A couple days after my 32nd birthday I had a breakdown. Something strange happens in your thirties. The concept of mortality crystallizes, becoming a reality rather than this nebulous thing you know about but don’t really think about. It was this reality that hit me. Perhaps it was the fact that I’m not where I thought I’d be at this point in my life or the aforementioned realization, but either way, I felt broken. The uncontrollable sobbing, the fear that gripped every fiber of my being, was excruciating and terrifying and all manner of awful. And perhaps the most shocking thing of all is that this was not the first time it had happened. A few years ago, I experienced something similar, when I was a hospice volunteer and watched a woman die in front of me. The only difference was that this time, I sought help.
Like many, I tend to bottle my most vulnerable & powerful feelings until they bubble up, boil over & whatever other idiom you like. Loads of people have anxiety. Mine is fear of death, a quite human fear and unfortunately not one easily assuaged.
I retreated from the world. Something I had slowly been doing for months. I had found myself wanting to talk to people about how I was feeling, how my fears & feelings of inadequacy were affecting me, but I was surrounded by people dealing with far greater problems of their own. I began committing a dangerous yet all-too-common delusion; comparing my issues with those of others. It’s easy to suppress or ignore the obstacle at hand if one truly believes their obstacle is less difficult, “How can I talk about my crap when Jane Doe is going through X? She’ll think I’m being selfish. She’s the one that really needs a shoulder now anyway. My crap can wait.” The only issue with this is that it presupposes that others know what you are thinking & so far as I can tell, they do not. It also imagines a world where close friends don’t care about you and rationally, I know that is simply not true. The reality is that it was just another way for me to negate my own mental health. How convenient. I continued doing the worst thing I could do, ignoring it, and never got better. Instead it got worse until it couldn’t get any worse and I crumbled.
My therapist expressed surprise upon learning that I’d never seen anyone before. I guess I just always thought I could handle my issues myself, or that somehow my issues weren’t serious enough to warrant seeking assistance. After all, I used to think, I’m not bipolar or depressed or anything else one generally associates with therapy. How foolish. Seeing someone doesn’t mean anything other than admitting something within you is off kilter & needs to be addressed.
I’m so glad to be in therapy. It’s comforting and reassuring in a way I think I knew was possible, but believed to be out of reach until now.
I tell you all this not because I’m brave or because I need to know that the people in my life are happy that I’m ok. I’m not brave – firefighters are brave, soldiers are brave – I’m just honest, but I am more than ok. I feel better than I have in quite a while and have finally begun to understand that this is not something that just goes away. I will live with this fear the rest of my life. But I’m more equipped than ever before to handle it when it starts to negatively affect my life.
I’m writing this for two reasons. The first and possibly more important is because I know I’m not alone and I want you to know that too. I have an incredible support system and I want you to know that I’m part of yours. Even if we’ve never met or never meet, I’m thinking of you and rooting for you. Because I know what it’s like to not be in control of your emotions & thoughts, that helpless feeling that your anxiety has gotten too big, too looming, too controlling. And I know how isolating that can be. So, I need you to know that you are not alone.
The second reason is admittedly a bit selfish. It makes me feel better to get this out. I’ve been distant and probably will be again. It’s just something I need to do every once in a while, when I’m working through stuff. And so hopefully, this will act as a primer / mea culpa to those around me.
As a society we’ve gotten better about talking candidly about mental health, but there’s more we can do. Millions of people struggle with anxiety disorders and other mental health issues that are brushed off because we don’t think they’re serious enough to seek help or talk about. If something is affecting your life, seek help. You’re not weak and you’re not crazy. You’re human.