Which side is up again?

I’ve written, rewritten and deleted this post more times than I can actually remember. It has been sitting in the drafts folder now since April… The timing has always seemed wrong. Every time the issue of depression or anxiety has become a topic of discussion it has been around real and tragic events. Talking about myself has just always seemed tacky.

In hindsight that may also have been a convenient excuse to keep putting it off and it really served my purpose in all honesty. And speaking to someone today made me realize we all fight the same battles. One way or another.

Last week death took some of the light from this world.

And my anxiety took some light from me too.

How could someone who laugh so much and joke around have this issue? It doesn’t make sense. Right?

But in a sad and strange way it does. When you are the funny one you aren’t allowed to feel sad, or you won’t allow yourself to. You are the person that makes other people smile when they are feeling bad and when you can’t do that people don’t know how to handle it – you don’t know how to handle it – you feel like you are letting yourself and everyone else down. The pressure can be immense.

For those who know me well this is not news, but for those of you who don’t – my name is Heleen and I have anxiety.

I don’t talk about it in detail that often. I was diagnosed last year in November. When I was at a point where I struggled to leave the house to go to work. It was nuts- I swear!

Things have changed a lot but there is still that hangover there, there’s still the fear that lighting the fuse and pressing ‘publish’ on this post could have an impact on my life, my career prospects, the way people look at me.

What’s more important though is letting people who might be in that black hole right now know that they are not alone and with a little help they can claw themselves out.

Having anxiety it does not make you weak. It does not make you selfish and you don’t need to just “get a grip and get over it”. You don’t need to justify feeling the way you do. You have an illness – and an illness can be treated.

So if one person stumbles across this blog and feels the stronger for it, then outing myself publicly will be worth it.

It took me a long time to be able to speak out about this stuff. I felt I had to wait until I’d ‘proved myself’ – until I finished my recent studies (which I was told by a well-meaning doctor not to pursue because the stress might be too much- hehe! I did it and I did well).

BUT: let’s be honest here:

First of all, anxiety does not make you weak. It took me a long time to realise this, but it takes an incredibly strong person to fight against their own brain 99% of the time.

I joke about being Anxiety Girl but there is an uncomfortable amount of truth there. I joke about a lot of things, it’s what I do. I am the loud, happy, bright coloured one. It was an identity I chose for myself in varsity after I came to the conclusion that I could hide away what is really going on in my head. It was immensely liberating and helped me create life-long friends.

I started remember having OCD and anxiety type symptoms from a very young age but it wasn’t until I had 2016 that things really started flaring up. When I was at my worst I wasn’t eating or sleeping and could barely leave the house.

None of it made sense. Bad things weren’t happening in my life, I had good friends and a loving supportive family, there were so many people out there so much worse off than I was. I had no right to be feeling this way.

I was the bright bubbly one so how could I possibly explain this black evil thing – these compulsions that made no sense. The anger and frustration at myself was visceral.

My mom helped me a lot and got me an appointment at a psychiatrist.

That’s where my recovery began. I fought against it for a while, but eventually a combination of therapy, changing the way I think (I’m not ashamed to admit it) medication started to work for me.

One of the biggest helps was when a psychologist sat me down and drew a diagram of what was going on in my brain. He showed me how the chemicals in my brain were out of whack and how medication could help balance them up again. He said it was no different from a diabetic needing insulin to balance their blood sugar levels and that I had  no reason to be ashamed.

I once tried going off my meds-  particularly when people show me a number of high-profile studies came out saying how terrible they were and that doctors were prescribing too much. When I went off them I would be fine for a while but then everything would come crashing back with reinforcements.  I now accept that happy pills are a part of my life and I am okay with that.

I have pretty much kicked the OCD symptoms now, but the anxiety still rears its ugly head on occasion. I am an A-grade worrier. If being terrified was an Olympic sport I could represent South Africa.

The trick is to learn the difference between practical fear and completely pointless fear.  For example, fear of falling off a boat in rough seas is sensible. It’s self-preservation and you can address it by making sure you are firmly attached to the boat by a safety harness and by not doing anything stupid. An absolute conviction that the boat is going to fall to pieces every time it makes a perfectly normal creak is not.

You may ask why then, if I am such a ball of neurosis, why is it that I then work with people? The answer is simple. I’m not going to let fear win.

I still get anxiety attacks from time to time, often in situations that people normally wouldn’t find stressful at all. Being in a mall full of people drives me nuts. I can do it, but I hate it. Put me in a high pressure work situation and I thrive, ask me to go to the mall on a Saturday and I will be a hot mess.

I guess what I am trying to say is that my anxiety may never completely go away but it doesn’t have to stop me living the life I want.

And for those of you who haven’t experienced this just remember, more people around you have than you think. And it’s the people you don’t expect  – the quirky ones, the bright ones, the people you respect and admire – it’s your boss, your doctor, your teacher, the fix-it person you go to when everything’s falling apart.

These people don’t need pity or sage advice, they just need to know that you know and you care and you don’t judge. You can’t fix them, but you can support them while they fix themselves.

 

We are all in this thing called life, and we can help each other get by 🙂

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