I read this post by Claire Askew, who I met when I was studying at a summer program in Edinburgh last year and she was writing in response to this post by Harry Giles, a writerly colleague of hers. I decided it was time to ‘fess up myself and ‘out’ my demons in the interest of a healthier, happier and more honest world.
Since, well forever really, I have suffered back pain which results from a malformation of the L5 vertebrae. This is something I don’t like to talk about and generally have dealt with quietly for my whole adult life (the scoliosis caused by the dodgy vertebrae was diagnosed when I was 16 years old). Towards the end of 2009, the pain started getting much worse and was beginning to impact on my life – by which I mean, I could no longer walk for the length of a block without pain, and a lot of it. This increase in pain coincided with my grandfather’s diagnosis with cancer and I found myself in a particularly bad place.
I had suffered from depression and anxiety before; had sought some counseling at the insistence of my fantastic partner; and had made some changes in my life. When I think about it now, I have possibly always been anxious, even as a child and particularly in relation to being thought ‘good’ or being liked by others. While I was depressed and suffering anxiety attacks, I didn’t sleep well and I lost interest in things I generally liked to do, like going out and seeing the people who are dear to me; and talking to friends and family on the phone. During the night I would regularly wake, short of breath and with my heart fluttering far too fast for what should be resting. I would sometimes wake up Nic and tell him I was scared, he initially asked, ‘Of what?’ but I generally couldn’t come up with an answer. But not having a thing to be afraid of didn’t make the fear any less.
So when the sleeplessness; inability to make decisions; dread of speaking on the phone; horror of being responsible for anything; and panic attacks started up this time, I knew I needed to do something about it. It took me just as long to find the courage to act, though, because we had moved and I was not yet completely comfortable with my new doctor. I also didn’t feel that I knew anybody well enough to ask for advice regarding medical professionals and mental illness.
My work was always tough, but coping with it became even tougher. Eventually I went to the doctor and to his introductory question of, ‘What brings you in today?’ I burst into tears. I knew there was something wrong but I felt really stupid and didn’t really want to admit that I wasn’t coping. The one thing I was clinging to was that I was shocked and upset by my grandfather’s illness and by the fact that he was going to die – but I felt stupid for this too. I recall trying to explain to the doctor that I felt that I was being ridiculous for being floored by the fact that Pa wasn’t immortal, I mean, what was I thinking? The man was ninety-two years old and it had never occurred to me before that he wasn’t going to be around forever.
Of course, it wasn’t just Pa, or just the daily back pain, or just stress from work but they all played a role and had an impact. This time, I spent much longer in counseling sessions and made some rather big changes, not so much to my life but to the way I think. I have acknowledged just how much time and energy I expend trying to make sure everyone likes me and thinks I’m a good person. And when I say everyone, I mean even people I don’t like. I’m trying to keep things like that in perspective these days and focus my energy on making sure that I think I’m a good person and that I like me (it’s not as easy as it might seem).
In keeping with the posts by Claire and Harry here are my lists of things that make me scared and anxious and things that make me feel safe:
confrontation (even if I’m not involved)
making decisions (in tough times, this can even include what to have for dinner)
thinking that I will lose people I love
submitting my writing
trying to make new friends
talking on the phone
being unsure about a new situation eg turning up to a reading for the first time
being part of a reading
people who treat me as inferior (because I generally believe them)
Nic & being held by him
study (the noun & the verb)
making a new friend who I can talk to without effort
getting something finished
I think Harry and Clare have started something amazing with their honesty & I challenge others to speak up as well. Write your own post or comment on one of the others.