I never intended this to become a blog where I write all about my mental health. However I thought I would write a follow up to my last blog describing in greater detail what it feels like when I get anxious. It’s so hard to explain the way the thoughts in my head can make me feel. I’ve talked about my mental health a lot; my fear of dying, my inability to sleep, my social anxieties, and my worries surrounding medication. Sometimes I hear or read about other people’s experiences with anxiety and I feel as though my experiences have been similar, other times I find myself unable to relate. These are my experiences.
When I remember that one day I will die. A chain of thoughts is triggered, often by something I am watching or reading, sometimes at random. I’ll will be watching something set in the past and think to myself “all those people are dead now” and then “one day so will I” I think about how those people didn’t know that I would ever exist and how one day there will be a generation of people who don’t know I ever existed. I think about those few people who live on in our minds and hearts, names we all know and won’t easily forget. Authors, artists, politicians, and loved ones. I think about what it would be like to die, if you know you are dying or if you know you are dead. I think about how my concept of self, my identity, is so wrapped up in my thoughts and feelings. I worry that if those thoughts and feelings stopped existing if that would in turn mean that I too would stop existing. I come to the realisation that I probably won’t even know that I am dead and that my knowledge of my own life will die too. I notice how all these thoughts will stop too as if they never happened. All of these thoughts happen in an instant.
I blink and all these thoughts flood into my mind. I am taken off guard. I am frightened. It’s the feeling of missing a step, falling in your sleep, a cold wind down your back, or a voice you didn’t expect to hear. It takes my breath away for a moment and I am drowning in the emotions triggered by these thoughts. In those seconds it feels as though I will never escape these thoughts and feelings. Those seconds sometimes pass. Most times they linger for minutes to hours. I gasp for air, calmly, years of therapy has taught me to do so very calmly. I have been trained to recite one of several mantras to myself, “I am having the thought that…..”. It feels ridiculous most of the time. “I am having the thought that one day I will die”, it’s supposed to separate me from my thoughts so I don’t feel overwhelmed. I struggle not to feel like I am dismissing my own emotions. For some thoughts this works easily “I am having the thought that I am unattractive” or “I am having the thought that everybody hates me”; it works because I am telling myself that these things are not true, they are just thoughts I am having, my mind plays tricks on me. When I have these thoughts of death swirling around in my mind it becomes a lot harder. In the end I can’t change these thoughts because I can’t change the truth that my demise is inevitable. If I manage to breath and I push these thoughts from my mind then I have managed to keep a panic attack at bay.
If I can’t banish these thoughts then I feel the panic creep under my skin. It spreads across my chest. It becomes harder to remind my lungs to expand. I can’t focus my eyes on anything, it feels like being at a carnival and I’m being overstimulated by all the lights, music, and people. But there is no carnival, there is only my body trapping me inside with all my fears and my senses don’t know where to focus. It feels like my ribs are a corset and my throat is too tight to swallow. I cry because I am sad. I cry because I am lost. I cry because there is nothing else I can do. By this point I’m lucky if anyone has even noticed what I am going through. Usually I can’t reply to questions of concern because my mind is too foggy. Juggling thoughts is like spinning plates and I can’t stop to tell you how to help because then they will all break and I will break. Even if I can reply most of the time I don’t even know what I need.
Sometimes I need a hug; to feel protected and grounded, so I won’t fly away lifted by dark helium balloons filled with my despair. Sometimes I need space; to feel like I am free and not being crushed by my own consciousness. Sometimes I need words of reassurance; to feel like I am not alone, I am not irrational, I am alive and being perceived by another human being. Most of the time I need to process whatever has made me feel so overwhelmed. It’s not always death although that is my most powerful trigger. Whatever it is, I need to feel validated. I tell myself I am not crazy. I tell myself my feelings are justified. That doesn’t always help. I have come to the conclusion that sometimes nothing will help. I go about my day and I do my best. It’s hard not to fear my own thoughts and feelings, to avoid anything that might cause me to cry and panic. I’m a very verbal person and I use this to process everything in my life. Talking helps. Writing helps. Being heard helps even more.