I’m mentally ill. I have what’s known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Panic, fear and nervousness are a big part of my life. I don’t always experience huge bouts of it, but my everyday life is often severely affected by it.
Some nights I struggle to fall asleep because my brain won’t switch off. I lie awake remembering something I said to a colleague, which was meant as a joke, but probably offended them and now they hate me. When this happens my heart pounds in my chest, my stomach knots itself, my head is abuzz with a million voices that drown out my own, and my entire body is coated in sweat.
Sometimes, when I do eventually get to sleep, I have very vivid nightmares. So vivid, that when I wake in the morning, it feels as if I haven’t slept at all especially if I dreamt of one of the more traumatic events in my life.
These things happen so often that I’ve now accepted them as part of everyday life (although the medication I’m now on and therapy has made these smaller symptoms a lot more manageable), but it’s the panic attacks that are truly horrific.
If you’ve never had one, the best way to describe it is chaos; chaos so intense that, for those few minutes, it feels as if your body is raging war on itself and you’re not sure if you’ll survive.
My last big panic attack was quite something.
I had felt panicky all day, but I didn't listen to my body. I refused to recognise the signs and then I exploded with emotion.
I locked myself inside a bathroom cubicle at work because it was the only place I felt safe. I could control this 2 metre x 1 metre space, nothing could hurt me. I begged my boyfriend to fetch me and then waited until he could get there. In a bathroom cubicle. For 2 hours. Because I was too afraid to come out.
I felt and do still feel terribly guilty about it. I'm an adult, I should be able to deal with my emotions and not have panic attacks so big that I need to burden my partner.
But I do.
These attacks shift my reality ever so slightly as to make just being unnerving. They make me feel physically ill and exhausted for days at a time. Or I feel so dead inside that even the man I love loses his shine simply because everything is dulled by how much energy my anxiety takes from me.
I question my abilities. The things I know how to do and do well, because I've convinced myself that I’m actually really shit at everything.
I sometimes check my bag three times before I leave the house and then am still convinced that I've forgotten something and actually feel nervous about it. I'm often late to things because I take too long trying to perfect the way I look, or I just sit on my bed for 20 minutes trying to plot out what will happen when I get there so that it's less scary for me when I have to face the real situation.
We’re still told that mental illness is not real or we just feel a “little sad” right now and it’ll “get better”. We’re told to cheer up, or just pull ourselves together, but we can’t. And we shouldn’t have to. My anxiety is not fun to deal with, but it is part of me. It is something I have to deal with, just like any other kind of illness. And people constantly misunderstanding it or making light of it is an unnecessary extra burden. So when will the rest of the world start to see this? When will we have this conversation?
What about now?