Hypervigilance

Saturday morning rattlehead – jeans ripped
At knee, laces half-tied, young blood scurried
Down the small streets. Eyes darted, thoughts scary,
Noted the strangers that loomed as I rapped
On the only door I knew could be rapped
Safely. Check the exits. Not safe, not sound.
My heart is in my ears. My mouth is sand.
I’m jagged. Wash hands. Flick switch. Rinse. Repeat.

With my forehead pressed against the front door,
I swear your eyes are burning through my skull.
I check the lock again – one, two, three, four,
Five. You’re smiling, and the smile is a lull:
Warm fire in winter… or unknown danger –

Windows, the dark – and my head’s loud once more.


Well, it’s Day 1 of NaPoWriMo 2015 and yes, I have already failed to follow the prompt – start as you mean to go on, eh? Honestly, I gave the prompt a go, but I was just drawing absolute blanks all day. So here is a rough sort of sonnet-ish yoke I wrote instead. I’ll try harder tomorrow, I promise!

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Lean, Mean, Alcohol-Induced Anxiety Machine

There are certain things that I don’t let myself think about because I know that I’ll send myself into a full panic if I do. It is by blocking these things out that I maintain a level of functionality, this is especially important in social situations (come on, who wants to hang out with someone if they think there’s a chance they’ll have to sit through them having an anxiety attack?). Since turning 18 (the legal age to drink in this country), I have discovered that alcohol is especially useful in these situations. Without getting drunk, a small amount calms me down just enough that I function like a normal person. All hugs and dancing. All fun and games. Wonderful… to a certain point.

All of my flatmates go out at least once every week and get utterly plastered. They love it. The poison in their systems makes them think, say and do ridiculous things that are hilarious at the time and make fun stories for the next day. They all have stories from the start of the year about how they barely knew such-and-such-a-person but they were super drunk so they went together to such-and-such-a-place and had some sort of kooky adventure that made them best friends to this day. Alcohol is a big part of their lives, and has been for quite some time.

I have a rather more complex relationship with it, however. It helps me to such a brilliant degree in social situations (I must point out here that I only drink once a week at most) that I certainly count it as one of the more positive changes that have taken place in my life in recent times. But the second I get actually *drunk*, something that has only happened two or three times and hopefully won’t happen many more times that that, the effect is the exact opposite. I think about all the things I shouldn’t, and I start to panic. What’s worse is that when I’m drunk, I don’t even think to get away from people when it happens, because I can’t feel it coming like I can when I’m sober. I can have a full-on freak-out in a bar, and all my friends can do is look on in horror.

All of my friends, that is, except for two. Because it is in your lowest moments that you discover who your real friends are.

Since moving to Belfast and actually developing a social life of sorts, I have had three of these public panics. The first two are referred to here and here. The third happened this Thursday past. On all three occasions, it was one or both of two people that looked after me and helped me calm down. These people were Nicole and Michael.

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On Thursday, we were at Kremlin, an excellent club full of lovely people. It is my favourite place to go out, which is odd considering I don’t generally go for clubs. Because we’d gone out in a big group (usually, if we go to Kremlin it’s just 3 or 4 of us), we had had predrinks beforehand. I was… jolly. Let’s call it jolly. Thanks to £2 drinks and the obsession of my comrades with “seeing Tabitha drunk” (which is quite a let-down really, I think they expect me to a completely different person somehow), I quickly became more than “jolly”, and then quickly descended into the drunken panic-state that is the reason I do NOT generally drink in excess.

Thankfully, however, both Michael and Nicole were out that night and they both pounced on me almost straight away. And they calmed me down. And they helped me enjoy the rest of the night. And they didn’t complain once that I was causing a problem.

Thinking back to the events of that night, I am not sad that I can’t socialise in the way that everyone else can. I’m not sad that I can’t risk getting drunk like everyone else does. I’m not sad that I have wasted all these hours of my life in a state of panic.

I am happy, very happy.

This time last year I felt all alone in the world and did not feel like there was any real reason for me to stay. Now, I have a large circle of friends and a small circle of close friends who I know I could trust with my life. I have people I can talk to when things get too much. I have a place in the University of my Dreams. I have a mother who loves me and a sister who I can hang around with as if she’s just another friend.

So, so what if I have problems with socialising and communicating? I have everything I could possibly want, and I couldn’t be happier.


Stuff for you to check out:

  • Michael’s music (youtube/soundcloud)- he’s a super-great musician and a lovely person. Would you be so kind as to check it out and maybe give a little feedback? Even just the listen would be a great help, he needs a signal-boost! (No, he hasn’t asked me to post this. I’m just trying to help out!)
  • This blog, because it’s great.
  • This lady’s twitter account, because it makes me smile.

I hope you all have a great day!

Tx

Scared to leave the house

How safe do you feel right now?

Today, the sun is shining (well, as much as it ever does in Belfast), the air is cool and the streets are filled with people just living their own lives. I feel like I could take on the world right now, if doing so were to take my fancy. 

It’s strange, then, to think that just a few weeks ago I was too scared to leave my bedroom, let alone conquer the world. Everything was the same – the sun was shining, the people were equally dismissive of everyone else, same old same old – but I simply could not bring myself to talk to anyone. The result? I lived on cereal for a little over two weeks to avoid spending too much time in the kitchen with my flatmates. Worse still, for the second week I wouldn’t leave the flat at all. I missed a week of class because of an irrational fear of some unspecified event. 

As someone who struggles with anxiety, fear is something that controls much of my life. But I know that I am not alone. Even people who have no problems with anxiety or similar conditions are often controlled by fear. Of course, fear is natural. It keeps us safe by leading us to avoid dangerous situations. A fear of heights could prevent someone from dying by falling from a great height. A fear of spiders could keep you away from a poisonous spider which may bite you. A fear of enclosed spaces may stop you from getting into a situation where you could suffocate. You never know.

