used to hurt myself. If this triggers you, know that it never helped me. If anything, giving myself cuts made it worse. I was terrified of showing my arms and it only peaked my anxiety about being out in public. It's been seven years since I last self mutilated, and it is still a battle for me to fight the urge. I don't even keep paper cutters in my office cubicle or my room for this purpose. I have trichotillomania, where I obsessively pull out my hair, strand by strand. I even have bald spots when I was young, where I removed all my eyebrows, and patches on my head.

Marc Johns
If you've made it this far down this whole post, I just want you to know it will suck. It will be okay some days, worse on others, great even on occasion. Frustration will build, but it always gets worse before it gets better. Do something you love, create a routine of knowing what to do for yourself in high-stress situations, as long as it causes you no physical or mental harm. There's a difference between self-medication and self-healing. We can't expect everyone to get it, because I think sometimes even we don't get it ourselves. 

If I had to give you any pointers, it'd be that if you ever feel like you're about to lose it, just look around you and list down all the things you can see. Tell yourself where you are at that moment, your exact location, and the items around you will create an effect of rooting you to the present moment without your brain going too fast for your body to keep up. 

Before this gets any weirder or more cumbersome, i want to thank you for being with me. We are always busy and always thinking of whats next, what happened, what's coming up, we don't engage in just being here. So thank you, if you read this whole kerfuffle. You're not alone, and neither am I. Have a nugget, bask in the sunshine, and let's try again, try harder, or just not try - it's all good, at the end of the day. 

I love you. 

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