Precious brain space: a case study in anxiety. Or, how to become a nutbag in one internal monologue

Anxiety is like that Jessica* you went to school with who had great hair, a figure, no acne and a boyfriend. It just never.goes.away. When you’re having a laugh with your friends she just breezes by leaving a heady waft of impulse. When you’re having a bad day you see her, surrounded by Jessicettes, laughing, radiant, confident.

I never had anxiety before 2006. Seriously. Depression yes. Anxiety no.
Let’s just say, anxiety sucks like big fat hairy trucker’s balls.
No, it does.
Hold that image.

When Jasper was seven months old I had a crash and burn – I’d been back at work full time for three months and basically couldn’t hold all those balls in the air anymore. I crashed and went back onto my meds. My meds that had helped me be normal me for quite some time but this time they didn’t want to play and instead of making my internal pendulum swing nice and steady they just grabbed that pendulum and hit it again and again and again against the inside of my skull. I got sick, I fucked up at work, I would wake at 3am in the grip of what I thought was a heart attack that would last, like some perverted contraction, until 5am and then another one would hit from nowhere and last for a few hours and I was all – what fresh hell is this?

It was, as my shrink would delight in telling me, anxiety. He also told me – after I’d told him that it was mighty suckful and I didn’t want to play with Anxiety anymore – that in something like 98 per cent of successful suicides the people had suffered chronic anxiety.

That’s what we call around these parts a no shit Sherlock comment.

Anyway, we changed my meds and the anxiety disappeared in literally about 8 hours. Just like that.

Then I fell pregnant again, and a few things at work went south and well Anxiety has been sticking its head over the fence asking for a cup of sugar or just plain rubber-necking more often than I care to admit.

And then I do admit it and well folks, every single day I wake up and start my day in the grip of an anxiety attack. And it is pretty much with me all the live long day.**

For those of you who are sane not familiar with Anxiety imagine that sensation when someone comes up behind you and scares the crap out of you.
That sensation all your organs are fleeing your body.
That immediate blinding panic.
The momentary nauseousness.
All those things that last a microsecond – just long enough to then make you want to beat the crap out of the person who crept up in the first place – are the best way I can describe Anxiety.
Except it lasts for hours.
Oh sure, it crescendos here, quietens down there, but there is this pervading sense of impending doom.
A feeling of blind panic just rippling beneath your skin.
Shallow, fast breathing without even realising it.
A tightness in your chest which does not abate no matter how hard you concentrate on some fucking meditation that does fuck all.
And here’s the cherry, it isn’t really about anything at all.
You’re not anxious about an outcome or a phone call or a meeting or a person.
You’re just fucking anxious.
How fucked up is that?
About as many times as I can type fucked before I know it’s making some of you wince.

And here’s the thing.
I still function.
I cognitive therapy my arse through each day.
Just one step at a time.
Let’s just get the kids breakfast. Or get that washing on. Or hang that washing out. Maybe vacuum again. Let’s get dressed. Let’s clean that toilet. Let’s write that shopping list. Let’s make that dinner.
I know that the most dangerous thing I can do at the moment is stop.
So I chunk up my day, my morning, the next hour.
And achieve something.
All while feeling something really bad is about to happen.
While concentrating on not clenching my teeth (that just ache from being clenched all.the.time).
Focusing on the tone I am using with the boys.
Remembering to smile and laugh at the right places.
Keep listening when Felix tells me about the latest Pokemon he’s captured? raised? won? snore…
Not snapping at Oscar when he asks for something to eat again.
Realising I need to parent Jasper as he stands at the kitchen bench eating sugar by the spoonful and that yes there will be tears but this time it’s necessary.
And so on and so forth.
All those things that just happen naturally and flow in the normal course of a day have to be thought about, actioned when you’re in the middle of some complicated tap routine with Anxiety.
It gives me a glimpse into what it must be like to have Asperger’s or Autism – it makes me understand the energy these people have to expend just to function in everyday society. God forbid they wanted to enjoy any of it. No wonder they jig out every so often.

