I'm not lazy or crazy...
There are days when I feel like I could do anything. I multi-task, I tick off point after point on my to-do lists, I have happy clients, happy friends, happy colleagues. On these days, I wonder what the big deal was, I forget so quickly just how hard it is to do anything when in the middle of an anxious period or depressive episode. I forget that it is also hard for me to write about it on here when I'm feeling calm and happy, how can I possibly help someone who isn't? Yet, on the other hand when I'm struggling, it's hard for me to do anything, including writing for Sergeant Calm. It will hit me like a lightning bolt out of nowhere. My heart will be pounding, and with seemingly irregular rhythms, my palms are constantly sweating, I get to the point where I have to remind myself to breathe. Bigger tasks become almost impossible and this filters down until eventually, the small tasks are like climbing Mt. Everest in themselves.
Knowing this, I think I can almost understand why there is such a stigma attached to experiencing anxiety and depression. A seemingly 'normal' working woman should be able to get out of bed and brush her teeth with little to no effort right? I mean what's she got to worry about? She has a job, she has food in her fridge, she has a car and friends and clothes and money, it's all just 'first world problems' bundled in with laziness. Except this is where we become unstuck. This is where all of the lies and the hiding start and god forbid, if you don't know the signs or symptoms to look for, the confusion and fear can be downright overwhelming. It can be the reason why, some people live with it for so long without asking for help. To an outsider, the below list might induce eye rolling, but to someone who has stumbled upon it wondering what on earth is going on with them it could help. It could steer you in the direction of your GP, so you can get it under control and recognise it quickly the next time it happens. To the outside, yes, it may look like you are making something out of nothing, that you are lazy or a 'drama queen'. But, I understand, more than most that this isn't the case. Sometimes you are running on nothing but pure terror coupled with exhaustion. When I'm bad, this is as bad as it can get and trust me, I'm not proud of some of these things:
I can't (or really struggle to) leave my house - therefore, I can see no one for days on end if I'm not working. This isn't good, this is something I have to learn not to do as I have found seeing people, lightening the load, shifting your mind and body to a different place is invaluable in giving you a different perspective, a respite from your own thoughts.
I eat rubbish food. This isn't because I'm someone who binge eats when I'm feeling miserable (although I know this is something a lot of others do and a problem in itself) my issue is the effort to cook something nutritious, I can't bear the thought of having to stand in the kitchen and chop vegetables. It becomes overwhelming and I end up with a carb overload of an easy pizza, or quiche that I can chuck in the oven and lie on the couch until it's done. This also compounds with feelings of guilt if I'm cooking for others. I suffer, they suffer.
Sometimes, I don't eat at all. For days.
I struggle to answer the phone. This one is a difficult one for others to understand. In fact sometimes I don't understand it. I have no idea when or how this started but, I find it extremely difficult to speak to someone on the phone if I am in the middle of experiencing anxiety. I have been on a call to someone before where my heart was pounding so fast that my breathing caused the caller to ask if I was ok. To them, I sounded like I had just run a marathon and called them at the finish line. This experience and their confusion as to why I sounded so off so quickly, resulted in days of anxiety, days and days or replaying the whole messy call in my own head. I have to change my ringtone every so often because if it remains the same, the sound of it immediately sets me off. No joke. Even writing this, I'm shaking my head at myself but, it's true. I have an innate fear that whoever is calling me, is doing so to tell me off. To scream at me for having done something wrong. Something in my past has done this to me, I just can't pinpoint what.
Washing my clothes or washing myself fills me with dread and exhaustion. Even thinking about having to hang a load out or taking a shower causes me to have an internal meltdown. I have to take it step by step, sometimes even sitting while I shower.
I can't seem to get enough sleep. 12 hours of straight, uninterrupted deep, deep snoozing, a nap at 11am just after I get up and after coffee yet, I'm still tired. This is probably the one thing I can't cope with the most. It makes everything else 10 x more difficult. It makes me question if I have lyme disease, chronic fatigue or worse (that's the OCD health anxiety kicking in, fun). It starts off spiralling thoughts and I sometimes I have backtracked and written a diary to figure out when I last felt like I had any energy. It helps, to know I will eventually get there again.
It's funny to think that this is only a small part of what happens when your mind takes over. It's the tip of the iceberg about conditions that when left unchecked, can become so much worse. I can easily see how it can build and become tragic for some.
Now, I'm much more aware of it. Now, when it starts and hits me, I'm not so scared. Now I know I will survive.
I adore this quote. Before I got a hold of my anxiety I knew myself but not the enemy. I wasn't completely defeated in every battle but I was losing most of the time and I was losing badly. Now, I know it. Now I know anxiety is on my doorstep. Now, I have the tools to fight it or just the self-awareness to sit with it. To let it engulf, to tell everyone around me to have patience and best of all to tell myself it will eventually pass.
My combat techniques when I have to go to war, get a little smaller every time - but it's a good reminder that by following my own advice, I'll drag myself out of the bloody fields and back into the light. Here's the list that I hand to myself when the above hits me like a freight train:
- See doctor, check nothing else serious is going on.
- Make plans to see people you know and trust and who make you laugh. Just do it.
- No appetite? Juice, protein shakes, anything easy to swallow and stop from starving.
- Change ringtone on phone. Use alternative thinking techniques to stop from believing who is phoning wants to scream at you.
- Take things a step at a time. Wash only what you need. Couple of shirts, one pair of jeans, try not to get overwhelmed. Use the Laundromat! (these people have saved me from having meltdowns countless times, I have no shame in getting extra help).
- it in the shower. Seriously. I do.
- For the exhaustion - no alcohol, not a drop. It will only make me worse so I don't touch it. Supplements help - magnesium at night, multivitamin or B vitamin complex in the morning. Buy some, stat. Accept the exhaustion as a symptom. It will get better over time.
- rite, as hard as it might be, write. Write about how it feels. Never let an opportunity to help someone pass by.
As I always say, these things helped me. They may not be the right things for you. Maybe some of them are, maybe some would only work in a combination of ways. Maybe you need medication on top. Whatever it might be. Whatever keeps you standing, whatever gets you back on track. Do it. Do it over and over, breathe and start again.
You are not lazy, or crazy, or at the end of the road. You just might need to do things a little bit differently to stay here, to stay standing, to know that things can and will get better.