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When You Want and Don't Want People to Notice You're Struggling

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Sometimes it’s so easy to stick your head in the sand, to pretend like everything is just fine, to smile at the world. People ask how you’re doing, but do they truly care for an answer or is it simply being polite or an automatic question? I’m not sure. But I do know it’s so much easier to just smile, nod, stick your fingers in your ears and sing loudly to quiet the voices in your head. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn’t.

I’ve gotten so good at pretending these past two years. With distance it’s so much easier. It’s easy to move on from them asking about you to asking about them and what they’re doing and feeling and experiencing. Because if you talk about the other person, what’s there to say about yourself? Not much, which is the point. It’s exactly what you want and exactly what you do not want. You want them to notice you’re not OK, you want them to see that something’s wrong, but you don’t want to raise your hand and talk about it first.

That’s the problem, isn’t it? You want to be noticed but do everything to not be noticed. You’re ashamed — of the fear, the panic, the anxiety creeping through your entire body. It makes you lose control of your body. It’s like torture. More and more you notice how things scare you.

It starts with being unable to step into the train. Next you can’t go into the crowded library, and before you know it you hole up inside your bed and read book after book. Because books are safe, they take you outside of your own head and put you into a completely different world — one of wonders. Something bright you keep reaching for but your hands can never seem to grasp it. It could be about history, a time when things were different, or about supernatural beings, or a teenage girl struggling with herself and who she is. It could be absolutely anything but yourself and your own problems because if you have to face those…

What will happen? Will your “world” crumble? Will you lose what little control you have left? But is it really control if what you show the world is a mask of fake smiles? Are you truly so afraid of facing the truth that you’d rather live in books or sleep through all of it? Because the bed is safe. No one can reach you there. No one can hurt you. But the problem is, it’s not the outside world that’s hurting you. They’re not even trying to. It’s your own mind attacking you, almost like it’s trying to break what little self-control you have left. And once you let it, that’s when the “normal” anxiety you’re used to turns into full blown out-of-control panic attacks.

That’s when the scary turns into horror, the silent tears turn into almost unbearable sobs, breathing seems impossible and it feels like you might die. It feels like minutes turn into hours at a time. And those minutes turn into long, stretched-out seconds. You’ve lost all control. You can’t think straight; you can’t feel your body except the ragged breathing ripping apart your chest. Sometimes people say, “Just breath, it’ll be fine.” And you would want to give them just a tiny fraction of what you’re going through because if they could feel it… they would never tell you to just breath. They would never look at you as if you’re overreacting or worse… as if it’s all just in your head.

People who haven’t been through it don’t understand, and part of me is so happy they don’t get it. Why? Because it means they’ve never felt so helpless, so ashamed of having these problems, so incredibly small that you feel like a little girl instead of a grownup woman. But it also means they don’t understand that if you manage to make a big step or even a small step, you’re worn out for days afterwards. You’re both emotionally and psychically exhausted.

I’m happy they don’t understand, yet part of me wishes they would be able to understand. It’s both a burden and a relief but never in equal measures. It always depends on what kind of day I’m having.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Thinkstock photo by Jacqui Moore

Originally published: January 17, 2017
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