So while I wait for my appointment to see my shrink (and no I can’t get in any earlier and yes I’m on the wait list for any appointment that comes up between now and next Friday – there’s a lot of us crazies out there OK) my brain is engaged in something like this:

We need more money and the only way we’re going to get more money is if I find a new job or get paid more in the job I do which is never going to happen as I’ve now been looked over for three internal promotions which is really saying something and so that means find a new job.
Ok so or here we come. Oh that sounds like fun, no, no good, it only pays forty grand and is for a graduate. I feel like a graduate in this stop start career of mine. I wish I wasn’t so competitive, or a perfectionist. Iwish I could just be happy in some little job doing my little thing each day. Not searching, not wanting more, not being so insatiable.
OK, so applications in, let’s email a few recruiters, OK done that. Oh look, an interview. A meeting. Wow, you actually put yourself out there rather than thinking about putting yourself out there and you get interest. Who knew. Still, scary. Do not want to have to go through all that crap with a new job – being nice to everyone, not knowing who is the office know-it-all and who is the hotline to the CEO. Where’s the bathroom, do I need my own teacup? Of course I need my own cup, as if I’m using some manky one from the communal kitchen.
But really, is this how I want it? Some job with more responsibility, more time spent commuting, more time trying to fit in homework and band practice in the 10 minutes between me getting home and the kids needing to go to bed? Maybe I need to do this smarter, pick up some freelance gigs and work it that way? Oh who am I kidding – it was an unmitigated failure the last time I did it – no super saved, one year of a crippling tax debt it then took another two years to clear. Forget it. Dumb idea. You have four kids. In Sydney. You’re an idiot. An idealistic idiot who thought it would all be OK. K’s SIL was right – we shouldn’t have had so many kids. While she lives her life in a stunning house with hired help and gorgeous kids and a husband earning a motza. Stupid. I should have done law or economics or something lucrative. Not that I got the marks to get in to do law. Not that I would not have been crushed by my own self-doubt about my ability to do it anyway, surrounded by all those braniacs. So then I should have married a lawyer. Too late for that now.
Anyway, so you want to write a book. You want to be an author is that it. Well what is the point of mourning that lost existence if you don’t even put pen to paper? If you only got one sixth of a way through your Creative Writing Masters to stop? You know all those ideas that pop into your head? Those characters? Write.them.down. You know it’s going to be like owning your own home – it seems unachievable but if you just did tiny bits each and every day, Jesus, each week, then suddenly you’ve almost done it. Just.Start.
And the house thing. Well that is the crux of it all isn’t it. You need to earn more to be able to move out to rent something else. OR. You stay where you are and get the job that pays more to save it so you could possibly have a deposit for somewhere for when you relocate to regional NSW or Victoria. If or when you move? Chef is so happy where he is and that’s a first, so why are we going to risk/jinx that? But if we moved then we could afford to buy a house probably in the next five years, as opposed to only when all the parents are dead, which won’t be for about another thirty years. JESUS. What a train-wreck of decisions – or lack of – or carelessness this life has turned out to be.
God this house is filthy. I better hang that load of washing out or it’s going to start to smell. What on earth are we going to have for dinner. We really need to get out and do something today but how? Either Grover or Jasper are down sleeping and we get trapped. I don’t want to interrupt their day sleeps as we’re so close to getting full night-long sleeps from everyone. I’m so tired. Maybe if I just close my eyes for a minute. No, don’t do that, Grover will get into the toilet/cat bowl/cat’s water/shower/laundry/dogs. So tired.
I really need to get Felix’s eyes tested. And make that appointment for Oscar to see a physio. And that new paediatrician. But that’s all money money money. GOD, speech fees are due this week. Health insurance goes out on Thursday. And have the swimming fees gone out? OH NO I’ve got to change their lessons back to Thursdays not Tuesday and Saturday. We really need more money. I need to find a new job.

And so on and so forth.

I posted this earlier today and then pulled it down. For starters I am kinda paranoid you’re all sitting there going, ‘dear LORD this woman is certifiable.’
And for the rest of it I get anxious (hah!) that you’re all just going to tire of me. That there are rolling eyes and lots of ‘tsk’s and ‘oh just get over it’s .

But this is how it is and this is my space and I need to get this shit out.

And you know the weird thing about all this wigging out? I really am OK. No really. I am.

So there you have it.

* with apologies to all adult Jessicas. Who are all probably very nice. No really, I’m sure you are.
** I see my doc next week and yes we will be changing my meds.