THE A WORD
It’s 6.47am. I hear Will calling my name. There are two types of people in the world – those who get up immediately after their alarm sounds (like Will) and people who hit snooze 15 times (like me). But this time it’s not that. I hear Will’s voice again, clearer this time, “Wake up, bluebean, we’re going to be late.” But I’m up. I’m sitting up. I’m wide awake. But I can’t move. My legs feel frozen solid. I haven’t received an official diagnosis from my doctor but I am 100% certain that I suffer from anxiety. It’s back. And this attack is a bad one.
They say the human brain has 60 000 thoughts per day, I’m not too sure how true that, but right now I feel as if I am processing all of them at once. My mind feels like a spinning roulette wheel. I look down at my hands and they’re soaking wet. I look to check if I’ve spilled my coffee. There’s no cup beside my bed.
At some point Lily comes to cuddle next to me. I didn’t notice her come in but I could stay in bed with her all day. Cuddled in a ball with the covers over our heads. I open up Whatsapp to message my boss. Cursor. Flash. Flash. Flash. I don’t know what to say to her. How do I explain that I feel as if I’m standing in the surf and tsunami waves are hitting me, 4 per second? I want to get up but I can’t. I feel as if I’m drowning. My anxiety is usually coupled with IBS. I breathe a sigh of relief. Why is it easier to mail your boss that you have explosive diarrhea than admit that you won’t be OK today? Womxn are naturally harder on themselves. Facts. And we’re natural problem solvers. So, immediately, the “Buck up, you’re stronger than this. Fix it” speech comes to mind. But anxiety doesn’t work that way. It’s not something you can just shake by sheer will. Will sits besides me and asks, “Are you OK, blu? And I respond that I’m fine.
I kiss Lily, get up, and shower. And make it to work. I go into autopilot and churn out deadlines. But I’m unable to concentrate or ‘file’ my thoughts. Usually I can tackle them one by one but they’re all happening at once. Like a mental to-do list you can’t tick. Then the OCD kicks in. I’m not a neat person. I’m not an organised person. I’m not an obsessive person. At any given day there is half a chicken leg and Weet-bix soaked into my car. But usually post an anxiety attack my mind goes into ‘fix it’ mode. It’s as if I want to fix everything around me to clear the tornado in my mind. I become obsessed with a clean desk. It has to be stark white. No dust. No crumbs. No pen marks. No pages or books lying around willy nilly. Everything neatly piled up. I become obsessed with the tiny cobweb in the corner, obsessed with one overdue bill, obsessed with unfinished projects. I grab some lunch and open up my browser in search of relief. Find a plumber. Find an electrician. Find an architect. Finish that new bedroom. Finish Ila’s nursery. Pay that bill. Clean your car. Lay that grass. Finish that blog post. Sell that cupboard in the way. Perhaps if you tick off a few things, you’ll feel better. Tick. Tick. Tick. But I know it won’t help. Some time ago I became fixated on getting Lily’s room absolutely perfect. This is not a mom trawling Pinterest in search of ideas. I’ll often scroll for minutes, hours, days in search of the ideal item. Thereafter, I’ll trawl malls and sites for days. This is obsession. The last time, I told myself, once you find the right scatter, you’ll feel better. I counted the other day – 18 scatters. 18 gathering dust in my linen closet.
It’s strange, my life is pretty much as great as it can go at the moment. I’m not rolling in cash and my bank balance is roughly 0.18c but I feel blessed and fulfilled. Lily is doing well at school, Ila’s growing like a weed, I enjoy my job and I’m surrounded by good friends. Life is running smoothly for once. But that’s the thing about anxiety, it comes out of nowhere – no warning, no trigger, no stressful situations, necessarily. Just this sudden onset of impending doom that consumes me, that at any time the rug could be pulled out.
10 October was World Mental Health Day and it came and went like a regular Tuesday because there are so few people who speak out. That night, I found an article on anxiety and sent it to Will. The stigma attached to a mental disorder is so... impenetrable that here I was, with the person I’ve known for 13 years, the person I trust more than anyone else in the world and I couldn’t mouth the words, “I suffer from anxiety.” He emerges from the bedroom and asks, “Is this how you feel, blu?” I nod because I still can’t admit to myself. We talk about how he thought that I was just shy when I arrived at parties and immediately became flustered at the sight of all the cars. I used to wonder why, since I’m such a social butterfly. But every day I’m learning a bit more. There is no quick fix. Self-care is vital. Just because you’re a social butterfly it doesn’t mean that you can’t suffer from it – anxiety doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t only tackle so-called introverts, it doesn’t care about your religion, race, sexual orientation. It doesn’t mean that you are weak (if you broke your leg, you wouldn’t be able to just snap out of it, right?), and most importantly, you are never alone. There are people around you who suffer from it too. More than you know. It’s important to speak out. It’s important to seek help. There is strength in being vulnerable. Anyone can fake being OK. And more often than not, it’s OK not to be OK.