When you think of someone with a mental illness, what image comes to mind? Is it an old person sitting on a porch in their rocking chair, unable to remember their own name? Is it a girl lying in bed while the depression sucks out her energy and makes everyday tasks seem like insurmountable feats? Is it an unpredictable person prone to outbursts who you fear will become violent?
What about the girl sitting next to you in class. She is smart and works really hard. She strikes you as an over-achiever, but will probably end up with a great career one day. She is organized, dependable, and loves to ask questions in search of knowledge. She is friendly, enjoys talking to people and learning more about them, and being a part of the team.
You probably would never know that she worries. She worries a lot. She tries to protect herself from her anxiety by planning days and weeks around an event that makes her anxious. She works out a lot because she hopes it will reduce her anxiety. She has to watch what she eats some days out of fear that her stomach will be upset, which would only exacerbate her anxiety. She lives in fear of the next time she will have a panic attack, and no matter what she does to try and protect herself, she can never seem to control her mind in those bouts of anxiety and just be present.
When I used to think about what mental illness looked like, I never expected to be picturing myself.
I always knew that at some point I would return to this blog. It’s been several months and I haven’t been writing. Three years ago this blog helped me to overcome my issues with anxiety by talking them through and reaching out for support. Well, I’m sad to say this, but my anxiety has returned.
A month ago I had a panic attack. It took me by surprise, but I knew exactly what it was when it started. Back when the anxiety began last time, I was afraid of going in to work because I would have to go out on military parades and they seemed to be a trigger. Well this past summer I went on a leadership course I had been waiting for for a few years. I had a great time, and I made a lot of friends. And yet, even though I felt so strong and proud of myself, at our graduation parade I panicked. There were so many officers… so many medals… so many achievements staring me down as if they knew I didn’t belong. The panic hit me quickly and I had hot flashes and went ghostly pale. A friend of mine was sitting in the audience and he noticed right away as it started. I wasn’t myself. Something was very, very wrong.
It was only about a minute into the parade when I started to black out. I knew I would pass out if I didn’t kneel down, so that’s what I did. I took a knee and my instructors came and led me off, supporting me in case I fainted on the way. After I had regained some colour in my face and the nausea subsided, I expressed how embarrassed I was. They didn’t blame me, they just said that I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last. But they were sorry that I missed my own graduation.
I felt like a failure. I should have known I would be anxious on parade. I should have planned ahead, meditated and done yoga, slept better, eaten a better breakfast. That maybe if I had worried more I could have protected myself. I held on to those anxious thoughts for over a month, dwelling on my issues and hating that I can’t control my own mine. I blamed myself, but I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. Of course the anxiety I felt at my grad parade grabbed on to that fear, and I told myself that this would happen next time I’m on parade. And, lo and behold, on Saturday I was back at my unit and, once again, I realized this is the situation that makes me panic, and I had another anxiety attack.
I can’t ignore my anxiety anymore. I can’t pretend I’m okay. Deep down I’m terrified that if everyone knew how anxious I am and how much I worry, that they would judge me or not want to be around me. Even worse, admitting that parades make me anxious is admitting that I can’t do my job.
I’m not going to let the story end here. I’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve recovered from my anxiety in the past. Yes, I need to take care of myself and I know that meditating regularly helps immensely. Still, I’m not going to let myself be afraid of going back to work just because I might embarrass myself again. Today I went down to the lake and sat on a rock to think. I realized that I spend so much of my time being strong that it only makes sense that my moments of weakness would be powerful too. That’s okay. In the long run I will recover and I will be able to go out on parade without having a panic attack. Yes, I might pass out again, and yes, people may think there’s something wrong with me. I need to accept that pushing away my fears of judgment and trying to appear perfect on the outside is detrimental for my health and happiness. On Wednesday I am going to go out on parade, and I trust that I’ll be okay. Even if I panic, I’ll be okay. I know deep down that people aren’t judging me when I panic. They are concerned for my well-being, just like I am for others when they aren’t feeling well.
The last thing I want to say is that I can’t go on believing that my worrying is beneficial. The attitude that worrying forces me to do the things that help my anxiety is completely backwards. There is a difference between planning ahead and worrying constantly, it’s just really hard for me to tell the difference. I’ve recovered before, and I’ll recover again. And even though I’m terrified of what this anxious resurgence means, I’m just going to have to ride it out.
Like all things, this too shall pass.
I have an intense fear of free time.
Before you decide I’m completely crazy, hear me out. I’m very used to being on the go. Some people are just happier when they’re busy. I’m one of those types of people. I need things to do, tasks to take on, a list for the day so that I have a plan. I’m not sure why, exactly, but the thought of not being busy quite frankly scares the crap out of me. After working full time since June, the last 4 or 5 days before the Christmas break were riddled with anxiety and all of the effects anxiety has on my body. Yes, holidays are stressful, but this is a lot more than that. I was genuinely afraid of the several days where James would be working and I would be left here in this apartment alone.
