Dear Anxiety #1
I wrote this piece during a very dark time. I’ve returned home to Melbourne, but I still remain in a battle with my anxiety and depression on a daily basis. Nonetheless, sharing the seven chapters of my letters helped (and is still helping) me immensely. Considering I am on the road to starting a new website and magazine, I wanted to share these pieces with a new audience. Here is the first piece.
You’re driving me crazy. You’re filling me with dread. You’re pushing tears out of me into a toxic atmosphere. Stay within. I can’t trust my body, I can’t trust my head and I can’t trust you. I can’t hide my misery from my friends anymore. The other night I called the woman whom I hold these impossibly strong feelings for, and broke down. Muffled sobs in the streets of London. I’m being tortured by my two selves. The one who drinks himself into oblivion and the one who thinks and thinks and thinks until my heart begins to tear at its seams. Panic attacks in parks, tears everyday and nervous aversion to venturing into places that will cause me to feel overwhelmed. I promised her, hoping she’d care enough to make me accountable, that I would never take cocaine again. I would never take a drug again. I had made the same promise to my father some twelve months ago as I sat in a hospital bed when you prodded me so hard that I felt I was on the verge of having a stroke.
I sit here alone with you. We know each other very well now. My name is William, yours is anxiety, but your full name is generalised anxiety disorder, your nicknames are worry, panic, paralysis, angst and fear. We met at the start of 2011. I had a terrible trip on mushrooms in Laos, nearly jumped out of the window of a villa, passed out and witnessed my own death whilst I was unconscious. I awoke in a hospital bed and you were next to me. It was all a bad dream, it was all a bad dream. But you woke up next to me day after day. At first you screamed in my ear to wake me up, then I began to push you out of bed, push you into the cupboard where you waited patiently for your moment. And our relationship got better. Sometimes it was nice having with you with me. Sometimes you made me laugh. It was a nice difference to the time you were pressing down on me as I sat in a Bangkok hospital, where I thought you had morphed into heart failure.
As I grew a little older, graduated from university and hit a wall in the direction of my life, I felt myself becoming a little more melancholy. I was slipping into bad habits. Dabbling in drugs, weekend benders, vomiting in the toilet, my sleep disappearing. You had already told me about the ways you would push yourself into my life, but I didn’t listen. I just wanted to be a normal, knockabout bloke in the perfect life, with the perfect storyline. I convinced myself I could make that into a reality. I convinced myself that I could ignore you, and be free.
Instead, ignoring you only made you grip onto me tighter and more desperately. You hung off me when I broke into tears talking about where my life was heading, when I cried at a bar as my mate asked how I was doing. Friends, they started to notice a few differences, but I shook it off, and continued to drink and spend all weekend in bed or on my couch with you keeping me awake. Then I did the only thing that seemed to make sense. I picked up my ball and ran off to London in June of this year. You met me at the airport. You kissed me on the cheek with your cold lips. From there, whilst I attempted to find a job, a house, a plot, I spent all my marbles on the same old mistakes I’d been making back home, but this time, with all the uncertainty in my life, I ended up sadder than I’d been before and you kept pulling my doona off, leaving me shivering for hours on end. Cold. Lonely. Isolated. Sometimes thinking that my only friend I could talk to was you. I began to hate you. I resented you. I detested you more than ever.
And here I am. Looking at myself in the mirror. Tired, with red eyes, considering whether it’s you causing my headaches or whether I’m actually tremendously unwell. Scenes of one’s life stream through your subconscious during a panic attack. Where did it all go wrong?
The smiley kid, the kisses from mum, falling out of trees, playing cricket in the backyard, swimming lessons, teased at school, first beer, blushing in front of girls, meeting idols, waiting for a growth spurt, being told you’re not good enough, boys don’t cry, finding your niche, crying at night, meeting your best friend, kissing girls, take off your pants, lift off, black out drunk, skipping university, passport through immigration, freak out, heart palpitations, panic, picked up from a hospital, screaming at the mirror, scrambled, breathe, breathe, breathe, landing, smiling again, you understand, they don’t, the drinking, the hangovers, the biting your lip so hard it bleeds, the girls, what does it mean?, apology, apology, apology, solidarity, public jovial, private tears, dead ends, MDMA, boys don’t cry, depression, friends ask question, brush it, run, nose full, shadows darkening, binge, no sleep, binge, waves, four hours until 5 30, head on fire, tsunami, sobbing in the shower.
I’ve tried to hide from you in public for a long time now. I just can’t hide anymore. Laughing it off and drinking fifteen beers, telling my friends that I’m fine before heading home to cry into my pillowcase. I’m scared if I don’t find peace with you now, that one day I might just jump in front of a train and that terrifies me. Everything terrifies me. I’ve just turned 26, the best days of my life and instead all I think about is you, and your control over me. Right now I am alone. I’m so fucking lonely. I sobbed hard in the shower after masturbating. I sobbed hard listening to Bon Iver. I sobbed harder the other day when my mum called and I couldn’t tell her that I am crumbling. You’ve got your hand around my throat, and I’m losing air.
