“In my experience, crying is the same as a heated argument – sometimes those two things occur at once. It is a strong reaction, it is sadness, but it had never felt weak.”
22/04/2016 Booking an appointment (and asking for help)
Asking for help. Those words are enough to make me withdraw. It’s not that I can’t use a telephone, it’s just that I have an intense hatred for doing so. I always forget what I’m supposed to say, no matter how many times I rehearse it internally beforehand . I’m forgetful at the best of times, but somehow, upon grasping in my sweating palm what is surely one of mankind’s most incredible communicative inventions, all cognition seems to stop. I still have to make this call, I still need to do something to stop feeling so unsettled all the time.
I don’t like change any more than the next person, particularly when I feel secure. When I have made my existential bed, when I have finally settled and my future seems to be together and planned and I finally feel prepared, I am suddenly struck in the face with the rogue soccer ball of uncontrollable events.
It’s like wrapping yourself in freshly washed blankets, teeth brushed, eyelids slowly closing, warming up in new flannelette pyjamas, consciousness rippling in and out, a beautiful dream is beginning… and then your bladder is suddenly full. You have no choice. Time to get up and walk on the cold tiles and relieve yourself. Now do it all over again, take it from the top.
I almost slam the phone back in the receiver, and calm washes over me. The relief is about more than just getting rid of the device itself.
I’ve just booked my first psych appointment. Ever. It’s been a long time coming now; I’ve been struggling to cope with a few things in my life recently. A mix of a breakup, a betrayal, and an anxiety that triggers physical sickness has finally, finally, driven me to ask for professional help. I feel my breathing slow, my jaw unclenches. My appointment is booked for next month, so I have some time to get into the right headspace before opening up to a complete stranger. I have time to collect my thoughts, to work out exactly how I’m going to communicate my feelings to somebody who knows literally nothing about me besides my name.
I draw the date in my calendar, the same red sharpie I use for all events, but this red seems more daunting and foreboding. My handwriting for “Psych appt. 12:30pm” doesn’t seem flourished and quirky; it’s scribbled.
I know I need to go, because I can’t cope alone or, at least, I have days where I feel that I can’t. I know it’s for the best. I know I need to take care of myself, I don’t want it to get any worse and I don’t want it to affect anybody else. This is my problem.
Collapse onto the bed behind me. Twist a ring around my finger, close my eyes. I need music. I need to be distracted. I leap to my desk and draw. Draw, draw, draw, until my brain feels tired. Hot food, drawing, and streamed TV. I need a laugh. I need to shake things off. I need a shower.
I need so many things at the same time, and of all things I must be left alone.
I am not good at talking about things like this. The last person I talked to about these things hurt me, and that made me so angry that, should I think about it for too long, I may induce an aneurism. I can’t write, I don’t have any ideas, so I write it down. I make nothing up; it is all simply as it is, or as I see it.
17/05/2016 The two worlds (and the first appointment)
I’ve been breathing wrong, supposedly. It’s been making everything worse.
The thing is, I don’t breathe all the way to my stomach. The psych tells me that this is more likely to cause stress. Breathing deeply at the top of your lungs makes for short breaths, and slow breaths is what we’re looking for. I breathe all the way into my stomach, and I realise how long it’s been since I slowed down and breathed that way. It feels a little alien; I have to make an effort. I have to pull my posture upwards and unclench a few muscles.
I don’t tell the psych everything, but she helps me through some things. She introduces the concept of breathing techniques and compassionate self-talk.
“Even though I am feeling anxious, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
That feels nice to say, but I don’t admit to her that it doesn’t help. The source of my sense of humour is self-deprecation. Everybody has problems. It stands to my reasoning that, if you can, nothing should stop you from acknowledge and ridiculing your problems. The alternative is to break down. I’d rather cry while laughing than while sad. The latter is absolutely no fun at all.
The slow breathing puts me to sleep at night.
I wonder why it is. The process of slowing down, why is that so eerie? Why does it feel disconnected, and separate and less human? Even writing feels slow.
What does that all even mean?
The fast world is a razor’s edge: it’s a cold blue, a learning computer, a boiling idea. The fast world is a rock concert, it’s running and leaping from a plane or a bridge, soaring off into the atmosphere powered by turbines or colossal engines of blazing flame and explosions. The fast world is the inextinguishable blaze of the sun. It is obsessed with the next thing, the new thing, the thing everybody is talking about, the current, the now and the certain.
The slow world is worn armour, an ornate shield. The slow world lives in museums and libraries. The slow world is waking yourself up, even though you’d rather not attend that 8:00 AM class on this cold morning. After you wake up you see the blur of fog. As you walk through it the cold doesn’t matter, because the sunrise is spectacular. The slow world is long phone calls, writing on recycled paper, a cork board covered in photographs. It’s watching movies with a blanket and hot chocolate during a thunderstorm, walking, sleeping, warm socks in leather boots, difficult discussions with parents, and taking the time to write a story. The slow world is sleeping next to somebody who loves you.
We conceive our best art in the slow world, and birth it in the fast. We grow it in a cocoon, and on incredibly delicate wings it attempts to remain intact inside a hurricane.
When you learn to breathe slowly and inhale to the very pit of your lungs, then you’re forced to engage with the slow world for a moment. When we try something new or challenging, we are momentarily decelerated. This is not beneficial when we must be good employees, when we are told we need jobs to have a purpose, we need things to do, and there are things we must become.
The slow world is where I need to be if I’m going to control how I feel. The fast world is thinking a million thoughts at the same time, paying attention to everything at once, closing physical space into a screen. The fast world is—
20/05/2016 – Crying in front of strangers (and my second appointment)
If you’ve never cried in front of strangers, I will try to explain what it feels like.
It feels like all eyes are on you, despite everybody looking away to not make you even more uncomfortable. It feels lonely and selfish, and the ends of your sleeves get wet. Your face burns, like the feeling of getting into trouble as a young child: a hot wash of shame and guilt.
It also feels absolutely, undeniably ridiculous.
Crying is unacceptable, we’re told. It is shameful, it is weak, it means you cannot cope and that everything is terrible and crumbling and turning against you. This is not true.
In my experience, crying is the same as a heated argument – sometimes those two things occur at once. It is a strong reaction, it is sadness, but it had never felt weak. Exhausted and sore, sure, but it was an outlet. It is a way to get rid of feelings in the form of water and a wavering voice from an airtight throat. It is a way of screaming without having to make noise. It is a way of showing how much that music, that film, that person, means. It is a way of feeling physically the way something transforms from the abstract to the physical, and seeing how closely those two are connected.
It is our mind escaping through our tear ducts, and other people noticing, often against our will.
But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t see.
A quick search tells me that 45% people in Australia will have a mental health condition. For minorities that statistic is even higher – for the trans community the number sits at around 75%. If you can, you need to take the help you can get. Psychologists can be expensive, but they’re not the only option.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
QLife Australia: www.qlife.org.au