ONE BREATH AT A TIME (Surviving anxiety)

iyosayi14 Reflections

“and to be honest, there are days where I get super low and I really don’t know why. Like the day could be going perfectly okay but there’s this emptiness that runs within me. I just feel to isolate myself from everyone and everything just to hide, to bury myself under my blankets and make my bed my grave. And I try to think of reasons as to why I’m sad but I cannot and I just end up making all these scenarios in my head that may never happen but they make me even more upset, they make more tears fall and then can’t help it from happening.” – thesmilingAKH

I’ve been struggling with anxiety for couple of weeks now. A few days ago it got intense, I had to find a quiet corner to try and fix me. The funny thing is, I seem to wear it well, functioning seamlessly that no one can guess the war going on within me.

I could be laughing with you and interacting properly but deep down, miles within, I’m trapped in a hollow, using up so much strength to stay whole. Most people don’t catch it. Ivan almost did early last month while we were having lunch. He asked what was wrong, that I looked lost in thought with a worried look. I brushed it off as nothing, willing myself back to the conversation even though my mind was fighting to keep my mood up. This struggle can go on for days such that when I finally pull myself out, I feel lifeless and my mood sinks so low.

This has been me for years and it’s a miracle I’m still here because there are times I have had it bad I begin to fantasize about ways to make it stop and wish I never existed. Words will fail me to explain how I feel, heck I can’t even explain where the sudden feeling of doom and pictures of horrible things happening start appearing from. It’s tiring having to intentionally kick these images and thoughts out every time. Like Funke said while we were exchanging experiences, she said it feels like there is a hammer about to fall on her.

You’ll think I should be used to this by now or that it gets easier, or maybe it does. I mean, I have learnt to identify my triggers and avoid them or use positive affirmations to keep calm in situations where avoidance isn’t possible. Breathing exercises have also been of great help. I never rated positive affirmations but surprisingly they have helped calm me down a lot this year.

Sometimes people want to be kind and of help, but then they make statements like ‘try not to worry’ or ‘stop thinking too much’, while these are valid advice, it goes way deeper. If it were that simple, I wouldn’t have been placed on medications on different occasions in the past to treat anxiety and panic attacks.

These days I don’t bother talking about it or try to explain it to people, no one truly gets it except they have dealt with it or are dealing with it. Trying to get people to understand my struggle most times stresses me out even more.

Sometimes I look at pictures of myself smiling effortlessly and it makes me marvel at how deceptive pictures can be.

These days, people let you see what they want you to see and we are all rather now so good at presenting a happy face, even if deep down our world is falling apart. The world these days prizes on projecting everyone as strong and happy, almost like it’s a crime to feel down and admit to not being okay.

Society now encourages a culture of silence, where no sad face is needed to be a party pooper. We are all looking for skits and memes to distract us from the real pain the world is filled with. I’m done with empty conversations and always appearing put together and having my shit intact.

What I have learnt, is the best way to set yourself free is to admit your flaws. Embrace the shame and you’ll be amazed how free you will be. Living life with your eyes over your shoulders all the time has got to be suffocating.

I look at my pictures at times and I see someone else. I see smiles like I’m not that guy who all of a sudden feels the air thinning, or has this crippling feeling that something tragic is about to happen or that the happiness he feels is going to be cut short soon. I talk and laugh a lot at work, maybe to distract myself from the things I’m running from.

I look at my smiling pictures and it beats me that it’s the same guy who for no reason goes so sad and feels the weight of the world on him and wants to tear up for no reason. It’ll probably shock my colleagues, but I guess those who I have casually told in passing that I’m sad and then disappear for a while will understand it better now.

Those times I go AWOL, I’m likely in the lunchroom taking me-time or quietly speaking positive affirmations to ease my anxiety or you may catch me at the staircase resting my head against a wall or I’m probably in the restroom taking deep breaths or those times I hug peeps randomly, it’s not because I’m feeling affectionate. It’s sort of therapeutic for me as it gives me calm, even if it’s for a few seconds. I’m getting quite good at using people for relief without them knowing. Like asking we take a walk and talk about nothing serious or going to a colleague’s house to sleep off for most parts of the day because my own home doesn’t feel like a haven for me anymore.

I closed early at work mid last month and didn’t want to go home. I purposely stayed back till it was late evening so when I got back home the chaos/pain won’t be much to live through. Very early the next morning I got ready and drove out because I needed to escape.

I prayed for peace, that the storm my younger one was facing would cease and everyone would be fine. Mostly it was about me because my anxiety was being heightened. Every sound, every slight word got my heart palpitating despite how hard I tried to detach or not let shit affect me. God answered my prayers but not the way I expected.

We are back to hospitalization. I just accepted it and said, the ways we think our prayers will be answered are never the way God goes about it. His ways are indeed higher than ours and so are his thoughts. I didn’t fight or question, I accepted it because the house felt peaceful once again.

But then, my mind has decided to play tricks on me. Trying to paint pictures of things going wrong after discharge from the hospital and relapse happening again. The thoughts bring this unexplainable feeling of doom, darkness, and hopelessness.

Sometimes, I just can’t control my thoughts
No medication’s ever made them stop

Yeah, I swear to God I’m trying
But I don’t know how to be
How to be a good friend to me”
– Thoughts (Sasha Sloan)

I have managed to silence these thoughts and was making progress before something happened at work which threw me off. As Account officers, we are sometimes summoned by regulatory bodies when there is an investigation on our clients. I have dreaded this for over six years and have always found a way of escaping it in the past.

