Anxiety and depression, they’re like peanut butter and jam, except slightly less accepted by the world. You break your leg or get the flu and you get these mysterious things called “sick days,” but when your anxiety and depression go head-to-head in an all-out battle royale, you’re told to suck it up, shake it off, grow up and go to work like everyone else does. My anxiety is like the little elephant on my chest. Sometimes there are good days — he’s cute and just kinda hangs out and let’s me have my normal. But then there’s the bad days. He makes it difficult for me to do my day-to-day. It makes it hard to breathe, hard to get out of bed, to make plans and keep them, to sit in meetings and to meet new people. To try new things. To leave my bubble. Depression adds 500 pounds to the elephant. It makes all of those things impossible.
I’m sitting at my computer, shaking and my eyes are welling up with tears. I’ve had too much human interaction, too many conversations with strangers about important things, about nothing, small talk and even the occasional joke. But still too much. I’m staring at my computer. A group of people walk in. The thought of seating them makes tears pour down my face. My coworker comes by. I suck it up, say it’s just allergies giving me the sniffles and the glassy eyes. I realize I’ve only been at work an hour and I have seven more to go at the absolute least.
I panic a little more. I’m embarrassed that I’m crying, but my body is freaking out and I’m just numb. I can’t move, I can’t talk, my chest is heavy. Just a run of the mill panic attack. Totally normal. I get up, I serve a customer, I clear a table, I take a call. I had already woken up glued to my bed, feeling hopeless and tired and cancelled a meeting, so my day was off to a running start. Maybe if the bad had just ended at one panic attack it would be different. But it wasn’t. I’m trying to explain why I’m not feeling well, but I can’t find the words that either don’t make you cry or don’t make you sound like a “pansy,” because anxiety and depression and mental illness “aren’t a true thing.” Mental illness. But OK, I’m just “not feeling well.”
Which for all intents and purposes is 100 percent true. I’ve barely kept any solid food in my body all day since my body rejects it once I hit a certain stress level. All of a sudden I catch myself thinking about it all. And panicking again. And feeling rather upset and helpless. And this vicious cycle of crying and panicking and terrible thoughts just keeps cycling my whole shift, just sitting in a trance, staring at my computer, wanting to crawl under my covers and cry. But I’m at work. No sick days for me.
* * *
As it turns out, my anxiety is a person. I found my anxiety in a dream within a dream just now. Well, a dream within a dream, which as I type, could truly just be another dream…
I was in my bed, in my room, with my sister — a normal scenario. Until I was asleep against my will, my sister wasn’t there, a shadowy man looming and leering near me. I was kicking and screaming and punching, trying to pull myself out of what fell like a lethargic, drug-induced haze.
Then I woke up — feeling fine, until a panic inexplicably and out of nowhere came over me, I start trying to get out of bed, to find something normal, to remind myself that I’m awake — until I find out that my hands and feet are asleep, my limbs feel like rubber, I couldn’t breathe, speak and could barely see other than blurs in a blackish haze of what seemed like my room. I tried to yell but nothing came out, I tried slapping my face to wake up out of the darkness that I was surrounded by, but my hand had no effect. I was still screaming and tangled and my bed wouldn’t let me go – like it had arms and legs holding me against my will. I was trying to yell for help, but all that would come out were small gasps of air. I felt hopeless. I started crying and gave up.
I finally awake. For real this time. Terrified and anxious and in a full out panic, I scramble for my phone, panting and crying and just praying someone is awake to validate my consciousness.
I write down everything you just read and realize my dream(s) is/are an allegory for my anxiety and depression: it’s out of your control, it takes you at your most vulnerable, traps you and holds you tight until it’s done with you and shows you no mercy. It’s no elephant. My anxiety is a tall, faceless man. He paces around me, watching my struggle to escape. He has an effect on me, he laughed and mocked me, just seeing the kind of power he had over me; he watched me fight and cry and do everything he could to keep me under his spell, at his every demand.
Would you not be terrified if that happened in real life? If you heard this was happening in real life to someone you knew or cared about, that they were being held against their will by someone – wouldn’t you want to help? Wouldn’t you want to make things better?
Well to me, this is real life. It’s my real life, my reality, my every day. There is a real man who makes most of my decisions for me. Just because you can’t see him, doesn’t mean he isn’t there.
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