I approach life with an excessive degree of consternation.
I recently downloaded an app called MoodMission, in which you log in during a troubling time and it asks you to rate how you are feeling on a spectrum. Depending upon your answers it recommends a number of activities, one of which you are to commit to fulfilling in an attempt to “empower you to to overcome low moods and anxiety by discovering new and better ways of coping”.
I suffered depression as a teenager. It is a feeling I have made friends with over the years. When it visits these days we barely acknowledge each other. A slight nod of the head. A comfortable silence. Like estranged lovers that never found courage to say goodbye. When I experienced anxiety for the first time, my world changed. I met my own mortality and it has haunted me since. Anxiety is a dark mist, shadowing my life in a vignette. It isn’t composed and phlegmatic like my old friend, but sharp and swollen and sure. Anxiety shatters reality with reckless abandon – anywhere, anytime – with no warning, no caution, no remorse. It tears apart your insides, reaches deep down – and squeezes. And you cannot see. You cannot think. You cannot breath. You are an empty vessel at the mercy of time. And only time can save you.
Today my first activity was to write down my feelings in a blog post, something I have been afraid to do in my current iteration of this panic disorder. I has my first anxiety attack in 2011. I was smoking a lot of weed and it had taken me to a dark place. I had finished the Honours year of a bullshit Creative Arts degree at university – graduating with first class honours despite my drug use – and had no idea what to do next with my life. I was lost. And was not expecting what found me.
When it came I remember feeling light-headed and realising that I wasn’t breathing. I had time to call out my partner’s name before I lost consciousness, knocking my head against the wall as I fell. When I came to I was disorientated and unable to make sense of my surroundings. I remember repeating over and over “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” I can’t remember if it was a bizarre attempt to calm myself or my partner in that moment. I experienced another attack the following night but this time I didn’t lose consciousness. I lay on the floor for several hours – I can’t recall how long as time seemed to be stuck in a merciless never-ending ‘present’ – with a continual feeling of being sucked in and out of my own body. When I was inside myself I was bewildered within my own mind, cast adrift in waves of fear. When I was outside of myself the physcial sensations reigned as my body shook uncontrollably and breath escaped me.
Cut to 1st January, 2017. It had been 5 years since my last panic attack. I had slowly felt my insides knot for the 9 months prior, triggered by a episode I had had in Amsterdam in March of 2016 where a nasty bought of gastro in a foreign city had left me malnourished and resulted in another episode whereby I lost consciousness and knocked my head against the shower wall. I woke up not knowing where I was, who I was, who I was with, what had happened, and the most disturbing of all – unable to see despite my eyes being open. In that moment, although it wasn’t anxiety, I felt the same way I did many years earlier. In that moment of disorientated panic I thought I was stroking and dying – and oh my god how indescribably terrifying it is to realise the loneliness of that moment.
I had reached out in December 2016 to a psychologist in a desperate attempt to drop an anchor before I ran aground. It was too little too late and on the 1st January I found myself lying again on the floor, curled up in a ball unable to move or speak, heart racing, body convulsing, overwhelmed with the belief that I was having a heart attack and this was the end. It wasn’t. But it was the beginning of something else. Anxiety had emerged from the shadows. It was back.
So here I sit, months on, trying to piece this all together. I’m starting this blog as an attempt at catharsis. It’s an attempt to be truly honest with myself.
To navigate the waters of my mental illness.
To document my thoughts.
To expose my flaws.
To heal my wounds.
To let it all go.
I chose the title “Ships In The Night”, inspired by the words of Henry W. Longfellow:
“Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”
Life indeed is like ships passing in the night. We make this voyage in solitude, briefly passing by others on their own journey – sharing a brief moment together – before sailing on. Although we are on these waters alone, we must look to the same heavens to find our way.
I hope to find my way. And I look forward to passing you by.