I’m a romantic at heart, which I think is one of my biggest obstacles in life. I romanticise and dramatise pretty much everything, including my mental illnesses. Its an involuntary habit, a coping mechanism which I’ve utilised since I was a child in an attempt to make life seem a little more exciting, and a little less bleak. It’s something which I do for the benefit of others too, to make difficult topics less uncomfortable and easier to swallow. I write mournful poetry with pretty words and clever metaphors, telling of tragic losses and uplifting happy endings (because god forbid people are forced to spend too long in the shadows). Yet the truth is, when you live with mental illness, you do spend half of your life in the depths of the dark.
Ergh, there I go again, making things sound theatrical. Well, enough is enough. If you want to know the truth about something – the real, honest and factual truth – you just can’t sugar coat it; so I’m not going to, at least not in this column. No, if you really want to know what it feels like to experience anxiety and depression every day of your life, then read on, because I’m going to tell you exactly how it is for me in a series of confessions about my mental health.
Note: In an effort to be candid, as I type this I can feel my anxiety being triggered already by the prospect of everyone knowing what it’s like to think like I do … Breathe Jade, just breathe…
Confession 1: I overthink everything.
Part of anxiety means that no normal everyday situation is ever straight forward for me. When someone mentions going outside, all my brain hears is ‘danger’ and it starts to analyse more details and possible scenarios in 30 seconds than most people would ever consider in a lifetime. Think I’m being dramatic? Well then, let me give you an example.
My Mum and I were discussing how to get more active the other day. I said I would quite like to go to the gym or go swimming, and she explained that she preferred walking to the gym, because it was nice to be out in the fresh air and it costs a damn sight less than gym.
A valid point right? WRONG. Immediately a panic built up inside of me at the very prospect of having to go walking. Outside. Where the people are. As I will explain in more detail in a future confession, sometimes my depression means I have a sort of mental block where I can’t verbalise what I’m thinking. However, since I’ve recently been in therapy, and after a year of working on myself, I’ve managed to get to a headspace where I can sometimes manage to explain my thought process. Luckily, this was one of those rare times when I was level headed enough to able to analyse each of the thoughts that popped up in my head. I was even able to go on to explain my ever-so-slightly complicated internal monologue aloud, leading to a verbal rant which went something along the following lines:
“Oh no, I would definitely prefer going to the gym, because even though people in gyms can be really judgemental, it is at least a finite area with a maximum quota of people so I will know exactly who is around me. Plus it’ll be in an air conditioned room so that will stop me sweating, but if we go walking then I might get sweaty – and well, people see a fat person sweating and they automatically make judgements about me, because they won’t know that I’ve been walking for 30 minutes, they’ll just assume I’ve popped to the shops to buy junk food and got hot and bothered on the way. Besides going to the gym means I can have a schedule of how much time I will be in there, and I will know exactly how long I’m going to take on each peace of equipment which helps me clear my head; where as when I’m out walking I won’t know exactly how long I’m going to be or how long I’m going to be walking for and there might be situations that come up which I won’t be able to anticipate, like bumping into people that I know, or seeing a bunch of school kids who will make comments about me, and the idea of that just fills me with dread.”
AND BREATHE. Like I said: complicated.
This is one of those situations where if you know you know, and if you don’t you will never understand (actually, that goes for all symptoms of mental illness). But let me assure you that, while we can all agree that that type of thought process is incredibly OTT, majorly unnecessary and ever so slightly barking, the feelings and anxieties behind them are all too real, and I won’t apologise for that way of thinking; It’s something that I’m actively combating, but might never completely shake, so I refuse to be embarrassed about it.
The problem with people
It’s not just situations that I over analyse either: it’s people too. Their words. Their tone of voice. Their intentions. Everything is under suspicion. Partly, I think this comes from a lack of trust in people. I’ve lost loved ones, and been left by others, and I think when you grow up believing that people will never stick around, it gives you are very cynical view of society in general. But beyond that, I think that anxiety just flips off the ‘be reasonable’ switch in your brain, and you just forget how to trust your own instincts and judgments of people, so you end up just being unable to trust anyone at all.
This is the root of the social aspect of my anxiety, and it makes things like meeting new people, or even just being around others, particularly difficult. If I’m walking down the street, and I hear laughter, my brain turns the innocent sound of happiness into a maleficent, condescending sneer. Casual glances in my direction appear to be outright stares, and so called jokes at my expense just sound like direct insults, and don’t even get me started on cat calls and lewd comments from guys. Plus, if just being out and about evokes this sort of response, you can imagine what large crowds do to my brain; going to gigs and concerts just makes me feel claustrophobic, as if being surrounded by that many people draws the very air from my lungs.
So, as you can probably tell, leaving the house is not a particularly pleasant experience people who suffer from anxiety. We don’t have any control over these thoughts, and yet somehow, we continue to do our best to fight back against out own minds, and push past the negative thoughts. We go out and live our lives to the best of our ability, leaving the house when we can, which might not be always, but I promise you we try. People often say to me that that I ‘don’t seem like the type’ to have anxiety, but please listen to me when I tell you that there is no ‘type’ when it comes to mental illness. There is no certain way people with anxiety should appear on the outside, and even the most seemingly outgoing people could be suffering on the inside. So the next time someone cancels on your plans last minute, try not to get mad or be disappointed. It might just be that the voices in their head were shouting louder than the reasonable part of their brain crying out that it desperately wanted to see you.
Feature illustration owned and created by Gemma Correll.