I had a very dark night last week, unable to calm down intense distress for many hours and terribly afraid for myself. I would use all my skills to settle and even get myself to the point where I fell asleep, only to wake a few minutes later in panic again. I was able to get an emergency appointment with my psychologist and went along – for the first time in my life – in a state of hysteria. She’s diagnosed me with exhaustion, and helped me get a quick appointment with my gp for meds to calm down the intensity of my distress. I’ve now got a script from my gp for anti anxiety meds, however they are not pregnancy safe so they are a last resort.
How can this year have done such harm to me, I asked the psychologist – I’ve had much worse years! You’re thinking in terms of trauma, she said, look at all the loss and grief of this year instead. They are significant. Stop everything and do whatever you need to to rest.
So here I am. Most days have two distinct aspects to them, one in which I’m genuinely fine, even productive, cleaning and cooking and hanging out with friends. The other in which I feel like I’ve fallen off the planet. I can’t catch my breath, all of life feels without meaning or purpose, and I’m tormented by fears and existential questions that strip me to the bone.
I found this lovely series of artworks that resonated with me: Superman Falling (actually titled ‘No. Superhero’ by Ole Marius Joergensen). There’s something so terribly human about this place, this state, a kind of cultural heritage none of us would choose to have. Nobody wants to be quite this human. I certainly don’t, although sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of something beautiful in it all. At times I’m saturated by death, surrounded by the void. I feel very humiliated by it, frustrated, angry, scared.
Sometimes it feels like a punishment for big dreams, for reaching too far above my circumstances, for thinking I had answers or anything to offer other people. How the so called mighty do fall. And how people like me are supposed to conceal such terribly human frailty, such weakness. I am healer, supposed to be above such vulnerability. I also find myself feeling very alive at times, which is jarring in contrast, but refreshing too. Better feeling alive then dead, than numb then dead.
I’m not getting enough sleep, I wake early every night in a rough place and have to find ways to calm down and stop thinking about death and people who have died. I take great comfort from Rose sleeping beside me, and I bring my friends to mind and tell myself I’m loved. I read books by my little book light in bed, or when the anxiety nausea is bad I get up and slowly pace until my gut un knots. Sometimes I lie on the couch so my tossing won’t wake Rose and I pat a cat, focusing on the feel of her velvet fur, trying to be present. I stop myself calling people I love to check they’re still alive or tell them how much I love them which I’m sure would get very old at 3am.
If I still can’t settle I call Lifeline and tell them I need to hear a friendly voice. Sometimes if it’s dark I stand naked out the back and feel the night on my skin. My heart seems absolutely broken and overwhelmingly afraid and I talk to it soothingly over and over, trying to bring it back from a place of despair and terror. Distract, be present, plan. Don’t think about death. Plan the following day, plan dinner, wonder how friends are going, sit and look at our astonishingly beautiful front garden full of roses and poppies and marvel at the abundance. It will pass, it will pass, it will pass.
Today has been long! I made it into college not feeling good and spent the whole day calming myself down. I’d try to talk to my tutor and start gasping and crying. I tried sitting in the sun, reading, pacing slowly around the building, sipping water, a hot cuppa, a lot of gentle self talk, a phone call to Rose, food, changing all the words I was using about the task I was supposed to be doing, sitting with the very nice friends in my class, looking at other people’s work for inspiration, and all it helped a bit. But the moment I tried to do any work my headspace just crumpled into a big pile of trembling, breathless, unhappiness. So after 6 hours of gentle coaxing I gave up and came home. I’m currently hiding in bed, hanging onto the funny side of being someone who can and has coped with some truly terrible life situations and crises, being unable to make a print at art school – that most luxurious of pursuits that many people would give their right arm to have the opportunity to do! It’s like coping with dragons and being undone by a moth phobia. O.o
It will get better.