Sunday, 29 March 2015

Confessions of a panic disordered thirtysomething

I am sat at my kitchen table, waiting to be found out.

For the past week or so, I have had an increasingly sickening, panicky, overwhelming sensation of not being good enough. Of never being good enough. Of being so utterly unlikable and unpleasant that everyone, secretly, cannot stand to be around me, and it's only a matter of time before they let me know. Or don't even tell me, and just pull away, disappearing forever in a puff of ignored text messages and 'forgotten' plans we had.

When I sit down and analyse this panic, I try to find reasons that people would feel this way, what I could have done to cause everyone to want to eject me from their lives. What I mean by that is I not only go through things that have actually happened (conversations, interactions, everything that has ever occurred since I've known each person and before), but my brain will also ask questions of me like, "Are you sure you didn't ask something totally rude? Did you say something that came across as anti-equality? Perhaps you were insensitive about race issues. You talked too much. You ate too much of your friend's food that they offered you. You were annoyingly hyper and happy. How is it that you are so irritating to be around?" - consciously looking for and making up reasons people could, should, will not want me as a friend, sister, child, or partner.

The next stage in this analysis is panic and self-loathing. Panic at how utterly true all of these awful things seem, and self-loathing because I am very aware of the fact that people do not spend their time thinking about me - they have far more important, internal, personal things going on. The egocentrism required to think that people are that concerned with me and what I do, as well as being so stuck in my own head while the world turns around me containing so many bigger, more important things than my crazy thoughts, makes me dislike myself even more - and so the cycle begins again. There is even now a compulsion developing after any social interaction where I need to check in with people to make sure they don't hate me.

Being left, or feeling leave-able, has always been something I've feared for as long as I can remember. It doesn't seem to have a basis in any kind of fact or experience (up until a couple of years ago, which doesn't explain the previous years of this fear). I'm blessed with generous, patient, kind, and open-minded friends who haven't given up on me in my worst moments (and there have been several really not-good periods that they've stood by, held me up, and loved me in spite of not only my heaviness but their own trials and challenges needing their attention and energy). I'm incredibly lucky.

Yesterday, in therapy, I had what I guess people would term as a "breakthrough". My anxiety is serving a purpose. It is protecting me, or has been protecting me, while I struggled through being left by the one person I thought would never leave me. Anxiety gave me an elevated awareness of risk, a way to assess and distance myself from anything that might hurt me. It gave me an avenue for worries, a process by which I could block what was really causing my pain. Now that I am healing, the anxiety is preventing me from moving forward, because doing so is risky. Anxiety does not want me to risk anything. Yes, I can survive pain, but that in itself is not a reason to risk it. Being able to cope with something doesn't mean it's okay to go through it.

I've not talked much at all about my marriage breakdown specifically on this blog, because it's just too public a medium, but I think it's important in the context of this post to write in a little more detail. I need to work through the way in which I'm now handling myself and my own worth: badly. I'm constantly looking for reasons to hate myself. I cannot let go of the insecurity I feel, despite coming so far and healing in so many ways. I feel that being like this is letting people down, too - I have forgiven, moved forward, feel peaceful, sometimes. No one needs to know or deal with the fact that I am fighting myself constantly. They have already done so much to help me, to reassure me, to show they care and they aren't going anywhere. I feel guilty for struggling still. I feel like it is my fault - all my fault - that everything ended, because something about me isn't good enough. I tried and tried and tried, but I still wasn't enough, and I didn't know until the last minute, when it was already over, and I had no say in the matter. Now I just wait for everyone else to do the same thing, and knowing somehow that it is me that has caused it. I am disposable, and I probably deserve it.

But that's not right, is it? I didn't cause it. Sure, I was involved and, as with every human interaction, there was probably a lot I could have done differently (not necessarily "better"), but I didn't cause it. Being me didn't make it happen. My therapist says I have to forgive myself, and grant myself the agency in my life now that was taken from me in that breakdown. I have to admit that it fucking hurt and that, despite now not wanting that relationship anymore, and also not being angry about how it ended, I am also still not obligated to absolve, or act like everything is okay. It's not okay. And it's alright to not blame myself. I am working on sitting with emotional oxymorons: I can be both healing and troubled, upset and forgiving, confident and terrified. I can move on but remember.

The end result of letting anxiety win is not just denying myself happiness and potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, but also not allowing myself to be me. If who I really am pushes people away, then I'm not hanging out with the right people for me. If friendships dwindle or people decide to leave, it's not because it's inevitable - it's because people are complex, lives take us in different directions, and we change all the time. Leaving does not mean that I am or people are disposable. It can mean a million other things. And I also have a choice to leave, to set boundaries, to decide what I want, what is good for me, what isn't, and to say "this is me, and I'm alright". I have choices. I have agency. I can say yes or no, too.

Sometimes I am a hyper, happiness junkie that bounces around and talks too much. Sometimes, I am introspective, paranoid, and emotionally overwhelmed. Anxiety is an element of my personality that can actually be an asset, but is sometimes destructive. I care deeply for people in general, and for those closest to me more than I can put into words, but I continue to try, and am ridiculously affectionate in myriad ways in the process of attempting to get across how much love I feel and how grateful I am. Sometimes I am oversensitive. I suck at being criticised. I do not read enough books. I like wine too much. I love to run. Poetry and live music feed my soul. I like to sit in cafes or pubs by myself and just be amongst other humans without having to be with them. I am passionate and loud, but not dominant. I have no interest in winning. I have every interest in connecting. I'm smart and a fast learner, but I'm not the smartest, and I'm not fierce enough or concerned enough to try to be. When I fall in love, I fall entirely, and I am steadfastly fearless of loving that way. And I do not want to be afraid of this person, ashamed of this person, to stop this person existing. I want to live comfortably in her skin, knowing that I'm not all that bad and, even if things don't work out the way I intended or people misunderstand me - or even don't like me - I'm still all of these things, and that's good enough. That's really all this is about: I am me, and admitting who I am and that I want to be her doesn't equal people realising I'm not enough. It means I'm choosing to tell myself I am.