I had a conversation with a colleague the other day, about anxiety and why it’s crippling. She’s experienced anxiety before, of course – every human being has. But she’s experienced normal anxiety: money worries, or an argument, or the anxiety you get before a workplace appraisal or a driving test. She’s never experienced the gut-clenching, throat-twisting, suffocating terror of an anxiety attack. She’s never experienced the vicissitudes of an anxiety disorder: fine one minute, crippled the next, struck down by a trigger you can’t even begin to identify.
She asked me to describe an anxiety attack – she genuinely wanted to understand – and the best way I could describe it as that it’s like being punched in the stomach and in the throat simultaneously, by someone you didn’t even know was in the room. It’s painful and frightening and agony to watch, and to go through it is a different kind of agony. Understanding the neurology and the physiology of it – it’s ok, I’m not having a heart attack, I can breathe, there is enough air in the room, this is just a panic attack and it will pass and it won’t kill me – doesn’t help, any more than it helps to understand the geological reality of tectonic plates when the very earth is heaving and turmoiling under you.
Today I didn’t have an anxiety attack, but I watched a friend – someone for whom I would walk through fire without a second’s hesitation – have one. It was long, and agonising. And then I watched her strength as she persevered through a day that had become excruciating, and I admired her integrity and resilience.
And I realised just how gutsy we are, those of us who do live with anxiety, or depression, or PTSD, or the ghosts of pasts that harrow us. We get up each morning, knowing that the day might be easy, or it might be hard, and that there’s no telling which it will be. We get up knowing that we can’t predict what will trigger an attack, but we get up anyway. And we face our day and those fearful, beautiful things within it, and we remind ourselves to have hope, and we keep being people and at the end of everything, our souls will be intact because we have endured.
We’re damaged, and fragile, and gutsy, and strong, and we will survive, because we are survivors. And we deserve chocolate. Go us.