Welcome back to my mini-series that focuses on sharing stories of mental health issues to try to stop the stigma that surrounds talking about them. I had a different blog post scheduled for today but I thought that this story needed to be told more urgently. The post that was scheduled will be up this Friday instead. This is a pretty long entry but as I have said to several people who have sent me messages, I am not going to edit your stories. It is yours to tell, I am not the one to decide what should be left out. This is Shama’s story:
I guess I should add that I was really content and so, so happy with my crazy, dramatic, weird life at university and I could easily drink four times a week and do what I wanted without a care. I was really happy. And It wasn’t until I got harassed over a social media site for two weeks with 15 comments about me saying things like I have ‘an acidic vagina’ or that I am a ‘slut’ for everyone to see, that I didn’t want to be here anymore. I wanted to become invisible and disappear. And I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want to leave my bed or look at my phone. And I started to feel really alone and scared and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t breathe and all of a sudden I’d get so light headed I’d need to call my house mate into my room because I was going to faint. Or I’d be shaking so hard my body would feel tingly after a while. I’d get sleep paralysis and start hallucinating most nights. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had a lot of shit in the past. Ranging from messages asking me to kill myself to being pushed into a railing and asked if I was a slut. But these were different because I lost control.
I couldn’t enter the library without my heart racing so hard that the pulse on my neck hurt and I couldn’t walk on my own because I was suddenly self-conscious people were talking about me. And all I wanted to do was cry and cry and cry. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe and I would almost pass out of exhaustion. I don’t think I’d ever cried more in my life than that month. And even as I write this I’m crying because I don’t think I ever felt such a dull aching pain in my whole life or knew it was possible to have so much fear inside me that stopped me from wanting to live. And I didn’t know it was a feeling I was ever going to have. And I didn’t want to eat or wake up in the morning. Every social gathering was an effort, every night was a nightmare of dreading sleeping because of sleep paralysis. And looking back it was a really sad, scary month because I lost control of everything and I never let anyone know how much I was suffering. I remember wanting everything to stop, the comments, the messages, the world to just stop. And all the time I played this really happy, controlled girl who still wanted to go out and have fun because that’s who I was before but inside I was dying from fear and sadness. And it’s funny because I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone in the whole entire world about that month unless it was a passing comment until now.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The truth is I wish it had made me stronger, I wish I’d come out of it all being a stronger women. Or to be able to forget the whole incident and carry on with my life like how I left it before this all happened. I wish I learnt how to handle people being mean to me. I wish when people made comments to me I could ignore them or not feel like I couldn’t breathe and that my heart was going to explode. I wish I wasn’t so sensitive. I wish my brain was back to normal. But it didn’t and I couldn’t. I just developed really, really severe anxiety that only got worse. And in September after a summer of traveling and being away from university I went to the doctors because I started getting small pains in my chest, like a needle pin prick that would stay there and felt like it was getting deeper and deeper. And I started to develop palpitations and fasciculations particularly at night. They were the worst because they’d wake me up in my sleep and I’d be up the whole night. Eventually I started suffering real panic attacks where my heart would feel like it was about to explode and my pulse would be on 140bpm. And because I didn’t know what was happening I would start to panic more. My pulse would race so fast and my chest would ache so much I would have to double over. For two months doctors referred me for an echocardiogram, blood tests, a 24 hour ECG, put me on citalopram and referred me to a psychiatrist, a therapist and a counsellor straight away.
Anxiety is really scary. NO ONE chooses to have anxiety and no one who has anxiety ever asked to have it. It is a MEDICAL CONDITION. It isn’t fun and it’s not attention seeking. Anxiety is CHEMICALS inside your brain that are instructing parts of your body to react. Anxiety causes PAINS inside your heart. It feels like a claw is crushing your HEART and pressing it so hard. Anxiety is not being able to BREATHE. It is waking up in the middle of the night to a pounding heart and sitting in your bed for three hours awake and waiting for it to be over. It is being so in control and happy and confident but with an underlying terror behind all that. It is sleep paralysis and hallucinations and tiredness that comes from too much missed sleeps. It’s blaming yourself for everything and anything and apologising too much. It is muscle spasms and dull aching pains across your chest. It is so many WHAT IFS. It is so much paranoia and feeling so LONELY. It is your mind constantly overthinking everything. It is so much crying and so much fear. ANXIETY is NOT ATTENTION SEEKING. Nobody wants to have anxiety.
