This is what it’s like….

I knew I had a history of depression, but having an anxiety disorder is news. It’s been frightening: the prolonged and heightened state of distress, the frequent moments of panic, feeling so overwhelmed that I can’t seem to process information. My complete inability to make a decision as simple as what to eat when I’m hungry has lost me 3 kilo’s over the past week and a half. This is not me.

But, looking back, it makes so much sense. I can see now, that anxiety has been part of my life for a long time. Perhaps always.

For years, I’ve been terrified to sleep. Not every night, but on many occasions I have panic attacks. Until now, I didn’t think anything of it. It just happened

As I drift off to sleep some nights, slipping into unconsciousness, I’ll be seized by an irrational fear – not that I’ll die, but that I won’t wake up. That I’ll be trapped in a dream state, never finding my way back to the world. I’ll feel like I’m suffocating. I can’t breathe. It’s like drowning in quick sand. I’d try to wake, but sleep would pull me back in. I have to fight it, force myself into consciousness.  Only when I’m fully awake, can I feel safe. I’ll pace the house, watch tv, surf the net – anything to shake off the last remnants of sleep and stay alert. Then, maybe after an hour or so, I’ll risk sleep again. But, again I begin to drown and have to force myself out of bed. Sometimes this will happen 10 or 12 times a night.

Our staffroom is set up cafe style. There are a couple of large tables that can sit 6-8 people, and smaller ones, scattered around the edges for 3 or 4. Sometimes I can’t walk in there. I get to the door and there are too many people. I become overwhelmed. Every instinct screams at me to get out of there, so I retreat to an office, just across from that room. There’s always some work I can find to do.

When I do go in the staffroom, I tend to choose one of the smaller tables at the edge of the room, close to the exit. Further in, I feel trapped and jittery, or like I’m suffocating. I need to know that I can get out easily. I fear sometimes that my colleagues must think I don’t like being around them, or that I prefer to remain aloof. That’s never been the case. I’d rationalised it to myself as just part of being an introvert, but I know now, there’s more going on.

There are so many examples:

I need to plan everything. I have lists for what I will do with my time,  the food I will eat and even, sometimes the clothes I will wear. They bring me some peace. Without them I feel like I’m losing the threads of all the things I need to keep track of, or have forgotten something important – that something bad will happen. I feel overwhelmed and am paralysed by indecision.

I often want to rebel against my lists, throw them away and be free and spontaneous with my time. But when I do, there’s fear. I’m haunted by dread that life is about to come crashing down around me because I might have forgotten that one, essential thing.

I rarely accept invitations to events that occur during the day on the weekend. Evenings are okay, but if its a day time thing I feel trapped. If I say yes. I worry that when I make that list for the weekend, I’ll discover I don’t have time to get everything done. I feel sick and strained, and panicky.

I’ve just accepted this. Called it ‘productivity’, I mean, I really am so productive. I achieve a lot in my time. I’m efficient. But it’s my dependency on lists and routines that I see as a problem, as well as the limitations I impose on my life, like missing events I’d enjoy. I don’t do all this to be productive, I do it to keep the sense of dread at bay.

My current crisis is what’s helped me see these odd habits and quirks for what they are. The dread, the fear of losing control, the sense of being overwhelmed, the inability to think, process or act.  What I’ve experienced this fortnight is just the same, but far more acute, distressing and debilitating.

I’m seeing a therapist tomorrow and I’m looking forward to that. I need to understand what’s going on. And it would be nice to be free of this. To let go of the fear, and to live a life based on more than keeping myself safe.


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