I’ve come a long way with my anxiety. I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in about a year and a half. Things that used to cause panic for weeks before the event occurred now hardly cross my mind. The anxiety is still there, but we seem to have reached an agreement that the anxiety won’t take over as long as I acknowledge it instead of pushing it away and pretending it isn’t there. And yet I’m still afraid to spend too much time alone in my head because my anxiety problems started when I moved into an apartment alone and felt extremely isolated and afraid all the time. Yes, things are different now. And yes, I know that my anxiety isn’t something to be afraid of. But anxiety isn’t always realistic, and you don’t get to decide what you’re going to be anxious about. I guess all I can do now is try to stay in the moment and not worry about the future, which is a struggle for anxious people. And when the mind isn’t busy, it’s easier to be mentally somewhere else…
I’m facing a dilemma.
On the one hand, I’m thinking of doing a master’s degree. The program I want I could do in one year. But I would have to do it in another city a few hours away.
Or, I could do a different program here that would only take 8 months. And it could probably get me a good job too, just not as specialized as I want to be.
But I’ve only been living in this city for just over two years now. I’m just starting to plant roots, to build a life here with my boyfriend who I’m now living with.
So the question becomes… when do you put the thing you want for the long term ahead of your short term needs and the needs of those you care about? With all of the anxiety issues I had after moving the first time, part of me is afraid to move again. And sure, it’s only about 4-5 hours drive away, and we could easily see each other on weekends if we wanted to. But I know us, and I know we’re both busy and lazy, and I know we won’t see each other as much as we say we will. And I really don’t want to feel like I’m being selfish by focusing so much on myself, even though I know he would support me either way.
I’m just worried that if I don’t do it I’ll always regret not putting my career first…
As some of you may have already noticed, I took a bit of a break from my blog since June and am only now getting back into it. I left for a few reasons. First, I got a full time job and simply didn’t have enough time or interesting things to talk about to keep it going. Second, my anxiety improved significantly, and I didn’t feel like I needed my blog the way I did when I first started writing. I’ve always used my blog as a way to say all the things I don’t know how to say. It provides me with kind thoughts and support when I feel lost and alone. And for that, I’m very grateful to my readers.
The third and probably most important reason I left blogging was that too many people in my life knew about it, and I felt like I had lost control of it. I started censoring what I could talk about because I knew that my boyfriend, my good friend who now lives in my city, and my sister were all reading it. Maybe only occasionally, but I had no way of knowing what they’ve seen, what they knew, and what they thought about it. And I don’t want to have conversations with them about the things I post on my blog. Writing is very personal for me, and things I share on here are often things I would never share in real life. It’s like my last post where I admitted that I look at other men and have thought about cheating. As you can probably understand, I couldn’t write that if I thought my boyfriend was going to read it. He may be in the same position as I am, or he may not, but either way it’s not a conversation I want to have.
The few months away from blogging were my way of hoping all the people in my life forgot about my blog, or thought that I forgot about it. From here, I’m hoping to get back into blogging because I really miss it. And I like spilling my deepest, darkest secrets with strangers who will never meet me. This blog is a source of freedom for me, and it’s going to continue to be that way.
It’s good to be home.
Sometimes I think about other men. Men I work with, go to school with, see out on the street. I wonder what it would be like to flirt with them. To get a little bit too close. Maybe even a kiss. I wonder what it would be like to recklessly and unashamedly throw myself at them. And I’ve even thought about how the men I see would be as a one night stand if I could take myself out of reality for one night and just be the kind of girl who can have a fling and leave it at that. It’s been years since I’ve been with anyone besides James, and part of me feels like I might be missing out on something. That maybe I didn’t take advantage of the single life while I had it because at the time I was craving a relationship. That for some reason I’ll never be happy with how things are because I always want more.
The problem is I know that I’m completely happy with James. We are happy together, and there’s nothing missing in our relationship. I just know that now that we’re living together, this is how things are going to be for a long time, potentially forever. And I’m okay with that. Honest, I am. And I would never ever cheat on him.
But still… a part of me wonders…
I guess I always assumed that even when I’m gone away there will be a home to return to one day. You know, the home I grew up in. A meeting place for my family. That even when we have all gone our separate ways, we will be able to come together for the holidays. You know, to remember that we’re all out there on our own trying to make it as adults. A support network that doesn’t give up on you just because you need space from it.
I haven’t seen my family since last Christmas. This is now the longest I’ve been away from home without seeing my parents. And sure, I’m okay living on my own, going to school far away, working, keeping busy. But always in the back of my mind was the comfort of knowing that at Christmas I’ll be able to go home for a break.
Well, looks like that isn’t happening this year. My parents only plan on being back in the city for a couple of weeks. Two of my siblings have moved to a different country and can’t afford to go back for a visit, my brother will be on call from work if he’s around at all. And here I am, the youngest child, broken because I won’t get to see my parents for at least another few months, if then.
The home I knew isn’t much to me anymore, but at least I could still pretend it existed even though I’m never there.
I don’t even know what home is anymore…