I have written my fair share of blogs, dripping with the sadness, despair and suffering that anxiety and its subsequent depression left me with. Today’s post isn’t another one of those. Whilst those fragments of written thought have their own part to play as a release valve in those dreaded moments of angst, today’s piece comes from a place of greater peace and more importantly: acceptance.
Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that another eighteen full moons have graced the sky since my first visit to the GP with absolutely no understanding of why my emotions spiralled into anxiety a month before my finals. Maybe it’s even more to do with that fact that with finals over, those obstacles surpassed and all those moons later; I’m still not “over it”.
The time elapsed between then and now have been ridden with moderate highs and exquisite lows. Throughout it, I’ve felt like a woman fighting hard for better mental health, the goal of getting ‘better’ at the top of her to-do list so that once it was all ticked off, she could move on. In previous posts, I have spoken about how I, quote-on-quote “do not wish to make my sadness clinical”. I now see the ways in which that mindset was pure ego screaming, “I can do this! Take that, anxiety! You’re not an illness, you’re just a manifestation of my ego and I will fight you (with even more ego)!”
I was desperate. Desperate for every problem to have a solution. As if happiness was a goal and if I really worked hard enough with my therapist, doing loads of CBT; I’d get there and then that would be it, I’d never ever look back.
As a matter of fact I did work hard enough with my therapist to get there. I reached my goal. For a while, I was elated and deluded enough to believe that was it. My ‘old self’ had returned and now I could walk out into the world, armed with skills that meant anxiety and depression would never come back again.
The universe had other plans. Plans involving another downward spiral. A return to therapy after being discharged, calling in sick twice at work because I couldn’t fight the anxiety, more self-loathing, more self-criticism and more self harm. But as I mentioned at the start, this post isn’t about the sadness. It is born out of a quiet desire to be pragmatic in the face of turbulent emotion.
Fighting ego with ego hadn’t worked. Thus; encouraged by my therapist and by my loved ones, I did the thing I was so afraid to do. I made my sadness clinical. Driving to the GP practice on a day I should have been on the ward, I parked up and walked in, heart racing, palms sweating and ego broken. I sat before the doctor, running her quickly through the circumstances leading to my current situation as she turned to face me, eyes widened in shock, uttering the words “I think we need to start you on some medication”.
I know this is not an approach that works for everyone. For over a year, I myself had fought it. I told myself I was better than medication and I turned it into some kind of philosophical debate about how much inner strength I possessed.
Driving back from the pharmacy, a paper bag of prescription drugs riding along on the passenger seat next to me, I realised I had returned to the familiar place of rock bottom, this time with eighteen full moons’ worth of experience and wisdom on my hands, which was at least enough to realise this wasn’t about inner strength or fighting a battle towards better mental health, about a checklist or getting discharged from therapy being a goalpost to wellness. This was about acceptance. This is it. This is simply where I am.
I was always afraid of calling anxiety an illness because I feared that it would make me lazy or I’d start using it as an excuse. ‘Oh I can’t do that today because of my anxiety’. I would judge people who talked like that, blogged like that or felt like that. I separated mental illness from physical illness because to my jaded mind, anxiety was a part of my personality whereas a broken leg isn’t. The ultimate fear however was that the minute I saw my anxiety as an illness, I would lose my desire to fight it.
So what happened?! Well, the long and short of it is that I have lost my desire to fight it. I was tired. Living with chronic anxiety makes each day so tough that those thoughts scuttle over into thinking that life isn’t worth living anymore. The more I introspect, the more I realise that I have had anxiety my whole life; ever since I was a small child. It was born of and exacerbated by poor self esteem, made worse by moving places, by childhood bullying, by medical school and by coping in the wrong ways and by not realising it was there or dealing with it until I hit my twenties. That is all okay.
It’s okay not to have a burning desire to fight it because it has been instead replaced by a much calmer, quieter and more powerful desire to live with it. Making my sadness clinical has made me see it as a lifelong companion. The desperation has settled. Anxiety has been there all along and it’s there to stay. So rather than fight it with an ill determination to get better and stay better and never be anxious again- I may as well accept that it’ll be there for a long time coming. Anxiety is my baseline and it always has been. Whilst I can work with it, it won’t just go away. Baselines take years, even decades to change- not months. And sometimes we can’t will things into action; they simply get woven into the fabric of life with the cumulative experience and wisdom that manifests with each passing full moon.
Love to all