The Hurricane

It’s all hitting at once.

Storm crashing, like tides against the beach

I’m okay, I will be okay, I have to be okay.

Everything I want, barely outside my reach

Everything I had, slipped through my fingers like sand.

Leaning on a rock, rushing toward a hard place.

Casting a net, the catch is a double deuce.

Buried to the neck amidst the sandcastles

I can, I will, I am! I was… I think.

Hurricane swept, swallowed me whole.

Staring blankly at the placid dangerous calm

Bracing for the second act.

Wind blowing, flattening shelters.

Whistling tunes of destruction and riot

Giving cause to rebuild, renew, re-live.

Rework. Rewind. Rethink.

It’s haunted in the sunshine.

Ready for exorcism.

-Kirsten Young

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The “Mental” Stigma

Last year I knew someone whom I have chosen not to know any longer. We’ll call him Travis. His friend came by quickly while we were chatting, reeling from a conversation where he claimed he had just been yelled at by a woman who had just told him she didn’t want to see him anymore.

“She’s got that depression thing, you know? She’s mental.” He said this with a wince on his face like he was talking about someone with leprosy, for example.

I looked at Travis and he looked at me. My look was saying “Don’t you dare laugh at me, I know what you’re thinking.” His look was saying to me “I really want to laugh at you right now but don’t want you to punch me in front of my mate.”

I listened to this friend of Travis, and inquired more about his predicament. She had four kids. She was dating him, but he wasn’t very supportive and now he doesn’t know what to do about her because he didn’t want to break up, but she’s got that depression thing. He was out of his element.

He carried on talking about that depression thing. “Those women are crazy, you know?”

At this point Travis did start snickering. Partly because he realised his friend was inevitably about to put his foot in his mouth, partly because he was taking the piss out of me (British term- told you I’d switch back and forth) hinting that I was also “mental.” Jerkface.

I gave him the “Seriously, don’t make me punch you.” look.

I then turned to Gary, Travis’s friend, and began to explain in the gentlest of terms that there are far more people who struggle with depression than he realises, and depression doesn’t mean the same as mental the way he’s saying it.

Upon further pressing, it was clear why she had broken up with him. He had absolutely no understanding of the condition and was talking about it in the most derogatory of ways. I could hardly believe my ears at what ignorance was coming out of this man’s face.

Being the person that I am, I don’t tend to sit back and say nothing when something’s going terribly wrong. In a room full of people where there’s been a request for a volunteer to do something, and no one wants to do it, I’m the one who will put my hand up and get it done. I hate wasting time, energy, and a good opportunity.

To Gary’s surprise, I told him that I, myself, have struggled with depression for quite a long time. I didn’t do anything to cause it, it just was. Would I like to get rid of it? Of course! Who would want to keep something like this? But a sure-fire way of alienating and angering the person who has it is to make them feel like they’re icky because they happen to suffer from it. In the end I told him that after their most recent conversation, it would be best to back off and let her welcome him back on her terms if that’s what she wants to do. At best he could say, “I just want you to know I’m here for you” and BE THERE if she needs him, without judging, or giggling, or cringing.

To be quite frank, it’s not cool to call people mental if they have depression and/or anxiety. It’s also not cool to laugh about them because of it. There is a huge stigma surrounding mental health issues that needs to end. For someone with depression who is already feeling horrible, to see other people joking and laughing about someone else who has this is extremely hurtful. It can cause them to withdraw further and become more afraid to live their lives.

For a person who has never thought about harming themselves, or known what depression or anxiety truly is, I understand that the vantage point they’d own is not one conducive to understanding what it’s like. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be able to understand. What’s not okay is condemning/ridiculing what you don’t understand. I’d like to think that we’re all generally headed towards getting this concept as a society, but clearly there are plenty of people who aren’t there yet.

As I’ve described in this open letter, our co-humans with adverse mental health conditions just want a little bit of understanding. Less singling-out. Less icky faces when talking about us. Less ignorance. Less stigma.

Please?

