Saturday, 11 February 2017

Everything Is Always Bad, Apart From When It Isn't

I get it, I really do, mental illnesses make absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn't lived that experience themselves. We can say we understand the struggles of others, but the harsh reality is that it's just too confusing to understand. There is no conclusive test, nothing's coming out, nothing's going in and there isn't really any medication which will fix it. I'm always team meds for mental illness but at best they dull the feelings - they don't cure anything.

If you can't see the illness, and you can't prove that it actually exists, then how are you supposed to care for someone who has one? How are you supposed to sympathize when you have absolutely no idea what's going on inside the head of someone else?

For the most part, the few people closest to me can understand what I feel and what I need. The extra talented ones can usually predict in advance what's about to make me anxious. But in the end, even they don't know the half of what I go through, of what I feel on a day to day basis.

On my 18th birthday I had a panic attack in a restaurant,
 it's still one of the best birthdays I could have had.
On the whole, things are bad. That sounds sadder than it is, but in general, bad is the default. It's sort of hard to express how things can be so bad, and yet still have some really good days. My constant underlying state is anxious and that is bad. I am always anxious and it doesn't matter what I'm doing. It's a weird world when I'm jealous of someone else's anxiety, because I'd give anything to only be anxious in certain situations - as opposed to literally every waking moment (and most of my sleeping ones too). Despite all that, it's not to say it's always bad. Maybe I've just gotten good at it now, but it's perfectly possibly for me to be terrified and happy all at the same time.

Maybe that's why it's so difficult to get our heads around it, because it doesn't look the way you'd expect. If I'm anxious, I shouldn't look okay and if I'm okay, I shouldn't be anxious.

As a community, we're doing better at being honest about what we experience with our mental illnesses, but it's usually only the big bits. What we don't talk about is the less notable parts of the day which genuinely explain what it's like to live with a disorder like this. I can be just as anxious sitting quietly at home as I am outside the house, but it doesn't get quite as much attention as the rest does because it doesn't effect my life in quite the same way

From the start of my day, I am anxious. Quite literally from the moment I wake up I have anxiety. I open my eyes and my heart is pounding and I can't breathe right, that's just what it's like. Sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse, but it's always there. Those feeling were key to my diagnosis in fact so I suppose I'm kind of grateful - but damn they're a bummer.

Imagine for a moment that every day you experience the kind of anxiety we all naturally feel before an important event - an interview. a first date, a first day. Imagine you feel that every time you go to leave the house. That's what it's like to have an anxiety disorder that persists like Agoraphobia. It is that very same feeling, but 10 times stronger. The physical symptoms are so intense. We all know that feeling of sickness when you're particularly nervous - I don't remember a day when I haven't felt just a little sick.

Anxiety disorders are so physical and I don't think that's spoken about enough. Anxiety wreaks havoc on your body. At it's least disturbing, I get hiccups at least once a week and they last all day. Hiccups are caused by a change in your breathing, and let me tell you, people trapped underwater have an easier time breathing than I do some days. At it's worst I can't stand up because I'm too dizzy. I can't see straight because my vision is blurred. I've got an alien scar on my stomach from holding a hot water bottle too often, but it's the only thing that helps me feel less sick. I won't even start on panic attacks, but a feeling similar to dying is the only way to describe it.

The issue with panic disorder and agoraphobia is that it makes you terrified to leave your "safe place" or "safe person" in case one of those disturbing symptoms occur, let alone cause a full panic attack. Unfortunately, it's all just one big cycle, though. I'll be afraid to leave in case I feel the symptoms, but the fear of leaving will cause them anyway. My fear feels valid because I already have the symptoms, so I won't leave the house. Not leaving the house makes it harder to leave next time, because I'm sure I'll have the symptoms.

All of this is stressful enough, but feeling it when I'm only supposed to be heading to Tesco with my Mum is even more stressful. I am not proud of the way my brain works. It is never not upsetting when I find myself gripped with panic when I'm only planning a simple task. Every day is filled with menial tasks which need to be done, and for the average human, this is easy, if not boring. For me, these tiny tasks can cause huge reactions. It's a really good day if I can make it through the whole 24 hours without assuming today is the day I'm going to die.

When leaving the house isn't enough to break me, on some days I even manage to fly completely off the handle while I'm supposed to be at peace at home. I even have a pattern. Around 11am, panic. Around 4pm, panic. Around 6pm, panic. One of my very worst panic attacks occurred in my own kitchen surrounded by my family - triggered by an apple cake which went horribly wrong. It's been almost 2 years, I'm still convinced baking with apples will cause me a panic attack, so I don't do it. I'll do anything to avoid cutting apples now, Other fruit, fine. Apples, never.

At 19, I've only just overcome my
fear of wearing jeans.
That's the humorous part I suppose, the irrational fears I've developed along the way. I try to look at them as funny, because if I think about them in a negative light I'll lose my marbles. I could list for hours things I consider to be a danger because of an experience I've had previously. It's just that easy to ruin something permanently. There are things I hold sacred and I'm very careful about how I approach them, because the last thing I need is for my anxiety to swallow them whole.

My life is series of decisions made based on fear, and that's definitely not how anyone is supposed to live. I live in a rigid routine which I have convinced myself I need in order to be okay. Writing that, I can hear that it doesn't make sense. I'm already ill, my routine isn't saving me. Somehow I believe that if I lost the lifestyle which is barely keeping me together, then I would be even less okay - and I'm at my wit's end as it is.

Life is bad. It just is. That doesn't mean I'm not happy, or that it can't be good. The dark gray cloud I carry around with me is heavy and it comes everywhere I go, but sometimes it doesn't seem so strong. In some lucky moments, I even forget that it's there. I've accepted the fact that it'll probably be with me for my entire life now, that's just how mental illnesses work, but that doesn't mean I don't have days where I can understand how I will learn to live with it beside me, to work with it like a teammate. Everything is always bad, except sometimes when it's not. I hope one day in my future that everything will always be good, except for sometimes when it's not. That's what life is when it comes down to it, it's a balance.

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