I’ve written previously about living with anxiety and depression, and writing about it has played a vital role in my healing and learning how best to live with these often crippling conditions.
Today I’d like to share a story that happened just last Saturday. Before I do, let me say that while my depression is well managed for the most part, I still have days where it’s harder than others and overwhelm strikes and takes me out for a bit. Those days are few and far between now thank goodness. This is largely due to learning to prioritise self care, learning how to say no, noticing the warning signs and doing my best to avoid total meltdown.
Back to the anxiety. Anxiety is always with me. It’s my constant unwanted companion. Sometimes it whispers, other times it screams. Saturday it screamed and shouted and stamped its feet.
I was in Ghana and we were taking the weekend off from building our women’s shelter. We had planned a trip to Cape Coast to show our volunteers the shameful slave dungeons. I have never written about them before and hope to, but not today. Anyway we set off in our van with our very capable and experienced driver Razak. We had used him every day for the previous week and he is exceptional. Ghana traffic defies description and until you see it first hand it’s almost possible to contemplate. We had spent between 4 and 8 hours every day in the van with him with no issues.
Today was different. This was open roads, at speed, in Ghana. We started off well and all was good. Until we hit the open road. Oh how I hate open roads. They terrify me, always have.
As we started to pick up speed and he began overtaking slower vehicles, anxiety started talking louder.
He’s going to crash.
You are on a hill, there will be another car coming and you will be hit head on.
He’s going too fast to stop, you’ll smash into the car in front of you if they apply their brakes.
You know how bad the roads are here, anything could happen.
That was too close, you nearly died then.
Next time you might not make it.
You know they have fake licences and any car can stay on the road regardless of it’s condition here Rae-Anne.
What if a drunk driver came on the wrong side of the road.
What if someone was looking at their phone and hit you head on.
Then it started to rain – hard, horizontal rain that you could barely see through. His car had no demister, so in the midst of driving fast on a highway and passing cars, he also had to wipe the internal windscreen with a cloth. While talking.
What if his tyres are bald.
What if he has a blow out.
What if he runs off the road.
You are a long way from a hospital.
You know how bad the health care is here.
What if, what if what if what if what if what if.
Anxiety started to shout and scream, it was deafening. I was jumping – literally, hyper vigilant, on edge with muscles clenched, every acceleration and turn was excruciating. My body was feeling the very real sensations of sheer terror. I’m fortunate not to suffer panic attacks as such but it doesn’t make my anxious feelings any less distressing. There was nowhere to look, nowhere to hide, nothing I could do. My breathing became rapid. The tears began to flow. My heart was racing. I turned back toward my husband, whispering, please ask him to slow down.
Please I can’t cope.
He asked the driver to pull over, I said, no he just needs to slow down. My husband said he should stop.
My husband got out. He was embarrassed. He doesn’t have anxiety. He couldn’t understand. After all the drivers wife and child were in the car with us, did I really think he would do anything to risk their lives? Do I think he doesn’t know what he’s doing? Don’t I know he’s a good driver? It’s not his fault. He was being logical, as was everyone else in the van. They too saw some close calls but felt like we were all in safe hands.
Anxiety doesn’t understand reason and logic. It never will.
This was me quite a while after I’d stopped crying. Yes I took a selfie.
I wanted to try to capture anxiety and how harrowing it makes me feel. I want to describe it, show it, help people understand how debilitating it is. The picture can’t capture it, but when I look at it I remember the feelings I was having.
Eventually we both calmed down and I got into the back of the van and tried not to look. Shortly after, exhaustion hit me and I could barely move, I sat staring blankly like I’d just had a huge workout or something. I saw nothing.
Then I felt embarrassed, after all nobody else was crying, I’m sure his wife and his offsider wondered what the hell was wrong with me. Then I was annoyed that I had let anxiety get the better of me. Negative self talk, over and over, around and around again. Anxiety plus negative self deprecation is not a good combo.
The thing is, I have nothing to be embarrassed about. If I had diabetes and needed insulin to balance my sugar would I be embarrassed? No I wouldn’t. If I had epilepsy and needed epilim would I be embarrassed? No I wouldn’t.
Mental illness and anxiety are no different, in that they are a chemical imbalance that despite our best intentions, sometimes can’t be talked down, any more than we can talk down a sugar imbalance or a fit.
I no longer feel ashamed to have anxiety, and I speak openly about it, which helps me to express my needs and allows me to get the help and support. However for the most part, when it’s screaming it remains unseen and others don’t see the scared little girl that showed her face on Saturday. She’s still there, but for now, she’s feeling safe and ok, so she’s only whispering today.
Until the next time.