I should mention my doctor said my anxiety is on the very severe scale and the more I talk to other sufferers I realise it is… my symptoms don’t need a trigger anymore, for example most people with anxiety will suffer panic attacks when they’re nervous or scared but mine just come whenever. I wake up in the morning with a pounding heart or eat lunch with crushing pains on my heart when I’m at my happiest or in bed about to sleep. I lose my breath when I start to have an attack, the pounding comes and goes at random times but mostly at night and are worst after drinking. I tire myself out in the daytime so I can try and sleep through a night. I don’t drink caffeine anymore and avoid stressful situations. Anxiety is a killer. The hardest part is trying to explain to people who don’t suffer from it that you somehow get such horrific pains on your most delicate organ. Also it’s hard because sometimes you can have really good days and ignore the pounding heart and then other days my anxiety is so bad I have to just walk around for 3 hours to calm my heart down or sleep in my friends bed to relax my heart and make a distraction so I don’t freak myself out more. Or not attend hockey training or social gatherings because my heart area is in too much pain. And it’s tiring. You get so tired and worn out of constant doctors trips and hospital appointments. You get tired of feeling pain most days or having to avoid things that are normal. Or asking some god to get you back to who you were before. You get tired of trying to explain to people what you’re going through and trying to act normal. And people are dismissive or they don’t understand and some people never will. They’ll never understand how someone can feel so scared and alone and anxious or paranoid. They’ll question you and judge you for your actions because they can’t get the brains to work any other way.
I wish people took time to stop and think. I wish those boys hadn’t written those comments or made me feel so low and sad I didn’t want to be here anymore. I wish that people understood mental health more. I wish people took time to ask people how they’re doing. I wish that was a question that was asked 30 times a day and the answer was listened to. I wish people didn’t go out their way to be mean or hurt people or make unnecessary comments. I wish people took the time to understand each other.
In all honesty though I’m really happy at the moment. I have ups and down days and waves of depression have definitely hit me and anxiety is always there lingering. I’m good at hiding it and getting on with my life. I’m on sertraline at the moment and dealing with all the wonderful side effects and still waiting for my 24 hour ECG (echo has come back all fine) and I have a psychiatrist appointment booked for March. I’ve got the most beautiful best friends in the world and it makes my heart melt that they are happy to see me at my worst and help me through every step. My twin sister has been my lifeline since day 1 and I guess we take it in turns to help each other out. So I’ve got all the support I need.
I guess I decided to write this little piece because like I said I never ever told anyone what I went through or how I felt I just plastered on this happy face and it tended to come out when I was drunk or when I wasn’t in control and I spent lots of drunk nights crying and the next day I would become anxious about it so it became a horrible cycle. And I want people to be aware and know about what people with anxiety suffer with. Everyone is fighting a battle and you never know who you can hurt with careless cruel words. I let the pain build up inside of me for so long and even now I have a tendency of doing that because it’s hard to ask people for help or for people to try and understand and I guess it’s because I was really embarrassed too – I didn’t want to go from being so confident and happy to suddenly looking so scared and sad.
The truth is there’s nothing embarrassing about any single mental health illness. The more I talk to people the more I realise it’s so common, there are so many people who want to help other people and most of those people are the kindest most genuine people you’ll meet. When I’m older I want to work with people with eating disorders. I think it’s more embarrassing for people who judge it, it’s embarrassing for people who are too stupid to ever understand or try to understand. Mental illness is an attack on the most important, delicate organ in your entire body: your brain. How can that not be real? It’s not an age thing or a gender thing. It’s a people thing. It’s just that some people operate on a lower scale.
Anyway thanks for reading and probably boring you to death, and to anyone suffering: don’t feel like you’re ever, ever alone. You’re not. Drop me a message if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk to or any advice. (Shama has said to add her on facebook – ‘Shama Johns’ & send her a message there). I’ve seen people at their lowest suffering from depression and manic episodes of bipolar and then myself with anorexia and anxiety. Things do get better and it’s 100% possible to beat. And anyone who suffers from any kind of mental health it’s never ever a sign of being weak it’s just a sign of being strong for too long.
If you would like to share your story please contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I would also like to say that even if you do not want your story posted, my email is open for anyone that needs to just vent how they feel. I’ve had a few people do that already and sometimes it is nice just to share it with someone and take some weight off. I will not post your story without consent.