I wake up not for the sound of my alarm clock but for the unnaturally booming palpitations of my heart. My eyes shoot wide open in panic, and I recognise a familiar sense of impending doom. Curling up onto my side with my arms wrapped around my stomach, I attempt to appease my squirming nauseated body. I yearn to sink back into sleep and forget, but it’s too late; I am once again a slave to the sensation of suffocation which kept me awake for hours on end just the night before.
My heart-rate escalates as I enter the shower, my brain desperately tallying what needs to be done over the course of the day. I try to be mindful by watching the water dripping down the sides of the glass, mimicking tears that refuse to fall down my face, though am continually pulled back to the twisting knots within my core. I feel sick to my stomach and wonder if maybe some nutrition will help the nausea I am experiencing. But food tastes like cardboard and only makes my insides knot tighter – it’s a lose-lose situation, and I remain stuck between a rock and a hard place.
It’s 10am, time for my driving lesson. I enter the car and my instructor asks me how I have been, but I feel too foggy to create a coherent response; my mind clouded by fear, even though he tells me I have been ready to take my test for months. It’s hot outside and even more so within the confines of the car, but I cannot remove my cardigan for fear of him judging my scars. The heat perpetuates the anxiety, and my throat dries up, yet I am too fearful to sip my water because all concentration has to be on the road. I push myself hard; try to laugh at his jokes, and respond when appropriate, but even this is too much for my fragile state of mind. We approach a large junction and I freeze. I feel my body and brain disconnect and cannot comprehend what I am being told to do. I can feel his frustration, but by now am too far into a state of dissociation to get myself back on track. Other cars are honking at me but I remain stuck in a trance, unable to connect to reality, too numbed by fear to feel ashamed.
I am dropped off at the station and walk to the underground, my limbs still dead and shaking from the lesson. My next hurdle is the tube, and luckily it is a quiet time of day, because I certainly could not manage rush-hour today. I descend the escalators several metres underground before boarding the carriage. I have to find a seat because I feel faint and weak – exhausted from the strain endured by my body and brain previously. I take a seat and feel other people’s eyes on me, wishing I were invisible. I convince myself they are thinking about me, judging me, mocking me, seeing through the facade to the fundamentally flawed human being I really am.
Skills – now! I validate myself, though of course it feels fake and forced.
Cheerleading statements – what about those? –
“You can do this, yes you can, you really really can”.
“Just count to 10, you can make it through 10 seconds at a time”.
“Right now, right here, you are okay”.
I can at least practice my breathing exercises, trying desperately to stop fidgeting with my hands, and leave my bleeding bitten nails alone.
Soon, I emerge into fresh air, and I can breathe again. Temporarily. Now I have therapy; I have to brave the walk there, survive the entire session, and make the journey back. My session exhausts me. My contorted body is a rigid slab of metal and my jaw aches from clenching all morning. My therapist tells me to sit on my hands if it’s the only way I can stop clawing at myself; stop sending my brain the message that the anxiety is justified.
But that doesn’t matter. I know in my head that I am physically safe; that there is no immediate risk to myself nor anyone around me at this time. And yet the physical anxiety will not leave me alone. Inevitably the thoughts come in and I begin to catastrophise, “What if I never stop feeling this way?”, “I cannot live like this for ever”, “I am going to give myself a heart attack”.
I make it to my friend’s house and she offers me a glass of wine which I gladly drink (in order to calm my nerves). I feel judged and paranoid, but paranoid about appearing paranoid too. I desperately do not want anyone to notice what’s going on for me, but at the same time I need someone to see the extent of what I’m experiencing – so that maybe they can help me. Or so that I stop feeling so incredibly alone.
I cannot sit still and simply be with myself. My core tenses and churns with monsters that should not belong inside any human. Something presses into my throat, making it harder to breathe – as though my windpipe has been clogged with cottonwool. I am only 21, but my heart aches with the constant stress it is under and the lack of a sustained calm. I can feel another headache brewing; the result of a constantly dysregulated and unsettled system. I feel young and old, and empty and full, and hot and cold, and heavy and light, all at once. Most of all, I feel powerless.
I am fu*king terrified of anything that isn’t nothing.
I am exhausted; I look at my watch. I still have the rest of the day to get through – it is only 3:00pm…