A Letter of Regret From Your Anxious and Depressed Friend

Dear Friend,

I was not always this way.

I did not always hide away from the general public for months or weeks at a time. Once I was quite confident. I occasionally felt happy. I had a full time job and I could face customers with no concern. I would chat to people over the phone, make an effort to see friends, be interested in daily life. I could cope with negativity. Overcome it, even. I wouldn’t let anything bring me down because I had something inside me that made me keep going out there, into the world, facing it all.

But sometimes, Friend, things happen. Sometimes just one thing. Sometimes many things. The courage to face these things is strong at first, at least stronger than now. But depending on luck, or coincidence, or fate, or opportunity, eventually the voice of that courage for some people is quieter. Weaker. And sometimes, silenced completely.

It is not your fault these things happened. And if you hear the tales of what they were, you will likely hold an opinion in your head of what could have been done or said as a result to resolve the issue. But your experience in this life is not the same as mine, Friend. No matter what we have in common, we can never share the exact same perception. Please make sure not to confuse your perception with mine. We are different.

Sometimes I need a break from people. Usually the people who I don’t yet know completely, but like, and with whom I want to hold some kind of friendship. I’m already tired of feeling anxious and sad and don’t want you to grow tired of me feeling anxious and sad. I’m sure you care and would be happy for me to confide in you, but I’ve confided in friends before and been burned and heartbroken in return. I can’t bring myself to take that kind of risk again.

I’m afraid I won’t be good company. I’m afraid I’ll burden you with my emotions which I don’t feel would be fair on you. I have heard of your struggles too, Friend, and would like to help you, but I can’t. I take all struggles as if they were my own and my load is already far too heavy. Sometimes my whole world is devoid of any good news, and any conversation we could have would be very quiet on my behalf. All I can really do is listen, because if I speak I might burst into tears. But I don’t feel strong enough to pretend to be holding myself together right now, so I’d just rather not.

I’m sorry you feel I’ve been avoiding you. You see me comment on social media but I ignore your messages. This is because commenting on social media is usually not personal. It’s a distraction. It’s a way to have adult conversation without the spotlight being on me. I can do it in my pyjamas without having done my face to look like I’m prettier than I feel on the inside. I don’t run much risk of having to answer the question “How are you?”

…because I don’t want to lie to you. That would make me feel anxious when I’m already feeling anxious. I don’t believe in lying to people, especially people I care about. I don’t want to fake a smile, tell you I’m fine, and divert your questions while screaming inside how I’m anything but fine.

You may see me posting an update about a group I went to, or am going to go to. Maybe inviting someone along. But I still haven’t answered your messages. This does not mean I’m feeling better and have purposely skipped you. This doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. My doctor told me to do things in the community so I don’t completely shut myself off. This is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get myself back into the habit of being seen in public for something other than to run a quick errand. I’m trying to quell the self-talk in my head that tells me everyone hates me and thinks I’m weird. Sometimes when I meet new people and they smile at me, I think that perhaps I’m not all that strange. “I can do this… I can do this…” I say to myself.

You see, Friend, with a head full of thoughts like mine, there is no invisible ticket machine. In a perfect world I would answer all messages and requests in order, and you’d be able to know when I’m going to call your number. But that’s not how this works. There is no ticket, no number, and if I can’t shut off the feelings inside me, I might never get to you. Or I could respond to you tomorrow. I really have no way of knowing.

To expect that I give you attention specifically is just unrealistic, and I’m sorry. I regret that the nature of this beast is not one where I can gain complete control whenever I want to, and give all the people all the attention they want or deserve. You may be lonely too, and I’m sorry. But I’m training myself to take care of myself and my needs, and to give myself all the attention I deserve, because that’s what is supposed to help me recover, or at least cope.

Part of the reason I got into this mess is because I put everyone else’s needs before mine. And they took, and took, and took some more until there was nothing left, because I was so willing to give. I regret being so naïve. I love to see people happy, but I forget that I need to be happy first. You might not be one of those people of whom I speak, but that’s unfortunately irrelevant. I can’t handle any of it yet.

