Just over a month ago I woke up in a flat in London in the middle of the night, and had one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever had. It came out of nowhere, after a good day with a good person, a good month with exciting opportunities. It kept me up for about 2 hours, unable to sleep, barely able to breathe, shaking and crying. I haven’t been able to shake it off since. The knot it left in my chest, the lies (and they are lies, right?) it left in my head, the pit it left at the bottom of my stomach – they have stayed with me as little gnawing reminders every day. It has haunted me for the past month, the ghost of an attack hovering over everything I say and do, ready to strike if I get it wrong. It’s been a month of anxiety so bad it leads to depression. Of barely getting out of bed in the morning, because lying there watching crap TV is the only thing to make my brain shut up. Of needing to get out of my head, get away from myself and my constant spiralling thoughts, out of this body and away from the irritating, obsessive, crazy, unloveable girl who lives inside it. Of trying to control my spiralling obsessive thoughts and failing, watching then spill out over the walls and out of my mouth or fingers, regretting the words as they come out, hating the person who says them and feels them, knowing that they are ruining everything, but helpless to stop it, to stop myself. Of knowing that it’s all my fault. Of feeling alone – even knowing intellectually I’m not – so utterly alone, and agreeing with that aloneness because if I don’t want to be around me how could anyone else. Of coming up with the same solution to stop all of this over, and over again, of catching myself thinking and forming plans, of needing saving.
Here I sit again, at 3am, woken by an anxiety attack that hasn’t come from nowhere, but at least in my own bed this time. It feels less helpless. I have things in place here. It’s also nowhere near as bad. I’m not in an unfamiliar bed filled in a haunted city, surrounded by sounds that throw my bearings off. When I woke up I didn’t spend five minutes trying to work out where I was, didn’t assume that I was in the place I will never be again, in that house I haven’t thought about for three years with people who ate away at me and shaped a lot of what I am now, back in time to the life that I lost. I’m okay that I don’t have that life, just to clarify. I wouldn’t want it. The one I have built for myself suits me better, is healthier, fuller. But waking up in that city with those noises put me right back there.
Tonight I know where I am. It makes alone easier. It makes staying put easier. All I wanted to do that night was get out of that bed and that room. Wake up the friend I was staying with, Tell him what was happening. Tell him I needed help. Needed someone to sit with me, just for a little while, until I felt calmer, until I could sleep again, because I couldn’t do that on my own.
But I didn’t. Because he was sleeping, and I was scared and didn’t want to ask too much of him. Which is ironic considering the way the rest of the month panned out. I’m still not sure if I did the right thing. If I’d woken him up I probably wouldn’t have carried this feeling around with me. But equally, I have no idea how he would have handled me, if it would have helped or if he would have coped. Maybe nothing would have looked different.
Instead I did the only thing I could think of. I did what I’m doing now. I wrote. I wrote out the rational, the arguments against the spirals I was going down. I wrote something just for me, something not to be shared. I wrote something to help myself, and then I put it away and didn’t look at it again until I woke up tonight, shaking and crying, and needing to write just for me again, when I stumbled on it and read what I had written to try and help myself.
I should have read it sooner. It was good advice, it had perspective that I needed. I wrote down everything I felt that night, everything I was scared I would obsess myself into forgetting. I put down how I felt about my past and reminded myself how lonely I was even in that situation, that finding a romantic partner doesn’t solve all your problems. I wrote about my friend, about the evening I had enjoyed with him and the way I felt about him in that moment, the spark of attraction I’d been expecting that just wasn’t there when I saw him, giving way to the possibility of a friendship that I really wanted (and still do) – and I warned myself not to get sucked into the teasing or build up a false narrative of romance when I got home and was confronted with a group of people telling me that it was what I wanted from him. I wrote about that city and the wonderful things it offers me, about the way I could reclaim it and purge it of it’s ghosts rather than giving it new ones. I wrote about my brain, and my God, and timing, And then I put my pen away and ignored everything I had just written, totally defeating the purpose. I did all of the things I warned myself again. I got home and believed what other people told me I was feeling over what I had actually felt because it fit into a narrative I wanted my life to fit into. I sat and compared my life to this fictional narrative, this fictional memory, and saw the differences as failures. I got scared to go back to that city, I started to refuel the anger I had felt towards it and it’s inhabitants that was based off one or two people. I pushed my brain, I told myself it wasn’t ok, I wasn’t ok, or coping, or doing any of the things I was supposed to do. I looked out and compared myself to everyone else and where they were rather than checking in on how my timing suited me. I found ways that everything I was doing was a failure. Found the negative meaning I was looking for in every interaction. Saw the dislike I have for myself reflected back at me in every conversation where someone wasn’t explicitly telling me otherwise. And everything fell apart. I got lonelier and lonelier, more and more anxious. Help stopped feeling helpful and just hurt instead, becoming one more thing to argue against. I’m pretty sure I lost at least one friend, maybe more – not that it has stopped my brain from wanting to push and push until I can be sure I’ve scared them off totally with my crazy, because then they can’t hurt me further down the road by leaving, right?
This isn’t me beating myself up for doing these things. I don’t think I helped myself. I think there are steps I could and should have taken to stop the cycles of my brain getting as bad as they have got recently. But I know that a large part of it is the chemicals in my brain working in a way that I can’t control. Giving me thoughts that I can’t control. Thoughts that scare me and upset me, and both aren’t me and are me all at once, in a way I can’t really come to terms with. Because, to badly paraphrase John Green, if I’m not in charge of my thoughts, then I’m not steering this ship, and if I’m not then who is? There have been other factors adding to the month I’ve just had too. I changed the medication I was on. I always disregard that as a factor, but it probably has some kind of impact. It was an attempt to make things better, but it may have done the opposite. I got various pieces of news that aren’t ideal. I heard from some people I really didn’t want to hear from, which opened up whole new cans of anxiety worms to wiggle through my head.
I don’t want another month like this. I’m hoping the dual 3am panic attacks bookend it. They probably won’t. I’d like to think I’ll read the things I write to calm myself down, that they’ll help and I’ll hold on to the weird clarity I find in them. I probably won’t. I’d like it if I could wake up in the morning and not need external validation from anyone in order to find self worth, and by extension not be upset when I don’t get it. That definitely won’t happen. I want to try and stop building narratives around my life that don’t necessarily line up with reality. That’s going to be a slow process and I’m going to slip up a lot.
I like writing privately, just for myself. I really do. But there’s a certain value in making my writing public – especially things like this. There’s an accountability that comes with it. There’s also the utter terror of people reading it and commenting on it in a way that kind of just makes everything worse. I think the value outweighs the risk.
But then again, it’s 4.45am. Why should I expect to have sensible thoughts right now?