The Door.

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The first door I remember belonged to my grandparents house in suburbia in the city I was born. I don’t remember my first entry obviously, but there is a photo of me having my first bath in the bathroom sink, a pale green fashionable in the 70s that had fallen out of vogue by the time I was old enough to look at that photo and be intrigued. I lived there with my mother and grandparents and my two aunties who were 2 and 5 years younger than my mother. I remember my time in that house as a carefree existence. I must have run in and out of that door hundreds of times without giving it a second thought.

Later there would be other doors. The door to the caravan we lived in by the sea. The old door of the house we rented before my brother was born. The door of my childhood home. I walked in and out of them never really sensing a barrier between me and the outside world at all. I barely even registered their existence.

When I was newly pregnant with my second daughter and she was barely bigger than a lentil, tucked away in my womb, I went for a walk. I wanted to go to the library – a place of comfort for me my whole life. Bookstores and libraries were like church for me, I could spend hours breathing in the calm that surrounded them. I was a child that drove my mother crazy with the state of my room, clothes and toys strewn everywhere, but my bookshelf was immaculate. I would carefully alphabetise the authors and arrange them by genre. I pushed my eldest daughter in a pram to the library, I was excited to introduce her to the written word. Her father accompanied us. It was summer and the midday sun beat down on us during the walk home. I felt a little light headed. My heart rate picked up. I felt ill. I thought I might throw up or pass out and we were still a good fifteen minutes from home.

It was an anxiety attack.

I didn’t know what was wrong just that I was suddenly ill. I had to lie down – right now. He went back with our daughter for the car, I lay in the shade of a struggling sapling on the grass by the footpath.

When I returned home I rapidly became much better. And I was terrified it would happen again. Better to stay at home than experience that kind of crippling experience in public. I was embarrassed and horrified. I still didn’t know what happened. I thought maybe heat stroke or morning sickness. I should take it easy. I should stay inside.

The door became a terrifying thing. Suddenly it was no longer a benign presence in the house, barely given another thought. Now it signified the very real difference between ‘safe’ and ‘unknown’. And I have always been a cautious person.

Agoraphobia took me under it’s wing like an old friend. It whispered fears into my ears and wound it’s fingers into my hair. It seeped into the marrow in my bones.

I was housebound. I left only a handful of times for antenatal appointments. I didn’t go see my family. I didn’t go to the shops. At my worst, I didn’t even go to the letterbox. I would watch as the postman dropped our mail into it and suggest my eldest daughter toddle down to it. I told myself she enjoyed her ‘big girl job’ while I stood at the threshold of the doorway, unable to cross the line to the outside.

When I finally reached out for help after my second daughter was born, when I could no longer pass off my fear as related to pregnancy, my counsellor came to the house and visited me bedside. At that point, at my very worst, I left the bed only to go to the bathroom. The day I made it to the couch she cheered. And I was so frustrated and confused because who gets praised just for making it to their own goddamn lounge room? That’s insanity. It’s depressing.

Slowly, I learned to MANAGE my fears. That is very different to overcoming. Managing means you learn ways to deal with it, not that you are no longer frightened.

Some days I could step out that door without giving it much of a thought. Some days it would loom before me like a threat. Some days the very act of turning the doorknob and stepping into the sunshine felt like rebellion.

Because I learnt how to manage it so well and I could hide it so effectively, I had virtually forgotten I suffered at all. Until one day a few months ago I found myself staring at my front door unable to step past it. Until I retreated back to my bedroom and refused to leave. Until my lover brought me flowers and begged me to leave the room to put them in a vase in an attempt to coax me out and when I cried and said I couldn’t he fetched a vase himself and put them by my bed so I would have something ‘beautiful to look at’.

Then I knew. It had never left, just gone into remission. And now here it was again, ruining my life.

But see, last time I just bowed down. Last time when the door would threaten me I would retreat. This time, I’m fucking angry. This time I am committed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. This time – no remission. I’ll cut it out myself. This time when the door stands in front of me, I will call it’s bluff.

Hand to handle.

Pull it open.

Just one step.

Outside.

Fate.

I read an article that was a little bit pretentious in itself but the message still came through. Basically the woman in question was talking about how she had the perfect life because she didn’t have any expectations of what her life would be, therefore in not deliberately seeking it out she allowed it to come to her. It bothered me a little because some of that is sheer luck. And also because many of us cannot take a passive role in our own lives. I struggle constantly between my belief that fate is a true guiding force in our lives and the belief that if we want something we must get up and get it.

What I know is, things usually work out for me. I mean that as in – shit frequently goes tits up – but usually everything works out and often I can look back and think, “Thank god that didn’t work out.” I can point to specific moments in my life that when they happened it felt like they were absolutely MEANT TO HAPPEN and even if I had made a different choice that day, eventually the universe would find a way to right itself.

Sometimes though you can sit and stagnate on things for the longest time and you have to go out and find destiny or fate or whatever it is. Let’s say you want a dog. And all you can think of is how much you need that dog and how much more awesome your life would be with the dog…sitting on the couch watching Netflix while Pintresting photos of dogs isn’t going to get you a dog. You need to go to some shelters, browse rescue pages, find a registered breeder. You might be fated to have a dog but you gotta give fate a hand sometimes.

I don’t know. I’m rambling.

The point is…maybe I’m not exactly where I am meant to be. Maybe I know that. Maybe I wake up every morning and look around and realise I’m in transit. I understand that I’m fated to be elsewhere, do something different. Hell, I can even give you a checklist of exactly what needs to be done to get from point A (here) to point B (that place I’m meant to be). And it’s a lot of work and that can be disconcerting because I know it will be years. It almost causes me visceral panic where I want to bend over with my head between my knees and breathe so I don’t hyperventilate. The hardest thing for me right now is to sit back and watch the scenery because I want to DO something. I don’t often give myself enough credit that this fallow period in my journey is actually important. You cannot recover if you’re running every day. So I rail against it. I resent the journey. All I can do is sit there and feel impatient that this isn’t where I am meant to be. I spend all my time looking backwards at where I was or forwards to where I want to be and can’t see the beauty in where I am RIGHT NOW.

And there HAS to be beauty here. There has to. I will find it. I will trust that fate is working behind the scenes and wherever I am right now – it’s important to where I will end up. There is no rule that says you can’t keep pushing towards something and still enjoy where you are. They’re not mutually exclusive.

With this in mind I unclasped my camera bag and pulled out my camera which fit into my hand like it was a part of me. I got my keys and I left the house. I didn’t know where I was going and the time of day was wrong for good photos but I just drove, hoping something would catch my eye. Just one thing, I told myself. Just take one photo that you don’t hate. It doesn’t matter if it’s shit. Or that the light is bad or that you don’t have a plan. Just find something you think is beautiful here and shoot it.

Breathe in the now. Trust that the universe is unfolding how it should. How many days will you waste looking ahead instead of what is right beside you?

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Foundation.

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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).