Fear, however, hinders more often than it helps. How many times have you (or someone you know) run out of the bathroom shrieking about a spider? In these events, how many times would the spider have been capable of causing any harm? And how many times has it been the person who wanted the spider removed that actually removed the spider? 

As I said, fear is fine and natural. I pass no judgement on anyone that has these irrational fears. After all, how could I?

I just find it sort of amusing that the “superior species” is one that is so strongly ruled by fear. We should work on that.

The Attack of the Brain Bees

Anxiety is a big, all-encompassing disorder whose symptoms can affect every single aspect of life. For me, it is something that has constantly improved and disimproved for as long as I can accurately remember. Different aspects become stronger and weaker as time passes. Sometimes, my problems culminate in a low but constant buzzing that allows me to function inconspicuously but easily keeps me up for days on end. Other times, it manifests itself in bursts of extreme nervousness that make it rather difficult to concentrate and cause me to shake violently, but still allow almost normal function. Right now, however, anxiety attacks are the bane of my existence, and these do not allow normal function at all.

If you are unsure what an anxiety attack entails, AnxietyCentre.com offers a pretty good explanation:

There is a long list of anxiety symptoms. But because each body is somewhat chemically unique, anxiety affects each person differently. Consequently, anxiety symptoms vary from person to person in type or kind, number, intensity, and frequency. If your symptoms don’t exactly match this list, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety. It simply means that you body is responding to anxiety slightly differently.

Common anxiety attack symptoms include:

  • A feeling of impending doom, that something horrible is about to happen, that you are in grave danger
  • A strong feeling of fear, foreboding
  • An urge to escape, to get out, to run away from danger
  • Blanching, turning white, looking pale
  • Blushing, skin blotches, turning red
  • Burning skin
  • Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing
  • Confusion
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from reality, separate from one-self, separate from normal emotions)
  • Derealization (feeling unreal, in a dream-like state)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness
  • Emotional distress
  • Emotional upset
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of losing control, freaking out
  • Fearful thoughts that seem incessant
  • Feels like there is a tight band around your head
  • Hot or cold chills
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Knot in the stomach, tight stomach
  • Nausea
  • Numbness, tingling sensations in any part of the body
  • Panicky feeling
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Plugged ear(s), stuffed ear(s)
  • Pounding heart
  • Racing heart
  • Shooting pains in the chest, neck, shoulder, head, or face
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Trembling, shaking (visibly shaking or just trembling on the inside)
  • Upset stomach
  • Urgent desire to go to the bathroom (urinate, defecate)
  • Vomiting

This is a pretty accurate description.

For me, during an anxiety attack, it feels like my head is full of bees (hence the title). Instead of one clear train of thought, it’s more like all of my thoughts are climbing over each other to try and get heard, and the result is that I can’t make sense of any of them. Without access to clear instructions in my head, I don’t know what to do, and I crumble. I’m scared and confused. I feel like I’m not in control of my own body. I struggle to breathe. I sweat, shake violently and have nosebleeds. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I start scratching at my arms and neck in a desperate attempt to have something else to focus on.
By the time I have calmed down, I’m covered in bruises, my skin stings and burns and my fingernails are bloody. It’s not an attractive sight.

These attacks are not something I would ever wish on someone else.

I don’t allow my friends or family to see me when I’m having one. The fact that I can react this dramatically to things like crowds and loud noises, things that most young people revel in, makes me feel incredibly weak. For this reason, if I feel stressed or overwhelmed I try to escape the situation as quickly and as quietly as possible.

There has only been one occasion on which I couldn’t escape in time for an attack, and it happened just one month ago. Everyone in the flat and the flat’s social group went to a “foam party” for Rachel’s birthday. By the time we got there, we had been drinking for a while (I’ve discovered that sometimes a small amount of alcohol renders me almost socially capable) so I was doing fine for the first hour or so. By half 12, however, Shannon had discovered me curled up at the side of the room, crying uncontrollably as I recovered from my first ever tipsy panic attack (no fun). Ever the good Samaritan, Shannon took me home and got me some company before returning to the party by taxi. She explained to the rest of our friends that “Tab was getting a bit stressed, and I wanted a walk so I took her home.” I think that that’s probably one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.

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Before it went downhill: Curtis, Evan, Francesca and I at the foam party.

Got questions? Experiences? Feel free to comment!

Have a nice day.

Tx

First Steps into the Blogosphere

Hello, world!

This is going to be quite a new experience for me: I have had Blogs before, but they only lasted a week at the most because I really had no idea what to write about. Well, now I do know what I want to write about. I want to write about me. More specifically, I want to write about my life as a young person dealing with social anxiety and anxiety in general, as I know that these are illnesses that affect a whole bunch of people and I know that many of this whole bunch of people can feel awfully alone.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a victim. None of this is weird for me. I’ve had trouble interacting with other humans since I was a kid, and have been having panic attacks and other symptoms for 4-5 years. Yes, I spent a lot of my teenage years feeling very sad and alone, but by the looks of things that’s just what being a teenager is like!

Now, I am 18 years old, and a (rather young) first year student at Queen’s University Belfast studying English with Creative Writing. I have new and wonderful friends in the flatmates I have been placed with, and they help me so much because, other than actually labeling my mental condition, I haven’t hidden anything from them.

This blog is going to chart the ups and downs of student life not only as a sufferer of anxiety, but also as a normal kid because, after all, that’s all I am.

This is my life, this is my blog, this is me.

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