Dissolving. That’s the most simple way I can describe it. Swift, chaotic, stomach-in-throat dissolving. That’s what it feels like to suffer with anxiety. That’s what it feels like when, out of nowhere, the torturous bastard rears its ugly head when you’re about to get on a plane for that epic, soul-changing adventure you’ve been excited about for months, or when you’re at the supermarket, minding your own business, trying to purchase a red onion.
Anxiety. Making fully functional human existence near-damn impossible on a regular basis.
It all started when my friend, Zac, died. He was full of laughter and hope and ambition and opportunity: full of a certain rare and inexplicable charm that could light up an entire room like a ray of sunshine. He was so full of life. And then all of a sudden, he wasn’t. He just died.
About six months after Zac took his last breath, I started to feel a bit… Weird. On edge. Hyper aware of things. Panicky, without an actual reason to panic. I didn’t know it then, but I was suffering from anxiety.
Simply getting out of bed and showing up became an act of applause-worthy courage in the face of grave adversity. A day where I’d changed my knickers or actually purchased that red onion was considered a resounding success. The most terrifying and debilitating result of my anxiety was the night I set an alarm every hour, because I was convinced that I would die in my sleep if I didn’t. Yup. Somehow, sleeping for just one hour at a time felt safer to me. Even then, I knew that it was a totally irrational thought process, but it was one I couldn’t escape.
I was ill. Human. Vulnerable. And ill. And thanks to societal stigma, I was ashamed of it too. Like so many others who have sailed those dark seas, I was actually ashamed of it. Hopeless, but not helpless, as I so fiercely believed. Overwhelming, internal agony. The cleanest dirty little secret I’ve ever kept.
One in four of us will experience mental illness this year. One in four. That suffering won’t be a side effect of immaturity or adolescence, naivety or pessimism. It will be a side effect of being human. Hopeless. Not helpless.
Show kindness and understanding to yourself and others. Listen without judgement. Stay mindful of the inevitable struggles and silent battles of those around you. Celebrate those tiny, huge, fresh-knickers, red onion personal victories. Realise that yes, actually, maybe we’re all a little weird and fucked up and maybe always a little bit on the verge of self-destruction, and we’re all fundamentally alone, but ultimately, it is this, our crippling vulnerability, our humanness, that binds us together.
Love cannot and does not immortalise people, but it can bring people back to life, I learnt. I think it’d do us all the world of good to remember that.