A friend texted me the other day, and insisted on seeing me. “When are you free today?” he had written. I felt a pain in my chest, knowing I would be flitting from one activity to another, and then another. Then, a smattering of light hit the quagmire, and I replied, “I have an hour whilst L is at a class.” We sat down and conversed, he with green tea, and me with a strong coffee. It was my fifth of the day. He could see I was overwhelmed and questioned all that I forced myself to fit into a day. He was concerned. It was enough for me to be taken aback and review what I was doing. Home schooling my daughter, I was trying to be all things to her. Teacher, mum, social planner, and many more aside. I was trying to please all the people in my world, keep my commitments, and generally be functional. I had around thirty texts a day and around a thousand emails to answer. I was exhausted.
There was no time to eat lunch, no time to change hormone patches, no time to see a doctor or exercise… Hell, there was barely enough time to down more caffeine! I had been feeling as though I were heading for a nervous collapse. Deadlines for articles and deadlines I put on myself. Put in a noisy neighbour who compromised my sleep… I would wake up and have to down two coffees. I would sit on the couch shaking with anxiety, filled with dread at all I had to do. I had to keep everyone happy. Sometimes I would hyperventilate and my stomach would churn. When you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start… My friend was right, and I acknowledged the wisdom of his observation. “I use business as an avoidance tool,” I replied. If I am busy, I can’t feel lonely. If I am busy, my physical pain is ignored. If I am busy, I don’t have time to feel the sorrow, depression and anger.
If I am busy, I can avoid my social anxiety. I don’t quite know where I fit in, and if people actually want to see me. I don’t call friends out of fear of rejection. I am unsure of my place in friend’s lives. I am scared. Thus, I drink coffee of a day, run around like a mad thing, and drink wine at night to come down off my adrenaline rush. The wine brings me down, way down. I go to bed, sleep for a few hours, wake up with a dry mouth and start again. It has to stop. My friend held up a mirror, and I saw the truth. I had no spaces in my life. None. I have to let go of control.
The school holidays began, and I vowed to not over-commit. A new playground opened around the corner, and I set off with my daughter. It felt wrong, and I had a panic attack. I felt guilt that I wasn’t doing things at home. That was a big indicator that I needed to do this, immediately. When depression hits, it hits in a big and scary way, like a tsunami of churned-up emotions. It tells me to stay home and hide. I have to do the opposite. We went to the park, and a friend joined us. We watched the girls play, and we walked in the sun. A few hours later, when we returned home, I felt refreshed. I didn’t drink wine last night. I went to bed early, and had a good sleep. The noisy neighbour was at it early this morning. I had one coffee, made lunch, and we set off for the park again. It was glorious. So many friendly faces, hugs and smiles. A friend even brought her little pony for the kids to pat. I am changing everything at this point. If I continue on this trajectory, I will inevitably collapse. More early nights, and less commitments are required. I have to. It will mean saying “no” to things that are stretching my limits. It will mean more time in the sunshine and for spontaneous gatherings.
Two years ago, I did a free e-course for people with anxiety. I completed a questionnaire which was designed to advise how far I had come.
Thank you again for your ongoing support of this important research – we really appreciate your time and benefit from your support.
We are pleased to say that the questionnaires you completed indicate that your symptoms have reduced since you first completed the questionnaires more than 24 months ago. Specifically, your symptoms of both panic and low mood have reduced by more than 70% and are now in the low to non-clinical ranges. We appreciate that the questionnaires do not always reflect people’s experiences, but these are good improvements to have made and maintained – we hope they are reflected in improvements in your wellbeing.’
I am never going back to how I felt as a young person; to how I felt two years ago. I wont. I do have work to do, and life does get busy, but I am going to cease pushing myself to the brink. It leaves no time for joy and happen-chance. I am going to walk in the sun, and we are going to play most days. I will find time. If emails go unanswered, if my phone gets switched off, so be it. I will snatch back time.
I have to retrain my nervous system and my brain. I have to learn how to breathe again. I have to understand that caffeine is lovely provided its one cup a day. I have to stop using alcohol to make me feel comfortable socially and to drown out the panic which overtakes me at night. They are only habits, and a habit can be changed.