There is a bird that lives inside my chest. I call it my canary. It’s the first warning sign to me that a situation is potentially dangerous. When I feel the first flutter of wings against my ribcage, I know. This is what living with anxiety feels like.
It’s not ‘worrying’. It’s not ‘oh dear, hope things will be ok’. It’s not even an ‘be careful’. Anxiety becomes a physical entity that takes hold of my body. I have problems walking properly. The muscles in my legs tense and I end up taking odd, stiff legged little steps, knees unyielding. I feel as though I’m tottering along the street, about to trip at any given moment. And because I’m scared that I’m going to fall, I become more nervous, more tense, and I usually do stumble, and my brain flicks a V at me and says smugly ‘See? I knew you were going to do that.’ Brain wanker.
I stop eating too. My throat closes up and to consider swallowing anything vaguely solid causes a ripple of panic. It’s not so much not wanting to eat as being unable to contemplate eating properly. Small nibbles, possibly, if I have a few minutes of feeling calm. Three or four wine gums, one at a time. Half a biscuit. On an average day, two crumpets with cheese. But because my body is locked into an overwhelming surge of adrenaline, the food goes undigested, and within half an hour, I’m uncomfortably full, feeling sick, and have to puke it back up into the toilet to have some relief, for a little while. I have no idea why, but it does help.
When you have anxiety, every sense is heightened, every threat magnified, every potential for danger is laid out in a detailed risk assessment, including bibliography, references, and acknowledgements. Absolutely everything is something to be feared. We have a fourth floor balcony with solid concrete walls that are at least four feet tall. But if I find a Blondie standing near the ledge that is pretty much nipple height, I freak the motherfuck out. ‘GET AWAY FROM THE EDGE’ I shriek, in quavering tones, somehow convinced that they will manage to vault over the wall and hurtle to a splashy death below. It’s even as simple as walking past a spiked railing and automatically thinking ‘bloody hell, if one of us tripped we might fall in that direction and accidentally hit that and HOLD MY HAND BLONDIES BECAUSE WE’RE ABOUT TO DIE.’
It’s bloody ridiculous. I expect every situation to have the worst possible outcome, so I am perma-primed against disaster. Everything braced for impact. And the worst part of it is dealing with people. And the worst part of dealing with people is disagreement. Which is stupid, because I’m gobby, opinionated, and I don’t give a toss what people think of me. But I’m not good at confrontation (some of you may be breaking off from reading at this point to scoff incredulously. All I’ll say is that I’m good at hiding my feelings sometimes). And I was a bit taken aback by some of the responses to a (now removed) blogpost I wrote last week. More than a bit, to be honest. I felt under attack. One comment was deleted by the writer almost as soon as it was posted – wisely, as it identified a few people in it – I left the others up until I deleted the post, because I generally have a halfarsed policy of allowing discussion on posts, no matter how upsetting I find the things that people say to and about me.
Maybe because I’ve become used to people being kind to me for the last few months. Maybe because I’m not as robust as I used to be. Maybe because for the next few days and nights I was on my own, and didn’t have anything to distract me. But those comments – both here and in other places online – really scored into my head. There are ways of making your point without being unkind. I doubt those people would have said such things to my face, and the fact that the worst comments were made anonymously pretty much sums them up. But it’s set my anxiety off in a way I haven’t experienced for a few months, and I feel ashamed.
Ashamed that I have hardly eaten this week. Ashamed that I’m finding it hard to leave the house just to take the rubbish out. Ashamed that my face feels strained. I know this is a temporary panic, even I can’t maintain this level of catastrophising for too much longer. But since last week, I have been braced against disaster, expecting something terrible to happen at any moment, waiting for it to happen, constantly on edge, constantly expecting the worst, seeing everything through hyper eyes and feeling that everything is personal, every action and word is just one step away from someone launching a full scale attack on me. It’s fucking exhausting.
There is a bird that lives inside my chest. I cannot release the canary from her cage, as hard as she beats her wings. If I could let her fly away and never return, I would do it in a heartbeat, I would do it without ruffling a single feather ever again. But the canary is always here. She is just as much my prisoner as I am hers.