Maybe we struck a friendship during a time when socialising wasn’t so daunting. Maybe you think it’s totally uncharacteristic of me to be silent and surely you must have caused offense. But Friend, understand that this condition is unpredictable and the best thing you can do is just wait.

There is no forcing a friendship with me. I need time. I’m grieving that part of me that no longer exists and that bright future I thought I was going to have.

As part of my anxious predicament I’m regretting so many things. Things that are long since dead and buried, things that happened yesterday… The way I reacted to something, the person I shouldn’t have trusted but did, the thing I said that surely must’ve made me look like an idiot. The fact that I feel this way in the first place. The fact that I can’t make it stop. The fact that I’m hurting my friends by accident by apparently turning my back on them. The fact that I don’t have the strength to be what my loved ones need any more. The fact that I can’t talk to you about this in person because it’s too hard. The fact that I can’t have friends because I can’t talk to my friends and therefore none of them can begin to understand why it’s hard for me to keep friends. The fact that I am so alone I don’t know when I’ll ever be less alone. The fact that there are people depending on me that deserve better than for me to be so afraid of so many things that I can hardly function.

I’m trying, Friend, and I’m so sorry if you’re hurt by me. If you want to walk away I understand, but please do not convey to me the disappointment that I’m not what you want me to be, because I’ve got enough disappointment in myself for the both of us. Just send me positive thoughts as much as you can spare in the hopes that maybe, one day, I’ll be on the other side of this, and I’ll be so grateful that you were so patient and understanding. When that day comes I will be able to call you a ‘Great Friend.’

Sincerely,

A Nervous Wreck


Read Why I Chose to Speak Out.

For more understanding on anxiety attacks from my own personal story, click here.

Read about The “Mental” Stigma here. 

Read Where I’m Going With This here.

Help end ignorance. Help make this world one of greater understanding and compassion.

Being Grounded

Have you ever found yourself within the grip of a panic attack?

Have you ever wondered what your friend might mean when they say they’ve suffered one, or what to do to stop one when it’s happening?

Let me take you through an example of a panic/anxiety attack from the only experience I know: my own.

So there I was… Land line phone ringing. Looking at the letter in my hand saying my payment’s behind and a bailiff might soon come to my door to recover goods to cover the cost that is owed. Land line still ringing. Head going through my recent incomings and outgoings wondering how the hell am I going to have the money to prevent the bailiffs from showing up. Kids asking me questions. Can they have milk. Wondering if the milk goes if I’ll be able to buy more milk. If I buy more milk the bailiffs would be that much closer to coming to essentially rob me because I don’t have anything to give them to stop them from coming. I’m feeling violated already and they haven’t even been here! Phone still ringing. Who could be on the phone? The school to say my kid’s been in trouble? The bill collector to say they want money? Or THAT WOMAN I told to stop calling me. I told her twenty times, she still calls. She wants to harass me because I’m not doing what she thinks I should be doing and she’s projecting her fears onto me. I can’t talk to her. I want her to leave me alone. Why won’t she leave me alone?

I need to go get the babysitter. I need to go to work. The customers yelled at me last night because the place was packed and the kitchen was handling the party upstairs so their food orders had to wait. I panicked after some time and ended up crying in the cellar. What if that happens again? I can’t go to work and cry. Phone still ringing. Kids want milk. Why can’t I just answer the phone and make her stop calling me? What if the bailiffs come next week? What will they take? What does everyone want from me? Why am I an adult and don’t know what to do? Why am I failing at this? What should I have done instead? If only I’d made that other decision when I was a teenager I’d be in a different place by now, right? I don’t even know.