It’s not like it’s a bad thing per se, more of an inconvenience no one wants to go through. Though it’s mostly inevitable, especially for persons working out of a team like mine. So the inevitable happened and I had to go through the right of passage. I was told by the liaising team that mine was not a big deal and it would be routine stuff. True to what they said it wasn’t and I was out of there in no time, much to the surprise of my colleagues.

I thought I was okay.

I know I felt someway being in their premises but it didn’t hit. An hour after I had settled back in the office, I heard myself tell a colleague I need to calm my head and nerves as the visit was telling on my mental state. The thing is, I’m not even done. I could be called anytime to drop by if my attention is needed.

I’m working on blocking out the thought that I have this inconvenience hanging over my head. I felt sick that day. I remember the morning of the appointment, I woke up by 3 am and couldn’t sleep till the break of dawn. I felt like absconding; pack a few clothes and go on a road trip to wherever and let the cup pass me by.

This life is just one problem after another, it never really stops.

“So many things wey dey bother man
Stress from friends and family and brotherman
Man living like an animal
When a problem goes
Life comes with another one”
– Airplane mode (Fireboy DML)

Mark was telling me the other day to keep doing me and eventually, I will pull through. As sweet as his words were, it only magnified the fact that I don’t think this is ever going to be over. This struggle feels like it’s a part of me and it’s a cross I will have to carry. I’m making peace with this and also contemplating going back on medication (hoping this time it doesn’t come with health complications like the last time).

I have made progress accepting that its part of my journey. To have downtimes and overwhelming moments. That I will breakdown once in a while, but what matters is I take care of myself and get back up again.

I used to feel I failed myself whenever I have a breakdown, like I thought I had healed and grown past this, but then life happens, things hit hard and I breakdown yet again. In my post on Instastory early this year I was giving myself props that I haven’t had a meltdown for months and I termed it growth. Nah, I was wrong.

I realize measuring if I have a breakdown or not was me putting unrealistic pressure on myself. Truth is, as long as life goes on, shit will happen. I’ll always feel every emotion (most likely more than the average person does) and will need a time out to recharge. I am making peace with this and accepting that it’s okay to breakdown. What’s key is, being able to know when I’m getting overwhelmed and taking a break to cater to my health and then get back up from where I stopped.

Sounds very powerful and easy, yea?

But I won’t deny its tiring. I’m tired of having to live life walking on eggshells because of a fragile mental health state. One of the reasons I don’t want to work in a structured organization for much longer, asides having full control of my time, is because I want to set myself free of the prison of expectations and the curse of ambition. I want to break free and leave all these behind, go into the wild and live and breathe freely. A quiet life is what I crave.

I’m so careful about certain things. I have to write down short term financial plans, plan every detail, pick out a week’s clothes and shoes and have several papers where I jot down short term plans. From afar, one will think I am well put together and articulate but won’t know these are all tactics to surviving anxiety. I thought I was in this alone till I saw this on Instagram.

Dealing with this and then also dealing with social anxiety is quite a lot, it gets so exhausting at times. I’m left planning conversations ahead or wasting energy going over conversations to be sure I acted right and didn’t leave a weird impression. I realized I was killing myself and I choose to avoid these as much as I can. I know I can get distant at times, but I guess this is me admitting my issues and letting you know that most of the time, it’s not you but me.

I find it odd that we are all preaching choose yourself when it comes to one’s mental health, yet we fail to understand when someone actually does this. People say detach and take time off if you need to, but when you do, they pick offense. It’s like people say these things to appear woke but don’t want you to. Of course, everyone needs you to be there for them. The world is now all about using people not minding if the other person is drowning.

Maybe my head is fucked up and I’m a host of baggage, but I’m fortunate to have found ways to fight these battles and learnt how to take it one breathe at a time. I tell people I hate stress but what I mean is, I hate anything that seems to suffocate me and makes life overwhelming because as it is already, every day has me fighting to breathe.

Yes, I leave a trail of a mess in form of destroyed relationships and friendships while trying to navigate out of my downtimes. I’m still learning how best to handle things, but people need to understand that sometimes silence from someone isn’t about them. People should learn to accommodate other people’s needs for space and let them be. I have once been forced out of my healing process because she failed to understand I needed time to deal, the aftermath was me crashing and going full outburst on her.

I have decided to detach and even make myself less accessible for the now. I’m so spent and done with my saviour complex, I’m currently at a place where I want everyone to return pieces of my shoulder I have given out. I need to gather my strength and love for myself. I want the world to let me be and allow me to be by myself and love myself so tenderly even if it’s for a minute.

I’m done with the smiles, with the jokes while feeling empty inside. I want to detach from everyone and I don’t care if my colleagues start getting worried. Something in me feels broken and I want to be there for myself. I’ll help out where I can, but if I don’t have the strength to, please bear with me and understand that I just want to breathe.

Work has sort of resumed almost fully now. I go to the office more these days with lots of transactions and training. I miss those days when time slowed; working from home with more time on my hands. I miss the quiet and seemingly slower pace of life even though after a while it got boring. Elohor was telling me the other day about how she didn’t leave her compound for four months during the lockdown period. I asked if it was weird that it’s that kind of life I crave. The quiet life where things are not happening all at once, leaving my head full and overwhelmed.

Right now, I’m trying to catch my breath, to free up space around me and slow down time. I’m going to delete my social media apps soon and withdraw. I feel like I need some time with myself, with my curtains drawn and the lights off. I need some quiet. I do hope people will understand and respect this.

“But sometimes
E dey be like say I wan manya oh
All the pressure and the wahala oh
E dey be like say I don tire

I just wanna be alone
I don’t wanna see no message on my phone
Nothing dey do me
You should know
I just feel like I should do this on my own
I just wanna be alone”
– Airplane mode (Fireboy DML)