I apologize for the lateness of this publication. This article is one of the most arduous I've ever had to write on the blog. Exposing myself like this this week has been rather daunting. I've always maintained a barrier between what I said and what I didn't. This week I chose to be ruthless and open myself up to a lot of scrutiny. This week I've admitted that I'm not perfect. That behind the smiles and the trips to Stratford-upon-Avon, there is a lot of hellish goings on. So tonight I'm going to talk about the antagonist that plays a haunting role in all of our lives; Anxiety.
As diverse as we are, we could easily be situated in the same room. Huddled in a circle of chairs in a pristine room with preservation gnawing away at us. A badge-clad man donning a pair of glasses circling us. We feel as though he passes judgment. That he sees our weakness written on our foreheads. Then he asks us one simple question: "How do you feel today?"
Anxiety is a burden card we've all been dealt one way or another. Some fear the very air that surrounds us whilst others are oblivious to any such fear in their conscious mind. I have always been claustrophobic. I couldn't step into a lift, I would be in hysterics if forced. Crowds frightened me but if I had a healthy distance from person to person, I could persevere. I could be socially shy. It would take me time to come out of my shell. These little worries never had a distinctive impact on my life. Until I became ill.
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis amplifies emotion in general, but revels in heightening anxiety, of all kinds. Feelings of worry intensify from a mild level on the anxiety spectrum to the very top of the boiling point tier. I'm either high in the sky or in the depths of hell. There is no middle ground to tread evenly upon.
For six months in the beginning, I never stepped foot in the outside world unless it was for a hospital appointment and even that was an agonizing effort. I withdrew from life, my life, my friends, my work. I withdrew from myself. It was as though I forgot who I was. The woman I saw in the mirror was not the one I remembered, the latter had become a blurred dream.
For the first time in my life, I was truly scared of the world. I'd become a recluse accustomed to the environment of three occupants, one of them being feline. Everything I thought I knew about myself was flung out the window and my body was no longer under my control. I was in a state of limbo.
It took a year to come to terms with the fact that this was my life now. That I was starting from square one in a whole new, and ultimately harder, game. It was then I realized that I needed to climb this mountain and retrieve that woman that once stared back at me in the mirror. This meant I was going to have to do a lot of very tough and scary things.
I had to take baby steps and mini leaps. I would have many arguments with my therapist, A, about this. I feared the process itself. All I could see was darkness. I couldn't see the light that was at the end of the tunnel. I was a stubborn woman and he was a stubborn man. Deep down, I knew he was right. I couldn't live like this. Anxiety affects how quickly I will progress in my recovery to learning to live with M.E. and my resigned attitude to change the fact these feelings were controlling me was deteriorating my health and what was left of my life further.
I first began with a daily walk. A ten minute walk down the road with either my mother or father. I felt like a tiny little girl on her first day of school, clutching her parent's hand in a vice-like grip and stumbling over her own feet. I would have to stop a few times for lengthy time-outs because my body wasn't use to the exercise and the fresh air hit me like a fist to the face. The walk duration would gradually increase every couple of weeks and the distance would become longer.
When I would suddenly be thrust into an unplanned crowd, perhaps of only several people, I would have a panic attack. My reaction shocked and upset me. I hated that I could be suffocated by an invisible source because of a few people. As the crowds slowly began to rise, the panic attacks did become frequent and damaging. It was horrifying. Feeling peoples' eyes on me, even if they weren't, I felt like these people, these strangers, were judging me.
Upon addressing this, A suggested a simple calming technique. When he told me, I thought it was pointless. When I tried it however, I've never stopped using it since. Relaxed Breathing is what it says on the tin. With your fingers on your stomach, palms flat against the ribcage, you take deep breaths and sigh just as deeply. It's the equivalent to a balloon filling with helium. It feels alien and strange yet behind this, it is slowly evaporating the initial panic. After much practice, this coping mechanism has helped to the best of its ability.
Another technique I use when I'm in this state is talking to someone. It's very hard to concentrate on speaking but it keeps me distracted and the sound of my companion's voice proves to be that of a soothing effect. For example, one day I was left in an empty fountain area whilst my mother grabbed lunch. The space abruptly filled with a very large group of tourists. My heart was pounding, I was huddled at the edge of the bench, hugging my knees. Somehow, I found myself dialing my father's number and I just kept blurting out that I needed him to talk to me. Though I may have looked like a deranged maniac, this helped me to calm down.
The road was never going to be a smooth drive and I would have been naïve to have thought so. There have been many, many failures. Countless times that I've come crashing down. Experiences that set me back and increased my terror. But they also did something else. They motivated me. So much so that my successes now overruled all the times I fell and continue to fall.
My mother pushes me to my limit to aid me in anyway she possibly can to help me overcome this overwhelming anxiety of people and life in general. She was the one that took me to Stratford-upon-Avon. She was the one who got me back to working. She helped me jump over one of the greatest hurdles of all; reconnecting with the people who'd been in my life. She helped me to start living life again. I will never be able to thank her enough for what she does for me.
There have been tears, tantrums and attacks but I've overcome the worst part of my anxiety. Nowadays, I'm never alone other than being in my house. There is always someone present. I still struggle with anxiety and no matter how dark some days can be, I believe that I will eventually obliterate this aspect of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.