I suppose it’s a great irony that I’ve been having trouble writing something for Mental Health Awareness Week because I’ve been a bit too mental. For most of the week I’ve been bumming around, oscillating between numbness and pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist which helped significantly. Now I’m trying to write something around the theme of anxiety–this year’s theme–and I am niggled by gnawing worries that what I have to say is probably somewhat fraudulent, that I’m hardly an authority to talk on this, that I’m probably just pretending and and and and
I think it’s safe to say that I get anxiety, and it’s fucking awful. It used to manifest as a collection of largely somatic symptoms in combination with the odd fleeting sensation of “Oh fuck, I’m doomed”. This was particularly bad around the time I quit my PhD. I’d puke. A lot. Even when I wasn’t puking, I could always feel it there, in my guts, twisting them about. I’d also get weirder stuff. Once, every memorable mosquito bite I’d ever had decided to rise back up on my body. It was itchy as all fuck. I remember someone being annoyed by it and handing me an antihistamine. The things went back down before the tablet had even hit my stomach. That was good, I suppose, though it kind of proved to me just how powerful my mind was.
This stopped after I had some mindfulness therapy. I learned, through meditation, to climb into my guts and untie them. Since I had that treatment, the somatic problems mostly went away. Unfortunately, things got worse in other places, because six sessions is nowhere near enough to fix everything.
The symptoms shifted to my mind. Quitting my PhD alleviated some of the problem, because I didn’t have that big horrible insurmountable thing hanging over me any more, but I still have a lot of things to validly feel “oh fuck, I’m doomed” about. And my god, I do. I sometimes wake up far too early, worrying about how I know waking up far too early is really bad for my epilepsy. A lot of the time, a reminder of how economically fucked I am will pop into my head and I’ll end up having every negative thought it’s possible to have all at once. There’s little things people will do that remind me of other things nasty people who did bad things to me did that can ruin my day. I find myself making sure I do things in even numbers because odd numbers make me feel funny and bad.
All in all, I’m not convinced mindfulness worked very well for me, and certainly not in the paltry six sessions I was given.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending. This is all ongoing as I manage the best I can to keep on living. My friends know to offer me two biscuits rather than one. I’m able to do certain things that distract myself: things that require lots of concentration, or things that are fun, or, ideally both. I like to be around people I know as much as I can: if not physically, then digitally. Talking to people about any old rubbish is significantly better than listening to the chattering within my brain.
I suppose if there’s any sort of take-home message, it’s this: anxiety really fucking sucks. It blows. It’s kind of a thing which a lot of people get, often in tandem with other problems too, and the way it affected me is the way it affects some others. The way we talk about mental health often has a requirement to end with the “and then I did this and it got better”, except for a lot of people it doesn’t. It gets tolerable. You find ways to function. You choreograph a dance with your own problems and counter its steps with your own things that work. And I have found mine, sort of.
One thought on “In which I write something for Mental Health Awareness Week”
“…except for a lot of people it doesn’t. It gets tolerable. You find ways to function”
And if we’re still functioning we keep quiet about it: others will challenge the validity of our experience, insist that we’re not ill, assert that we never were.
The danger is that they succeed in this peculiar ‘gaslighting’ and we drop the careful coping strategies; and discover, the hard way, that the illness is still real.
That’s a particularly time to rediscover the prejudices against the mentally ill.
So: yeah, that. And some of us keep quiet about it.