Part of the many issues surrounding “invisible” medical conditions such as depression and anxiety is that they are, well, invisible. This means not only are most people unaware that someone they know might be suffering from this, but even after they are told, they somehow don’t quite believe it. I think it’s a bit like “the stupid things people say” when they find out someone has a nasty illness like cancer. And while I’ve talked at length here and elsewhere about my cancer story, I have not often mentioned the anxiety thing. But today it seems relevant because of a couple of recent experiences.
For years I didn’t even admit to myself that I might have an actual PROBLEM, but sometime in my 40s (??) it seemed pretty certain that I’d suffered from chronic anxiety probably all my life. Because I don’t remember a time I didn’t feel this way.
On a good day it “just” feels like something awful is going to happen, so I do my usual “scanning for danger” thing all the time, looking for that one fucker that’s attempting to blindside me, which is frankly exhausting. And although I can feel good, and even happy, that’s not what chronic anxiety is about. It’s the constant dread, like a cold heavy black ball of panic in my belly, which in my case I’m pretty sure are body memories.
On a bad day I wake up absolutely terrified, pushing down a well of deep-rooted fears before they can take me over completely. Oh, and then I get up and feed the cats, make some coffee and get on with my day. Because that’s the thing. You just get on with things. You have to. I know that some people cannot, and I’ve certainly had times when I wasn’t able to leave the house, or even get out of bed, so I appreciate that this is a multi-faceted problem that affects everyone differently. Meaning… NO JUDGEMENT.
And I think that’s why I don’t often talk about this. I mean, when I had cancer nobody ever judged me on it (well, some did, mentioning my “lifestyle choices” and a big fuck off to them) but there is something about having a … mental illness (there, I’ve said it!)… which is that people do judge you, or at “best” compare you to healthier people and wonder why you can’t just do what they do. And then if you don’t, or can’t, this points to something lacking in you, and you could do better if you just tried harder, blah blah, etc.
I can’t tell you the number of times, on the rare occasions I’ve opened up to someone about this, that I’ve been hit with the usual, sorry, STUPID QUESTIONS. Such as… What have you got to be nervous about? What’s the point of worrying about things that may not happen? How can you be nervous when you always look so calm and strong?
And well, totally fuck off with that last one, because I think it’s the attitude that has caused me the most pain in my life. That thing when people first meet me and think I’m AMAZING and tell me how incredible I am because of all I’ve accomplished, and all of that bullshit. And okay, I have accomplished a few things I am proud of, but mostly I see where I have failed, and how every day – every FUCKING DAY – I let myself down. And so along with the FEAR there is also deep self-loathing because, hey they’re always telling me… Shawn, you are amazing, so why are you still in such a shithole situation (broke, no pot to piss in) at age 63? Why didn’t you plan better? Why don’t you do … (fill in the blanks)? How come you didn’t think to… (whatever!)? Well, maybe because I was busy trying to get out of bed and make my day count for something. Did you ever think of that? Of course not.
And trust me, this does not improve if I divulge my big dirty secret. It mostly ends up with people walking away. But not before they kick me when I’m down because, hey guess what, they actually resented how “strong” I was and now they see I’m no better than they are. I’ve lost count of the number of times this has happened in my life.
Anyhow, aside from the times when there is no “logical reason” for feeling the way I do (ie. most days), there are other times, like hospital visits, when I get totally fucked up. I am always awash with body memories, meaning that this is how I remember most things. Not as a mental image but as a feeling inside, something so frightening or so utterly heartbreaking that it takes my breath away. And that’s what I’m fighting against probably the entire week I have a hospital appointment. And so I hunker down, don’t go out much, and get totally into self-protection mode.
And well, this is just one example of when I go on the defensive and maybe at times say or do things that don’t make a lot of sense to people. But instead of being given the benefit of the doubt I am judged and tried and sent off to “what a fucking weirdo” prison. Even worse, it gives the ones who previously felt resentful or threatened (this is all in their heads remember) a chance for them to feel like I’m not such a big deal after all. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people??
I go through life with this daily struggle, some days are better than others. Something I’ve been doing since I left an abusive home situation at age 15. Yes, I can be strong, mostly because I don’t have much of a choice, it’s that or crumple up and die, but then I fall apart in other ways, because nobody can be strong all the time. Yes, I made it to Spain, built a life, blah blah, but in my mind I have accomplished so little and people like to make fun of that… my still bad Spanish, my bad financial state, my bad life choices. But they don’t get that it’s not a question of having more self-discipline, more focus, more whatever. Because hey, I got out of fucking bed! And I fed my cats, made some coffee and did my damndest to have a decent day. One at a time.
Seriously, at least when I had cancer I could be a fucked up emotional mess and people blamed the cancer instead of me (well, not all, but most). Not that I want cancer again, duh, but you see where I’m going here. And weirdly, during the whole cancer thing, my anxiety lessened, there were no more panic attacks, I could walk the streets (when I could walk). I guess I just couldn’t imagine anything worse happening. Now I can though, so hello again panic attacks, my old nemesis.
And hey, I’m not looking for sympathy here. You don’t have to like me. But if you don’t like me, you know what? Just go away. Stop pretending that I’m some sort of “interesting person” in your life when you actually resent me. In other words, stop pretending that you like me. Because that shit hurts, okay? Because I may actually believe you actually like me and start to trust you and then… you’ll break my heart.
We are all going through shit. It is always excellent advice to remember this. And if you don’t know what to say or do to help in any given situation… you could always ask. Just say… hey, what can I do to help? what do you need? Not just assume the worst of people who are clearly going through a bad time. Over and out!
PS… this was written in the same spirit as the cancer chronicles, in case someone out there is reading and needs to know they aren’t the only one feeling like this. Big hugz.