Mental illness is a very private and solemn battle. Not simply because of the stigma but for so many other reasons. The symptoms are private and isolated to the individual. You used to just occasionally give me a tight chest, a sharp pain in my groin and a headache or two. Now, you’re rough on me. You’re mean and nasty. My head has felt like a rock, then it’s like the rocks fall and you lose balance. Every feeling you just had disappears and it’s like your body is nothing. The adjustment to what is happening in my body is exhausting. I am exhausted from hiding you from the outside world. I’m not going to hide you any longer. That’s why I’m writing this series of letters to you. My friend, my enemy, my love, fear, excitement, joy, pain, angst, sadness and frustration all bungled into one contradictory package. Incongruous with a normal life, but an interesting companion nonetheless. Eight letters. Some of them will be short, some of them long. It depends on how I’m feeling about you. How I’m feeling about my life. You don’t have to read it, but I hope you do. I want you to know how you’ve made me feel, how I want to feel, how I want you to be my friend again, because we both know that this is going to be a lifelong partnership. I don’t want you to follow me everywhere, but I do want you to know that I occasionally need you.
I don’t want this to come off as a self-absorbed depiction of my inability to take responsibility for my own action or inaction in quelling your influence, however ever since I nearly threw myself out of a window in Laos, my anxiety you’ve made me a very, very selfish person. Monitoring how you are making me feel at all times, readying myself for the next wave of sparks, jitters or something more sinister. I read a Lupe Fiasco interview a while back where he stated that he was ‘lightly suicidal, at times medium suicide’ and I contemplated that contemplation at the time, still do. And now I understand more than ever. It’s not that I’ve considered doing it, but I’m in a bad place. I’ve started to actually consider my worth to the planet and to be honest, the person I currently am sickens me. I just drink to avoid you, come home to you sitting on my bedside table, rinse and repeat. And at once I feel like the duality of worthlessness and self-importance. And why? I also know that when we work together, when we treat each other as we deserve to be treated, we are pals, hombres, perhaps even world beaters.
You’ve helped me realise that it is okay to cry, it is okay to be sad and terrified, it is okay for boys and for men to show their emotions. The issue is that I’m still ashamed of you. I’m ashamed of talking about you. I’m ashamed when you come with me to places and people start talking about you. But London isn’t an easy place to cry without people asking questions. You’re living in apartments with paper thin walls so you can’t cry inside, and there’s no quiet place in public so you can’t cry outside without drawing attention and looks from those walking past….
I told a girl I had a drinking problem a couple of months ago, and although so do half of the people my age, I’d say that most of them don’t wake up from a slap to the face from you. Paralysed, sick, angry and desperately sad. A problem only becomes a problem when you start feeling disgusted by your inability to quell the issue. In that case, I have concluded that my drinking has become a problem. I need to curb it. I need to stop. I don’t want to be the guy who everyone loves when they’re out because he is so willing to get sauced, is always reluctant to leave and gains ridiculous pleasure out of planning an evening or a day around getting as drunk as humanly possible. That is who I am right now. Sundays where I tremble, Mondays where my head feels like a rock, Tuesdays where I sit in the toilet at work, hoping my nerves will settle and Wednesday to Friday planning where I am going to annihilate myself on a three day bender.
Other people can never fully understand what you feel with actually experiencing it firsthand, however I feel great pain for those I know to be struggling. My heart bleeds with them. I want to help. I want people to feel their value; I want people to be more open with each other, less willing to cut another person down and with less interest in acting disinterested. If to be cool is to be disconnected and to sneer at the concept of enthusiasm, then colour me unappealing and fervently uncool.
This is my first letter to you. I have a lot more to say. I have a lot more that I want you to hear from me. I’ve attempted not to drink, I’ve attempted to say no, and I feel I’m letting you down. I’m making you angry. I just want you to hear that I am trying, I really am. I really fucking am. I want to enjoy new experiences with you. New music, new films, new friends, new ways to laugh, new conversation topics, new pastimes and new relationships. These are all just words. Essentially the only thing I want from this experience is to help you, and for you to help me. To not talk about giving up drinking for four days before returning to the bottle. To not claim I’m giving up sex only fall at the first scent of a woman. These are all just the words of a man who is desperate to change on paper without the willingness to say no to the first drink offered to me, or not flinch when my hormones kick in and you feel an obligation to reward yourself, or to walk away from a conversation with a friend you worry might change their opinion of you if you tell them about the difficult period you are going through.
I cry in the shower. I cry so hard that I can’t stop, and when I finally do stop, I begin to sob. I wail. I punch the tiles, close my eyes and stare into the darkness of my head. Where do I start? There’s no roadmap for this. There’s no pulling out Google Maps, breathing a sigh of relief as the map guides you to refuge and relaxation. There’s no sure thing, there’s no Hollywood ending, there’s just a big dump truck of everything thrown together for you to figure out, with a giant pile of fear that the people around you don’t understand what you are going through. Fuck me. I am falling apart. Fuck me. You and I used to be friends.
I bang the tiles a few more times, turn the taps off, wipe my eyes and dry my body. I open the door, pull on my clothes, grab a banana and walk into a new day, neutralising my face as if nothing really happened. I look down at my legs and there you are, sticking your pins into them.