I was always a worried person. I wouldn’t call myself a worrier, but I’ve definitely spent way too long thinking way too much about small things over the years. Analyzing texts, reading into tone, looking for hidden meaning, or trying to rationalize every decision; even those last few sentences fell victim to my scrutiny (not to mention Microsoft Word’s). It’s part of my anxiety disorder, and maybe it’s even part of why I’m a writer. In fact, maybe it’s part of why every writer I’ve ever met has some sort of mental illness.
Bell Let’s Talk Day has been fantastic at creating awareness around mental health and helping to remove the stigma we face when we talk about the mental health challenges we face. Every year I’m inspired by someone’s story to come forward and talk about the challenge they face, and this year, I want to be that person. Especially since Let’s Talk falls on January 31st, the eve of what I think we all agree is the worst month ever.
My social anxiety was not a mystery. Once I reached adulthood and learned that social anxiety was a thing, I didn’t even need to do the research to hear a big, resounding “YUP” in my head (but I did research anyway, of course). Growing up with a stutter and years of merciless bullying during my formative years meant that I lived in fear of talking to new people. I was labelled as “shy” but in my mind, it was really just avoiding the inevitable. I had distanced myself emotionally from complete strangers and best friends alike to ensure that I never appeared too attached, lest they decide this was all a joke and mock me for it. As an adult, I now know that the world doesn’t exist as it did in the sixth grade, and that most of my worries that my closet friends are out to get me are completely unfounded (most). But too little, too late, and now this kind of anxiety is ingrained within me as the voice in my head that is screaming in a room full of people I don’t know.
And then there’s the proper anxiety. I had read about anxiety disorders before and never really thought to classify myself as such until the last year and a half. Like I said, I was always a bit worried, nervous, and over-analytical to a fault, but surely it was just my personality? I hadn’t realized how much this behaviour had impacted my life and my previous relationships, causing me to worry myself into an emotional spiral and blow up. I thought I was just weird. But in late 2016, a warning came when anxiety began to manifest without cause. The same panic, worry, and nerves that I would experience when I’d have an argument or wasn’t going to be able to pay rent that month would come for no reason. I’d sit around my apartment all day, my heart pumping and my brain going a mile a minute, leaving no room for the typically mundane day-to-day activities like cooking a real meal or going to the store. These days cripple me, and as a result, I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of inadequacy that tortures me on top of all these other emotions. I ask the same questions everyone else does – they’re just nerves, who cares? Why does that mean I can’t function? Why can’t I just say “fuck it” and live my life anyway?
I have no answer for you. I don’t know why I can’t move past this single feeling and get on with my life, but on these days, that’s what happens. Nothing gets cleaned, no emails get answered, and I’m sure as hell not preparing a kale salad for lunch (which is like literally every other day for me because kale is garbage). I can’t even make myself do things I like, such as playing video games or writing, so these are the days that I don’t put on makeup and I just wait for my fiancé to come home when I have some sort of distraction from this feeling. By the end of the day, I’m lethargic and dying to go to bed just so I can start a new day over, like a video game. The good news is that most days are fine – I’ll get the occasional twinge of unjustified panic throughout the day at work, but for the most part, I’m great Monday – Friday because I’m busy. My bad days are usually weekends, when I’m left to my own devices without a schedule.
I suspect that this is normally the point in the mental health story where someone says they sought medical help and Zoloft changed their life, or they smoked more weed and it makes their bad days a little less terrible. But that’s not my story. I have tried both, and neither have worked for me because there isn’t one thing that works for everyone, which sucks. I had my anxiety disorder diagnosed a year ago, and all Zoloft gave me was an anxiety attack every Saturday and 15lbs to remember it by. As for the weed, I’ll smoke it, but I never feel a thing. As it is, I see a therapist every couple of weeks, I exercise when I can, I take my vitamins, and I use light therapy to make sure that by the time February comes, I won’t want to impale myself on an icicle. None of it feels like it “works”, but it’s surely not hurting the cause, and taking care of myself in the most basic ways a human can is literally the least I can do to help myself.
Header image: Comic by Gemma Correll