The anxiety circus
I wrote on another blog that I keep elsewhere on the web last night. I was writing about the fact that ever since Christmas day I've been swamped in anxiety. I have been trying and trying to unravel why this has suddenly come up behind me and engulfed every single fibre of my being. It has also taught me that although I went for a good year without any recurring anxiety, it lurks. Around every corner, it lurks. And, it pounces when you're weak.
I don't think there has been any one thing that's brought back this living hell, I think it's been a few things and some of them pretty surprising. Firstly, believe it or not was being off work. I was so busy leading up to the holidays that I desperately craved the down time - couldn't wait to have some long lie ins and not have to answer 6 thousand billion emails, phone calls and texts for a few weeks. Christmas day my chest started to constrict and my thoughts turned dark. I of course hid it from everyone and sat at the dinner table for our lovely meal (which was delicious) but I felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. Pressing down and preventing me from taking luscious breaths and in turn making me hyperventilate, which caused dizziness and thoughts that I was going to faint, wherever I was, even while sitting down. The days after Christmas I got worse and worse and worse. Hiding it from anyone who was close to me and avoiding going outside or seeing anyone. I knew I was going away for New Years to one of my favourite beaches but, inside I didn't want to go. I wanted to throw my phone into a river, get into bed, pull the covers over my head and never leave or speak to anyone again. I was firmly back in the circus. The anxiety circus is the scariest place you'll ever, ever know. It's a huge tent filled with all of your fears, dancing around and around in circles, taunting you and laughing at you. Clowns point out your loneliness; the ringmaster tells you that you are an absolute failure in life; the acrobats make your stomach flip and your brain shut down; the elephant sits on your chest and prevents you from breathing and the blood thirsty lion chases you with your fear of illness, the future and death. You run around and around this tent, you can see the exits on every single side but you have no idea how to get out. It is torturous. And, the best bit? Because you're struggling so hard to hide it and remain 'normal', depression kicks in. Why wouldn't it? You're stuck listening to monkey music on a loop tape in your head and your body feels like it's going to shut down completely even if someone sends you merely a text message. I got a text at precisely one of those moments where I had the duvet cover thrown over my head. I stared at it and stared at it. It needed a reply but I couldn't figure out what to say, and I found myself wishing it away, wishing it had never been sent to me in the first place. Stupid I know, but anxiety is debilitating, humiliating and exhausting. Simple things like answering a text message feel almost impossible except, you know it is possible, it will just require a mighty effort to do it.
Also weirdly, and this might seem trite and stupid but, I found the death of George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mum Debbie Reynolds really, really hard to take. I lost someone I loved in 2016 and then had to watch celebrity after celebrity die. Yeah, I know I didn't know them, but what got me the most was these were 3 people dealing with demons and mental illness. It sounds weird but I felt like I had lost some of the tribe. That it wasn't worth plodding on, because death will get you eventually and in the case of Debbie, it IS possible to die of a broken heart. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all and I only mentioned it to a select few people because well, I was scared people would think I was crazy for caring so much. Again, exhausting.
I continued to be stuck in the circus tent over New Year, only getting a slight reprieve when I went for a long walk and then a quick swim in the ocean on the two days that followed New Years eve. I doubt anyone close to me had any idea that inside I felt like I was dying, shrivelling up, shrinking and generally feeling like I couldn't handle life, that's the insidious side to it. It's going on, and you're torturing yourself, but you don't tell anyone - 1) because they might not understand. 2) they might get you to try and talk it out. Yeah I know this is supposed to help, but for me anxiety holds me hostage. Talking about all the things I fear and hate about myself? I suddenly have to TELL someone about that? No thanks. 3) because it's the holidays, I SHOULDN'T feel like this and if anyone knows, they'll think I'm more nuts than I already am. Being back home didn't help, in fact at this point the holidays were drawing to a close and knowing I would suddenly back to the real world it was worsening. All the to-do lists that sat on my desk in the office were starting to haunt me and the tent doors opened and let the little 'work chimps' in, dancing around, prodding at me, making me panic that I'm not good enough for my job and that going back to work will be hell. One day, I sat outside in the sun and just felt it. I just let all the performers do their best to make me feel small, and they did. I wanted to claw off my skin, peel it off and run as fast and as hard as I could to nowhere in particular. Just somewhere safe. Because the anxiety circus does just that, when you are in it, you don't feel safe, you are in danger - of nothing in particular but yes, you should run for your life. What a mess.
I found two things that have helped in the last few days. The Sunday before returning to work, I walked into the living room, my heart going a million miles an hour and I saw my guitar, dusty and sad sitting in the corner. The strings on it were about 15 years old and there was no way I'd get any joy out of playing it the way it was. I forced myself into the car and drove hoping that the music shop I was going to would be open. It was. I bought a whole new set of fancy strings, I polished and dusty her off and re-strung her ready for action. I'm not a guitar player - at that point on Sunday I could only play about 2 chords and not very well. But, the whole cleaning of the guitar, stringing and tuning process snapped something in me. I had found something I've spoken about before - 'flow'. I was mesmerised and distracted by just cleaning my guitar, what would happen if I made the effort to play it? So, I did. I downloaded an app and started to strum along. I have learned about 7 new chords since, and learned at least one song I could probably sing along to should I want to. It has blown me away and given me another purpose, another thing to bring me joy and above all, something to look forward to as I sweat and panic at my desk in the office (because yes, I have been since coming back yesterday). I have made a pact with myself that I will play 10 minutes a day for 90 days and see where it takes me, this has made me excited and has taken the edge off my anxiety. It has killed at least one of the performers in the circus and I can see a couple of exits a little more clearly now.
The other is one thing I have used before and I know it is effective. I downloaded a new meditation app and found some podcasts on the subject of anxiety and these have helped in the last few nights in helping me sleep. Sleep is something that completely alludes me when my anxiety is high but, I'm happy to report that despite the hell, I'm sleeping ok.
I'm not out of this tent yet. I'm closer to the exit but the clowns, lions and ringmaster are all still blocking my way out. The second day at work is dragging and I've been furiously googling articles on what to do to beat the 'back-to-work-blues'. They don't help, because quite frankly I have more than the 'blues' while I irrationally (or rationally?) panic about the fact I'm no good at what I do and I'm going to lose my job. All day long, right up until 5.30 when I leave and start to feel better, only to repeat the process from 7am the next day.
I have high hopes I'll manage to get out by using the tools I had before and the new tools I've just discovered. I'm well equipped to really ask for help if I need it and I won't let this go on too long without doing so. I can't. I can't live like this, so I will have no choice but to force my terrified ass to the doctor/therapist/gym/yoga class/massage/meditation class/swimming pool/friends house as soon as possible. But, understand this - remember when I said it holds me hostage? That's where I'm at. I want to do these things but I'm scared to do them. I know they'll make me better but I feel unwell. I want all of the things that I get when I feel strong but, right now I feel really weak. I want to get my body moving but I'm tired, so so so tired, all the time, all day long. I need company, but I want to be alone.
I can see the exit but I'm stuck in the big top.
If anything, this experience means I can be truly authentic with my posts here on Sergeant Calm. For a while I found it difficult to write and help you all decipher anxiety and depression because I had been doing well. It's why I set it up - to catch me when I fall. To keep me from isolating. To make sure I was never on my own.
At ease, at ease, at ease.