I can't hear you.
As a follow up to my 'Anxiety Circus' post there have been a few things I have noted about my experience with anxiety and the relationship I have with it. And, that's just what it is, I have a 'relationship' with it and it's on-going, I know that now. It's like another person comes in and takes over, pushing the 'strong' me away and leaving me with someone who feels as vulnerable as a child.
Let's look at this a bit differently:
When someone has a migraine and maybe is resting their head on their hands and popping painkillers like there's no tomorrow, we don't question it right? We know they are in pain and if they can't talk and engage with us and they have to sit in a dark room until it passes, we leave them to it right?
When anxiety hits, it's not the same as a migraine but the consequences are similar. I cannot be around other people. I cannot tolerate speaking to anyone. It's not because I don't like people, I love people, but there are other things going on. Ideally, I would like to do the same thing as the person with the migraine. I would like to find a quiet room, close the door and not feel any pressure to come out until that particular attack has passed. But I suffer in silence because - well, what do I say? Excuse me, I have anxiety I can't talk to you right now. I'm willing to bet that it would just piss people off. I have very, very occasionally lied about what's going on and left work to go home and be alone but, I have never once blamed my illness on having anxiety, it's always been 'headaches' or 'nausea'. So what really is going on?
My blood feels like it has run cold, my limbs ache and I suddenly am extremely fatigued. But, the main reason I can't be around people is because my interaction with them is compromised. They are trying to talk to me about everyday things and all I can see is their lips moving. My thoughts have overtaken the ability for me to hear them and therefore, I cannot cannot respond the way they expect/want/need me to. Any conversation that requires me to concentrate, digest and reply with something meaningful is quite frankly impossible (imagine what a phone call is like in that situation...scary as hell). However, because I can't tell that person what's going on there are a few things that I do to cover up. I nod a lot, I do lots of 'mmmhmmm'ing', I pick at my scalp (something I've only just picked up on but I've done it for years), I excuse myself to go to the toilet to escape, I tap on the palm of my hand, my leg shakes and I move around either on my feet or my chair, I pretend to make notes (at work) or if possible, I'll leave altogether. The snowball effect of this is that I feel completely self-conscious. I actually feel like some people can see right through me and they know something is wrong. Honestly? It sometimes feels like the person I'm with has some sort of x-ray vision and that they can see straight into my soul. It also believe it or not, feels like they can hear your thoughts. For a long time I almost believed they could and my thoughts were so dark that it made me panic more, because there was NO WAY I wanted anyone to know what was going on in my head.
Even if I was to tell someone that I was in the middle of an anxiety attack it's not something I could talk about on the spot. I would still be doing the nodding, picking and the fidgeting. Any conversation even it was an honest, spill your heart out type situation, I would want to run away from it. Because, I can't hear you. I can't be with you. I can't listen to your wonderful words and quip back or brainstorm wonderful ideas with you. I can't answer questions such as 'what's for dinner?' because I'm not hungry and I can't make decisions, I can't tell you what time I'm getting up in the morning because I'm literally just trying to survive that moment. And, I certainly can't answer complicated business questions that I normally would smash through (this one kills me more than the others because it then causes me to panic that I'll lose my job). Essentially, my brain isn't functioning and I feel awful that I can't be there in that moment. I feel guilty that I can't engage with you and if you're trying to help me I feel so, so bad that I come across as distant and unengaged. Then, I feel guilty. I feel guilty for not being able to nurture my relationship with you, I feel guilty because my normal pace of replying/sending emails (which is usually massive) is reduced to one an hour if that. I feel guilty that people are expecting answers and tasks to be done and I can't think straight enough to do them. I feel guilty that I have something wrong with me and that YOU have to take time out of your precious day to try to help me.
And, if I'm with someone who is getting frustrated with my perceived lack of interest (which isn't often because I hide it well), it makes me hate myself. It is - THE WORST.
I love that I have so much support. I love that after I wrote what I wrote the other day, people were asking me 'why didn't you tell me???'. It makes me feels so great that I have the support out there. I hope this explains a little why I'll only ever mention it after the attack has happened. I'll tell you because I wear my heart on my sleeve and I have absolutely no shame in having anxiety. I'll be able to talk to you again because when the relief floods in I can see your face, I can hear you and I can reply with sensible answers and I can finally laugh at your jokes again.
I don't want or need pity either. That's not why I do this. Just like the person who has the migraine doesn't need pity. What I (we) need is empathy. This can be found in others who experience similar patterns of behaviour in their brain. So we don't feel like we are going 'crazy', which for a long time, I thought I was. It's complicated and exhausting but I truly believe that self-awareness is the first place we should start when we suddenly feel like this. That's why I keep going on about it. I'm willing to bet there are people out there that have anxiety attacks and have no idea what they are, and that must be hideous.
It's part of me, I have a relationship with it. I know what it is, I know it's face and I know it's name.
Knowledge is power.
Thanks for listening and for caring and for being wonderful. At ease x