“I had no idea. I never would have guessed. You’re always so calm and collected and together.” The reaction is always the same. Teachers, family members, the few friends I’ve told.
At work, someone comments that I am always so calm, that nothing seems to phase me. Someone else makes a ‘you’re so OCD’ joke when I remark that the fact there is no holder for basket number 10 really bothers me, and we skip from 9 to 11. Ironic, really.
Sometimes, it frustrates me that outwardly I present so differently to how I feel inside. It baffles me, actually, how people see me as chilled, zen, unphased and unperturbed, when I spend most of my time feeling like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff with a gun pointed to my head. I want to know how it’s possible to come across the bare stark opposite to how I feel, what vibe it is I give off that make people think what they think. Calm, collected, together. Honestly, it makes me want to cry when people describe me as such. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I felt anything remotely close to calm, collected or together.
It’s the ol’ swan swimming on a lake analogy, isn’t in? Smooth and graceful above water, while below the surface my legs paddle furiously. Swan on a lake, people might see the bright smile or hear me exclaim dramatically that “I got all flustered” and laugh along with me, assuming I am just being cute. Dramatic and over the top, exaggerating. Underneath it all, underneath the jokes and laughs and ‘whoops! Silly me!”s I really fucking mean it.
Below the surface, my feet paddle like mad. I pick the skin around my fingers until they are red, raw and bleeding. Pick my nails until they are short and stubby. Wash my hands until they are cracked and dry. I keep a tangle toy in my pocket that I twirl my fingers round when no one’s looking. Some days I break the uniform code and wear a cardigan to work, nod and smile when people ask if I’m cold. Tug at my sleeves. I hide behind scarves and cardigans. In hospital, I wear the same hat for two months straight because it makes me feel ‘safe’. When the nurses realise this, the hat is confiscated and I take to carrying pillows, blankets, oversized cardigans, my teddy; until these are confiscated too. Without something to hold, something to hide behind, I feel very naked.
Mum will grab my hand and squeeze and I will say “I’m fine”. I guzzle diazepam and shuffle the thorazine shuffle every morning at work until last night’s dose wears off. I will grin as I pass my colleagues on the floor while the world spins, my body oozes sweat, my vision blurs and my chest tightens so much I think my heart might burst through my chest. I sit and pick the skin from round my nails, tap my head so the bad things won’t happen, straighten hangers and jumpers until they are ‘right’. To my friends, my colleagues, I am cool and chilled and zen. Inside, there are bombs going off in my brain and everything is tangled and loud and very, very messy. I think, I analyse, I worry. Relentlessly. Unbelievably unbearably. I experience every kind of ache and pain- swollen glands to indigestion to horrific chest pains to searing headaches that made me cry, and each time the GP or on call doctor or pharmacist or A&E nurse will do their tests and determine there is No Physical Cause. It’s all in my head (literally). Anxiety, apparently, does strange things to the body.
And boy do I know it. It just. Won’t. Stop. I paddle paddle paddle, all day, every day. When I stop paddling enough to finally get to sleep (with the help of sleepers, of course), I paddle in my dreams, too. Those horrible tossy-turny-still-thinkthinkthinking kind of dreams, that leave you more exhausted come morning than you were the night before. Who needs a good night’s sleep when there’s worrying to be done!!
So I just feel like I’m not getting a break. And I feel ridiculous moaning about a ‘lil bit of anxeity over, well, nothing- when there are people with real problems, real issues, real worries. I’m trying to remember what my therapist said- that it’s not ‘silly’ if it’s important to me. But it’s hard. Because like, it isn’t important to me. It is all so irrational, so beyond my control, and often, it’s absolutely trivial.
And it all sounds so vague- ‘anxiety’. People shrug it off or roll their eyes, or say “yeah yeah, me too”. And that, and the fact that people seem to see me as the last person to get stressed out about something, or to suffer from mental illness/anxiety, is what’s getting to me. I don’t want people to know, I just feel like if they were to know, they wouldn’t understand, or believe me. They wouldn’t ‘get’ how completely debilitated I feel by this, how totally and utterly all consuming my anxiety disorder can be.
And so I keep paddling. The ol’ brain keeps ticking over, worrying about anything and everything, worrying about worrying. I glide along the surface of the water, intact, together, in one piece. Underneath, I am paddling frantically, trying to Keep It Together.
I might look like a swan, but I am an anxious fucking wreck.