My chest gets tight. What if I have a heart attack? I’m too young to have a heart attack! Breathing is getting heavier and faster. I can’t slow it down. I can’t stop it. Why can’t I stop it? My eldest asks me if I’m okay. I’m not okay. I might have a heart attack right before his eyes. I don’t want him to see me so fragile. My vision is getting blurry. I can’t see straight. Am I going to pass out? I try again to slow my breathing but now I’m making strange noises that make me sound like an owl because I’m starting to sob at the same time and the combination of these is making a “hooooo” noise. He’s asking me what’s wrong. I can’t answer you because I’m uncontrollably hooting! Tears come streaming down my face. I just did my makeup in preparation for going to work in front of all those people and now I’ve ruined it. I can’t go to work with streaks down my face, they’ll all ask me what’s wrong! How am I even going to drive when I could start hooting again at any minute?

The panic doesn’t stop. It carries on. My son gets me a bag to breathe into but I seem to recall hearing that’s the wrong thing to do. So which is it? Bag or no bag?

THIS is the moment my counsellor’s talking about. The panic attack. Or anxiety attack, if you prefer. I’d prefer they didn’t exist, if I’m honest, who gives a **** what you call it?

She says imagine it’s like a television with a lot of different channels going at once. Close your eyes. Grab an invisible remote. Press pause. Stop. Loosen every muscle. Become floppy like a rag doll. Open your eyes. Look around the room and start naming things. Shelf. Cupboard. Fish tank. Couch. Shoe. Table. Simultaneously, breathe in and count to five, then breathe out and take it from five to ten. One two three four five, six seven eight nine ten.

This brings you back in the moment and grounds you. Roots you to the present. Keeps the pendulum of the mind in the centre instead of swinging wildly from past to future. Because when your mind is swinging wildly from “what if” to “if only” it can’t focus on what’s actually happening right now. You can’t undo the past. You can’t control the future. In current reality those places aren’t real. They’re memories and projections. They’re essentially just figments of your imagination.

But they can easily grip you right where it hurts. They can have you in their invisible trap and have you feeling like you’re going to die, and like you’re worthless because you can’t stop it.

I have tried to tell people about anxiety and panic attacks. I still have a sense that they’re not quite understanding what I am talking about. I don’t know what they think but I know that their perspective is not what I want it to be. Occasionally I meet someone that might say “Oh yes. I’ve had one of those. Those are the worst.” Now imagine you have scenarios like this playing out nearly every day, suddenly and without warning, just to trip you up. They don’t care if you need to go to work or not, what would you do?

Try to remember that in the midst of that storm that pendulum is swinging, and that naming things in the room and counting to ten while taking deep breaths is a good thing to do.

Pharaoh's Fury

Pharaoh’s Fury

It reminds me of that Pharaoh’s Fury ride as a kid. That big boat that swung from extreme to extreme. When it swung forward I thought I would fall out back first, when it swung backward I would fall out face first. I wasn’t actually going to fall out either way, but try telling that to my churning stomach and crying eyes at the time.

If you have a friend who is telling you they’re having panic attacks, please think of this and try to imagine how that feels. These people are not silly. It really isn’t something they are doing wrong. It is an instinctual response resulting from the “fight or flight” reaction to a crisis. It is still a crisis even though it’s not a bear attacking, because it may as well be, for all the brain cares. In that moment we can neither fight nor flee, so what happens is we suffer from a sort of short circuit where everything goes haywire. It is utterly confusing and soul-destroying.

Be kind. Be kind to yourself if this is describing you, be kind to your friend or loved one if this is describing them. We need support. We need to be told we’re doing all we can do and that we can only cross these bridges when we get to them. There is no sense in revisiting the past, no, but we’ll likely do it anyway because it’s hard to not do that.

Be gentle. If you can’t go to the thing because you’re going to be putting yourself at risk, call and say you’re not going. Give that little bit of understanding to yourself and trust your instincts. Don’t drive after having just had a panic attack. Don’t push yourself over that edge. Consider your needs and start putting them first for once.

Be forgiving. Forgive yourself, forgive your friend. Adding to the “I’m disappointed in you” dialogue is not necessary. Or helpful.

Before panic attacks I would say that being “grounded” would be a bad thing. Now, that’s all I want to be.


Image courtesy of: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Pharaoh%27s_Fury.jpg