Hello, would you like to meet my brain?
(A word of warning: in this article, I purposefully and intentionally attempt to generate an anxiety-invoked reaction. Those who are sensitive to this sort of thing may want to skip this one.)
A diagnosis, as a tool, is generally pretty useless.
Oh, sure, it opens up a lot of pathways to treatment that were closed before. It gives you a framework to tell people “Hey, I’ve actually got something wrong with me.” But when it comes to actually telling people what, exactly, is wrong with you…an ICD10 or lackluster “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” or “Depression” flag doesn’t really do the trick.
“What do you have to be anxious about?” “So many people have it so much worse than you!” “Everyone is nervous sometimes, get over it.”
I’d like to introduce you to my brain, and how its inner workings impact my life, and why “getting over it” isn’t as easy as it may seem.
Let us craft a scenario. Join me in placing yourself in this scene as fully as you can. Imagine, if you will, that you are about to undergo surgery. You’re nervous, but you trust the people taking care of you. Just before you go off to sleep, you are told that they will be there taking care of you the entire time and that you will wake up when it’s all over feeling safe and well. You drift off, still nervous but assured.
As you begin to wake up some time later, you immediately know that something is wrong. Very wrong. For one, you cannot move. For another, you’re aware in a disconnected, fishbowl sort of way, with everything distorted and registering at odd times. But what does register loud and clear, and becoming even more clear as the seconds ooze past, is that you are not supposed to be awake.
You are in the middle of having surgery, you have woken up, and you can feel everything — and you are completely helpless and unable to communicate or indicate that something is wrong.
I want you to think hard about this. Envision it, in great detail. Close your eyes and imagine it. You cannot twitch a finger or flutter an eyelid. Everyone around you thinks that everything is just fine, and they don’t notice that you are in any sort of distress. You can feel people touching you, you can hear them talking, and you can feel stabs of pain — and you are unable to stop it in any way. You are helpless, and you have no choice but to endure, as you slowly become more and more coherently aware and cannot retreat into the cloudiness of sleep.
Do you feel uncomfortable? Maybe your mind is shying away from dwelling on this scenario too closely. Maybe as you read this, your immediate reaction was “fuck no.” Maybe you shuddered.
That low level of anxiety you’re feeling right now, envisioning yourself in that scenario? That feeling of “fuck, I never want to be in that situation?” That feeling, if you have a particularly vivid imagination, of utter, visceral panic?
That is my normal operating level. That is what I feel like all the time, with no provocation. That churning, sour bite that is the edge of panic is the normal background radiation of my life.
Sometimes it gets worse. When I have to call someone on the phone, for instance. When I have to interact with someone who I know doesn’t like me. When I want to reach out to someone and suggest we do something socially. When I’m obligated to attend a social function. Really, the list that puts me breathtakingly close to the precipice of meltdown is extensive, and yet they are activities that I have to endure every goddamn day of my life.
Some of these stem from the other chemical imbalance in my brain, the depression that tells me that not only am I a failure because I feel anxiety at all these things that normal functional people can do, but nobody wants me around because I’m clearly not a functional adult. And this is my fault, of course. If I was a better person, if I tried harder, if I wasn’t such a sad sack, I wouldn’t feel this way.
Basically, depression is really good at convincing you that you’re not depressed — you’re just a piece of shit and it’s all your fault that you feel that way. It’s a character flaw, something inherent about you that you can’t change, so don’t even bother — and no one is going to want to be around you because of it, but there is nothing you can do about it but accept your fate.
You might see how this fundamental belief goes hand-in-hand with the constant anxiety to create a brainspace that is, to say the least, overwhelming.
And I live in it every. Damn. Day.
Until recently, I thought everybody felt like this, and that other people were just inherently better at coping.
Which, of course, meant that I was failing at coping. Which made me even less of a functioning human adult. Which, to be quite honest, was doing a lot to leach away my interest in waking up every morning.
With the assistance of some pharmaceuticals and therapy, I now have the knowledge that technically I’m functioning at a super-high level because I’m able to navigate through life despite the constant gnaw of terror, self-doubt, and lack of investment in continued existence. I have the knowledge that people want me around. I have the knowledge that I am important to people, that my mind and actions are valued, that my presence is not simply tolerated but appreciated in many contexts.
I have this knowledge. I know it. I’m still having trouble believing it with the marrow-deep certainty with which I believe in my utter worthlessness.
But every morning, I still wake up. And I face the music, despite the skin-crawling, “fuck no” level of discomfort that simply being conscious and moving around in the world makes me feel.
Hello. This is my brain. This is the world I live in. If I seem a little uptight, or distracted, or emotional, or distant…this is why. I live out my nightmares every single day, and I don’t get to wake up.