Fear of the Unknown

“My power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

There’s something beautiful about helplessness. There’s this amazing feeling of standing right on life’s very edge on the tips of your toes, catching your breath after it flees from your lungs and letting out a cry of defeat. Sometimes it isn’t much of a scream at all; sometimes all that’s left in you is a weakened whisper, just as desperately begging for help. When your cries have been broken down to whispers, it’s up to those still close enough to hear them to offer a hand.

It isn’t until we have been pushed beyond our limits with no choice left but to pick ourselves up again and dust the dirt off our bums,  that we realize our own power and what we are capable of. You don’t find true strength like this in times of success with the support of others around you; it’s only learnt once you’ve been kicked.

Anxiety, depression and mental illnesses in general, are seldom discussed, due to being viewed by society as signs of weakness or weirdness, when in fact, they are a lot more common than we think. Research published in the international journal BMC Medicine (July 2011) shows that of 18 countries, New Zealand consistently ranked in the top 25 per cent on nearly every measure of depression alone.

For the past eight years I have dealt with mental illness. I have been stable for a long time now, though being pregnant has brought on a few occasional minor episodes of anxiety thanks to the extra stresses and hormones chucked in the mix! There are a few things I have learnt from my experiences. I have been taught that those suffering are often told to “harden up” by people who do not know how to handle such situations. I have also noticed that we have been led to believe that there is something “wrong” with seeking attention or asking for help. But most importantly, I have learnt the delicate art of coping.

Sharing my own personal experiences can be embarrassing. Talking about it has become something to make you appear vulnerable and strange, and you soon become judged as incapable of doing things which other people find easy to do, such as taking responsibility for things or reaching your goals, which is most untrue. I don’t usually write when I’m having “one of those days.” In fact, I don’t usually do anything when I’m feeling this way. But I’d like to try capturing what it’s like for me this once, as it’s been a huge part of my life for a long while now and I feel it’s something that should no longer remain unspoken. Here’s my best efforts at sharing, raising awareness, and hopefully encouraging others to reach out.

12:00pm
Making it past lunchtime, on days like these, takes a lot of effort. Making it past twelve without crying is considered an even bigger accomplishment, and if I’ve managed to leave the house, I know I’m doing well. It’s twelve o’clock in the afternoon. I’m still in bed, wrapped in a big feather duvet and I have a blanket on top and my trusty Fox at my side for extra protection. The house is silent but for the low hum of the fan in the next room. I’d go to turn it off, but there’s something stopping me. I’m gripped by this intense fear that if I leave the safety of my bedroom something awful is bound to happen to me. It’s the same anxiety which prevents me from answering my phone.

1:30pm
I have counted the hours I have left in the day of being alone. Four left. I write a list of things I can do in those hours, including folding my washing, (again,) having another shower, or trying to sleep. I have little grazes on my chest from nervous scratching during a short episode of dissociative disorder, where my mind temporarily left my body. I’m worrying about having to leave the house because there are things I need to get done. I’m also worried about receiving phonecalls from people who are angry with me.

I finally summoned up my last little bits of courage, (they were hiding with Baby just below my stomach,) and managed to make it to the kitchen. I know it’s ridiculous, as there’s no actual danger, and it’s very unlikely that The Grim Reaper will be waiting for me by the pantry, but I had to walk quickly and take Fox with me nonetheless. I grabbed some yoghurt and bananas and headed back to my room, feeling successful.

I’ve rearranged a collection of feathers and dead bugs on my windowsill. I want to listen to music, but I’m a bit nervous about making sound today. Usually I’d sing, but today I’m whispering to Baby. No audial hallucinations, so I’m not doing too bad. On other days, though not for many months now, I’ve heard voices saying terrible things about me and warning me of evil things to come. “Crazy” is the word you’re looking for. It’s the wrong one to use, too.

3:00pm
I’m going to try and have a nap. Sleeping is like being transported to a special safe place where nothing can harm me and I needn’t worry about a thing. When I wake I might try and go for a walk to the beach if I’m feeling brave. Praying for courage and strength this afternoon.

4:15pm
Didn’t manage to sleep. I did write a little mental list of what to talk about with my specialist when I see her though. I’ll be better before I know it. Just need to get this day out of the way.

5:00pm
I managed to do the dishes and I’ll start on dinner soon. Keeping myself occupied is key.

I didn’t manage to write anything else yesterday. It was a little hard to function. One thing I did manage to do was pray, and ask a friend for help. All they said was, “You’re going to do great. You don’t need to be afraid of the world- the world needs to fear you!” And that’s all I needed to hear. Today I woke up early, full of confidence. I made breakfast, had a shower, packed a bag of lunch and headed down to the ferry on my own to spend my day at a photoshoot in the city. These are all very “normal” things, and a huge contrast with the tone of my day before. And hey, if it wasn’t for the day before, I wouldn’t have been as proud of myself today. That’s the beauty of it.

As you can see, every experience, when it comes to mental illness, is different, and it is important to take things as they come, one day at a time. If you had met me today, there is no way you would have known that just the day before I had been afraid of leaving my house. If you had met me yesterday, there’d be no way of you knowing I’d be out and about enjoying life today. This is why we should never judge someone at their worst; they could be a totally different person at their best, and all it takes is a little support and encouragement. And maybe a toy fox.

At the end of the day, we’re all human. Sometimes we’re fantastic, other times we’re a little sick, that’s all. There are just some illnesses that aren’t as obvious as others. Still, those suffering should never be discriminated against. I might not have the best social skills at times, but I can sure make a damn good batch of cupcakes!

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