Anxiety is the most debilitating thing that has every happened to me. To be fair, I have led a fairly healthy life with most of my health issues only ever arising in pregnancy (HG, SPD, GD – a little alphabet soup that spelled uncomfortable and unpleasant but in most cases not deadly). I have been depressed before. The kind of depressed where I lay on the floor because sitting upright felt like I was committing too much to life. But during my worst anxiety I felt like even that numbness would have been a relief because the anxiety made me feel everything. It was overstimulation of the highest order.
It effects everyone differently, of course. For me, this is what happens…my palms sweat, my heart races, I clench my jaw, I shudder violently, I can’t sleep and the nausea…the persistent, severe nausea that was unrelieved by even the strongest of anti-emetics. During this period at the worst of it, I would be physically ill. And I was frustrated because I knew it was my brain making my body sick. I wanted to get up…I couldn’t get up. I wanted to be able to eat something…I couldn’t eat anything. I was scared I would die…I was terrified I wouldn’t and this would be my life, day after day stretching out before me for years. I was angry and bitter about the circumstances that led me here. I was furious with myself for allowing them to do so. I was guilty because I wasn’t being the best ‘me’ for my kids. I was guilty over the patience of my lover who would watch me cry big, ugly sobs and stroke my hair and bring me flowers to attempt to coax me out of bed. God. I was a fucking wreck.
He drove me to the psychologists on the day after my worst day. I wanted to go in alone but when I got in there I could barely concentrate enough to fill out the forms. I went and hid in the toilet for ten minutes before my appointment and cried because I had just gotten my period and in my anxiety riddled state I had forgotten it was due and packed nothing in my handbag for it’s arrival. I finally found a rogue tampon in the very depths of my bag, dusted off the wrapper and sent off a silent prayer of thanks.
When I emerged from the bathroom, she led me to a tiny room filled with toys, clearly used more frequently for small children. It had a sandbox in the corner. She asked me why I was there and I had to confess I was having an anxiety attack right at that minute. This would be the first time in a long list where I would be forced to just ‘come clean’. It makes you very vulnerable to tell people because you are already so fragile that the smallest criticism or judgement can reopen healing wounds. Sometimes I would just tell people, “I’ve been sick lately,” and they would glance at the anti-nausea bands on my wrists and accept it. Other times I would just come out with it. Amazingly, people are kind. What brought me to this place was the opposite of that, you see. It was cruelty and senselessness. So I didn’t really trust anyone anymore. But when I would tell people, “I’m not in a very good emotional place right now,” or maybe I would give them the diagnosis my psychologist handed me that first day and say, “I have PTSD, I’m working on it,” people for the most part sent me support and love and understanding. And this made me cry all over again because I felt so undeserving of this.
That day, my psychologist immediately placed tiny vibrating paddles into my hands and when I said, “I can’t talk about what I’m anxious about right now. I can email you though,” she didn’t push me. She walked me through breathing exercises and gave me homework and – bless her – said she thought she could fix me. At that point I didn’t even care if she couldn’t. She gave me hope.
I am not well. I am still a work in progress. I am still delicate but there is a strength in me too. When I began my homework I would imagine myself as a landscape. Here are the woods and here stands a house. Or what was left of a house because it had been burnt to ashes. I would walk through this landscape and pick at the wreckage, charred and broken. Therapy was me clearing the debris. Therapy was me uncovering the solid foundation beneath. It was tempting to immediately begin construction but I needed to ensure I was building on solid ground. I would picture me sweeping off a stone floor. Examining crack and holes. Carefully reconstructing and renovating just the foundation. I would make it as strong as I could. I would not rush any part of my rebirth.
For weeks I rose hours before dawn and while my house slept I would watch the sun rise and complete breathing exercises and power affirmations and eventually worked my way to bi-lateral brain stimulation to gather energy for my day ahead. I looked like I was doing nothing but lying there. Inside I was healing as best as I could. I was fighting for my life.
I am not well. Not yet. But I am healing.
For more information about anxiety please head to Beyond Blue. Always reach out, people are kinder than you realise.
Apps that my psychologist recommended and have helped me are Breathe2Relax, ACT coach and Anxiety Release based on EMDR (this one appears to not have an iPad version but you can get it on your phone).