When I was a teenager, I’m unsure exactly how old, I walked into school one day and took a full packet of paracetamol. Then I panicked a bit and told the school office who put the necessary arrangements in place to simultaneously kick my ass and tell the hospital. I can’t really remember what happened after that other than that I did see a doctor at the hospital but that I was also physically fine. There were stern warnings issued and worried parents involved but ultimately I don’t even remember why I did it. I think I just wanted to feel something else other than completely overwhelmed for a while. Mental health doesn’t really reason with you though. It just kind of takes over you.
I’m older now and I like to think that I know myself a lot better. I didn’t realise it then but now I know that this was the beginning of my issues with my mental health. Since then I’ve battled up and down with depression and anxiety and finally about two years ago I was tested for bipolar disorder. The results came back that I didn’t have bipolar disorder but that I do have a mood disorder – a generic term applied to someone who isn’t in full control of their moods I’m guessing. I’m not really sure – I was told the diagnosis and then left to it. The NHS has a long way to go in dealing with mental health in this respect. Perhaps the truth is that I have issues with my mental health that overlap one another and can’t really be pigeon-holed into a diagnosis. I suspect most people who have “issues” fall into this grey area.
Whatever the question though, anti-depressants or mood levellers as my GP calls them are now the answer and a part of my daily life once again. That familiar, creeping sensation of my whole life spinning out of control started to dawn on me a few months ago after a good two years respite whilst I was pregnant and raising a little baby. For some reason, my hormones seem to have saved my happy but as they levelled back out again the levels of happy dropped and the levels of anxiety have started to spiral.
Being an anxious person is far more than simply worrying about things. I wanted to try to explain to you how it feels to live with it but the nature of the beast is that it clouds my brain, my judgement and my ability to rationalise. If I close my eyes and try to sum up what I feel like it would be this:
Fast. Out of control. Spinning. Screaming but silently, the whole world happening to me not with me. Life rushes by and sweeps me up in its chaos, drags me along with it and I have no control over anything. Sometimes I go up. Up and up and up until I’m so high I feel like I’m on top of the whole world. Powerful. Invincible almost. But when I fall off this crazy spinning ride I know it’s going to hurt. It’s going to be terrifying even. Coming back down – I know it’s coming. It’s going to be bad. It is bad already but it’s going to be worse. And then just like that I can’t breathe, move, think, communicate. Just like that I’m sucked into the blackest of black holes and I wonder how it can be possible that I am still walking, talking or even breathing.
None of that really makes any sense unless you are in my head but that’s exactly it. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make any sense, the anxiety just spins and spins around you until you can’t take any more.
On the outside I display all of this by snapping at loved ones for something as simple as asking a question when I wasn’t thinking about that subject. I do it because I have no more capacity to deal with anything at all. I cry and worry about seemingly odd things – a broken pencil or a stubbed toe can send me over the edge in a reaction that seems way out of proportion to the problem. That’s because my emotions internally are at an all time level of heightened sensitivity and I cope by living in a state of numbness. When something happens to snap me out of that state of numbness it opens the floodgates for everything else. I also forget things a lot – it’s a coping mechanism, my brain shuts down because it is so full of spinning and racing thoughts. My forgetfulness makes me question and second guess everything all over again.
These are all normal side effects of anxiety that other people may or may not notice and that is before I even get to the physical side effects that happen to my body. Weight gain or weight loss is one of the most common – either I can’t stop eating or I can’t bear to eat. Either way, in the midst of it all I couldn’t tell you what anything tastes like.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, floods a stressed body constantly with the fight or flight adrenaline hormone and wreaks havoc with the endocrine (hormonal) system. Palpitations in the heart, feeling like you cannot catch your breath, sheer panic as the world clouds in and you are SURE you are having a heart attack? Yeah that’s the anxiety talking.
And for the most part? You feel like nobody is talking about it. That people will roll their eyes if you express how you are feeling. That they might nod sympathetically but will laugh behind your back at the “crazy”. I have even heard the words “drama queen” used as though it’s some sort of elaborate attention seeking act. And then the nature of the beast is that you question whether this is in fact happening at all. Are you in fact just imagining it all? Are you just a bit unhinged?
No. You’re not. You are really, really not.
I’m very open and honest about the fact I take anti-depressants and live with this and that’s not because I’m so comfortable admitting it. I’m actually pretty uncomfortable talking about it still. But I’m really hoping that one day if enough people keep talking openly about these things that we can all talk about our mental health without the tag of “mental” and all of the negative connotations that word brings. It’s not really mental health – it’s just a part of our overall health. An unspoken and unseen side of our bodies that can be hidden under a so-called “normal” exterior.
And so I choose to share that I am struggling from time to time and I hope that is ok with you as a reader. If not, feel free to skip on by, I wouldn’t blame you.
If you choose to stay then maybe the fact that I share my experience with my own health might help someone somewhere feel less alone with it. Maybe even you.
I don’t want to use the word normal because really what does that even mean, but I do want other people who live with anxiety and depression to feel like they can if they want to share how they are feeling. I do want it to be as acceptable to say “I’m feeling extremely low or anxious today” as it is to say “I have a cold today and feel rotten” because these are both a part of our overall health and something that the majority of people will experience at some point or other.
The more we talk and share the less taboo these things will become. Once we are talking we have opened the channels for understanding and then hopefully a much more robust support system.
Or at least I really really hope so.
Until next time