The beginning sounds like an eulogy, but it isn’t.
This article is a reminder to myself to remember and acknowledge that I am a person beyond my illness. I am frustrated with the dichotomy that the mental health specialists and my close ones provide to me. There are times they agree when I say “my anxious thoughts aren’t separate anymore; my anxiety has become me.” Other times I am reminded, “You are functioning completely normally – you go to work, you do a good job, and you still hang out with people.”
In the realm of mental illnesses, anxiety probably seems ubiquitous, and therefore small to some people, but it is crippling.
This article is my attempt at venting and sharing. It is to tell others – I am not my mental illness. It is also a shout out to me – I am not my mental illness. I am trying very hard to accept my illness. But in the process of acceptance, I sometimes feel I forget what can be random passing thoughts (which can occur to anyone) and what are anxious thoughts. And that line is frightening. I am ready to accept my illness, as long as I can somehow know which are the thoughts that are “normal,” and which are the ones that are signalling oncoming anxiety. If I don’t know this, I stay confused and scared of every thought. Unfortunately, this is a question that I have as yet not found a way to answer.
But this method of demarcation has been my way of making sense of who I am, and what part of me is anxiety driven.
At the moment, it’s difficult for me to remember which is what, which thought is me, and which is this alien anxiety trying to be a part of me, and it is even more frustrating to be reminded “how you are more than your illness but you have forgotten.” Getting up in the middle of the night makes me wonder if I am going to have a relapse again.
I sit and wonder if I am a good daughter, will I be a good wife, will I be a good professional?
I am told everyone wonders this way – but I berate myself for not being good enough and wonder why I am this way, that I should know better.
It’s been a year and 3 months with this. Some of the times have been better than others. But the constant loom of a “what if” – the hallmark of my anxiety – is frustrating. I find myself confused. Should I go with the flow, be mindful and let the thought pass? Or should I fight against it, and not let it overtake my sanity. There is a saying, “only dead fish go with the flow.” What am I to do?
Change is one of the key triggers. Change overwhelms me and I panic. Sometimes I read articles and blogs and wonder “What if this happens to me?” And while I understand that anticipating and accepting change is normal, I can’t seem to bear it. But faced with the possibility of change, I panic. I think to myself how I could handle it in a non-existent future, and immediately arrive at the firm belief that I will fail. I think, “Knew you couldn’t do it. If you cannot even handle this thought, how can you possibly handle the reality?” Then I have to be re-assured, reminded, that everyone is wary of change. That I am “normal.”
In fact, I’ve been told, and very correctly I think, that the way I am reacting to the articles, conversations and movies around me makes me “a hypochondriac about mental illness.” Everything I read and see makes me wonder if it’s going to happen to me, and what I will do about it, and then how I will fail.
And the cycle of anxiety-panic-reassurance continues.
I’ve also been told “Anxious thoughts are normal, anxious behavior is not.” Which means sitting with the unsettling dread. But staying alone with my thoughts is difficult, which is why I continuously look for ways to fill time. And if I get up and move out, I reinforce my need to escape. If I stay with it, I learn to deal with it better. That it will pass. The nature of anxiety is transient. It’s not hard to guess which of the two methods of coping is harder to execute.
I am told I am strong, I am fighting this, I am being resilient. But I DON’T see it. I see every little incident, thought, suggestion, overtaking my intelligence and letting the scope of anxiety and doubt increase. It is exhausting to be scared of most things. When I go for weddings and functions, I look at people interacting and getting married, and I wonder – “How are they doing this? How are they smiling and not worried? Will I ever be this way?” At the end of the week, I am thankful for days which pass without much overthinking.
The worst worry however is the one involving other people, the ones I love – that I am tiring them. How much can they placate me? Won’t they get fed up?
I question my faith in these people that I love.
I have anxious thoughts that make me doubt my commitments to my loved ones and my faith in what I have believed to be my strength – my relationships. It is terrifying to lose confidence in the only thing that made me happy. It would usually comfort me to spend time with my friends and partner. Now I keep looking at them to gauge if “we are okay.” And it must be tiring for the other person to continuously reassure me and not feel upset by my constant doubt. As much as they love me, I am very aware of the fact that I am getting increasingly self absorbed. It is always my issues, my distress and my need for external validation.
I wonder if I can be the strength for those who need me. I wonder if they feel confident in seeking my support anymore. I wonder if they believe in my strength anymore.
My dad while trying to reassure me, said to me – “When you have low immunity, if you go out in the cold, you are highly likely to catch a cold. When you are anxious, every thought seems threatening. Remember that when your immunity will rise, so will you”.
Maybe 6 months from now when I come back to this article, I will thank the universe that I have moved on from this space. But till then, I miss being me.