CN: Mental Health, Anxiety, Depression
I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) about 7 years ago and have been through several rounds of counselling and CBT and still take medication to help. Anxiety used to rule my life. I lived in a constant state of worry and ‘what if’. What if I lost my job? What if my partner left me? What if I offended so and so? I would wile away the hours (days, months and eventually years) with worrying and planning for the worst case scenario. I lost so much of myself along the way.
I remember a few years ago, I was working in a call centre and it was my last shift before Christmas. We were having problems with the phone systems so had to log out of the phones manually. It was fiddly and you had to do it quickly otherwise another call would come through. At the end of my shift I went to log out and wasn’t quick enough, a call came through and I accidentally cut it off. For me, that was Christmas ruined. I spent all of my 10 days off compulsively occupied with worry that my employers were going to think it was deliberate and sack me. Even though I’d told my manager what happened on my way out, I worried, I obsessed, I cried, I panicked and I didn’t sleep. I researched employment law and tried to work out what I would say when I was ‘inevitably’ summoned in for the meeting and dismissed. All over Christmas break at my parents I worried myself literally sick. By the time I got back home to Leeds I was beside myself, exhausted from the weight of worry coupled with a week of insomnia. At around 4am I could stand it no more. I woke my partner shaking, told her that we had to get dressed and go into my office. I booked a cab and by 4:15 I was walking in, trying not to run to a computer to check my work email. Can you imagine how surprised I was when I found that there was no ‘you’re fired’ email?
I wish I could say instances like the above were rare extremes, but they weren’t. They were the symptoms of my wilting mental state and an almost everyday occurrence. I’ve held on to examples like this for all these years to remind myself of the bad old days, the distance I’ve travelled since, and the work I’ve put in. For the last few years my anxiety has been under control. It never goes away and probably never will, I will always be a ‘worrier’ but little by little I learnt how to keep it in check. As the anxiety came under my control, depression stepped up to the mike and that has been another battle entirely, but I coped . I coped last year when I was made redundant, I coped when my parter left me. I COPED.
Lately though the memory of those anxious times has been less distant, less ‘amusing anecdote’ from my past, more visceral warning. Since the incident with the taxi driver at the weekend I’ve been almost constantly on edge which I think is understandable, but alarm bells are ringing. Softly, softly but ringing all the same. I missed a call from an unknown mobile number on Tuesday and became utterly convinced it was ‘him’. I sat looking at my phone, trembling for 20 minutes before I found the courage to ring it back. Of course, it was my new Avon lady ringing to see when would be best to drop off my essential supply of bubble bath. Of course. A facebook friend request from a stranger sent me off on a similar spiral and before I knew it I was back there, and this time I was alone. Still awake at 1am (only 7 hours before the alarm), still awake at 3am (only 4 hours), still awake as the sun rose at 5:30….
I was supposed to do a little talk on reflexivity, mental health and activism at CWS yesterday but by 9am my eyes were so sore and bleary I could hardly see the email I wrote apologising that I would not be attending. The irony of being too mentally ill to give a talk on mental illness is not lost on me. So here I am reflecting again on my anxious mind. Worrying about worry. Am I getting ill again? My research has already been impacted by my cancelling the discussion group on Sunday and the talk yesterday. Today I managed to work but it took a long time to get going and an even longer time to manage any kind of concentration worth bothering with. How will I cope? Do I have the strength to battle it again? What will be lost this time? What will be left?