Mental Health Day: How I Won the Smaller Battles With Anxiety
Mental Health Awareness: There are far worse things to be afflicted by, but anxiety is no joke, Gavin explains.
(On Mental Health Awareness Day, we are bringing you stories of those who are living with Mental illness and how they battle with issues every day)
The day begins, and sysiphus obliges.
I wake up and eat my coffee.
I messed up already.
I wake up and drink my coffee.
While waiting for the brew to cool down like the weather, my pocket mind throws an arbitrary number at my face. Corona's still there, it's still terrible out there. I feel a surge of warmth around, my jaw and my neck stiffer than I remember waking up with.
It's been stiff since I was 15, most of my close friends can vouch for my penchant for a mean neck rub, which they've mostly generously put up with.
Anyway, as the years have piled so have the memories tainted by that familiar constriction. Sometimes it cramps its way to my lower back as well. I later came to identify it as a tell for when my anxiety was nearing an attack.
Now, rubbing my back on the kitchen door handle, I check the time, it's 10:00 am.
'It Wasn't Until I Began Therapy, That I Realised How Deep My Anxiety Ran'
Time to login to my office application. Sometimes even the most innocuous things set off a chain reaction in my head. So, for the longest time I learned to leave my mind on auto pilot. It is refreshing not to be dogged by seemingly innocuous situations, so I let it steer most of my daily routines. Unfortunately, over time it led to me being mostly ‘spaced out’ and straight up dissociation from reality when things got stressful. It wasn’t until I first began therapy back in college, (ironically while pursuing my undergraduate degree in psychology) that I began to understand how deep my anxieties ran. Call it a wakeup call or an inconvenient truth, fact is that it wasn’t until a few years of stumbling through various forms of therapies that I found one that I could commit to.
Between trying to negotiate the pros and cons of a login at 10:00am vs 10:09am, and keeping up with the constant barrage of news at my disposal, I lose track of time. Time to get back on schedule for my anxiety attacks. These lapses of time happen whenever I contend with a particularly stimulating idea or news thanks to my incessant doom scrolling. The unfortunate reality of our times is that the world is filled with such stimulants or triggers.
As a person with anxiety, "a change in perspective" or “snapping out of it” didn't have the intended effect on me. When navigating every thought becomes a tight rope walk, snapping out of it only caused me to lose focus and seesaw between mania and depression. Mostly depression, which buoyed by my insecurities, began to burgeon. Leading to extended periods of withdrawal from things which I once found joy in.
At any given point, I've a choir of nagging and critical voices chipping away at my sense of self till the day is done and what goes to sleep is merely a husk of me. To compound to that we have a pandemic, hyper-violent politics, social conflict and an especially aggressive recession eating into the cost of existence for our entire population. A desperation to remain mentally safe demands enormous privilege and an arsenal of coping mechanisms.
My musical equipments lay sprawled across my room, like unwelcome patrons from a gathering long over. I attempt to rekindle the spark I felt with them last night, but no amount of turning knobs, strumming strings or singing things would feel right. Despite having performed ‘professionally’ through most of my young adulthood, I’ve chalked this failure down to a 5 year long creative drought. My therapist thinks it stems from a harmed sense of self for over a decade. While agreeing with their verdict, a crafty voice slips in reminding me of lost opportunities and forgotten blunders. There is no satisfying them. Presently they resonate disapproving timbres from unresolved conversations and social conditioning.
The past few years had been challenging as it required me to maintain a persona for my social interactions. Due to the nature of my work, I was exposed to an ocean of people, I swam the waves of conversations, in a scuba suit which I didn’t realise was there in the first place. Feeling their words, even adulations, only superficially. The latex of my mind preventing my inner skin from being touched. Leaving me starved for validation.
My family who have kept up with my daily struggles for so long, can testify that I tend to get snappy towards the end of the day.
After a day filled with setting various personal records in jumping to conclusions, I am usually left depleted. And any interaction is met with exhaustion disguised as a jab or a retort. Certain difficult conversations made me realise how my implosion had started seeping out of control.
Easily falling prey to labels, much to my therapist’s chagrin, I would rush to them with a conveyor belt of diagnoses discovered via the internet. It’s something I still struggle with, but I’ve found a sense of empowerment in objectifying it to a certain extent. By calling it mine, I get to use it how I want to, instead of the other way round.
As a personal practice, I now avoid labelling anything as a disorder or a condition without professional consent. That rabbit hole is endless, and it presents an open season for my anxiety. The struggle with mental health looks different to different people, and the internet makes it all too easy to self/misdiagnose. It’s best to contact a mental health professional if the need arises.
There are far worse things to be afflicted by, but anxiety is no joke. At the crux of it, my anxiety exhibits itself as a looped series of unnecessary dilemmas. A platform with endlessly moving trains, but an inability to board any.
But thanks to conscious effort, therapy and a wonderful support system, I have finally found moments where these trains slowdown. From being affected by the slightest triggers to now having some semblance of control over regulating them, I find myself beginning to enjoy things a little longer.
I would like to believe that I tricked my mind by microdosing confidence back into my life. Beginning with a simple meal cooked from scratch, 5 pages read from the book of an existentialist philosopher I’ve long feigned knowing or a challenging workout cruised through. To now music, modelling and writing. I am slowly checking things off my list, steadily greasing the gears. There still are days where I feel like my anxiety would be the never-ending essay to my life, but for now I’m content that it no longer feels like a period, but a comma.
(Gavin George is a multi-creative, presently daylighting as a communications and content specialist, with an undergraduate degree in Psychology)
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