Anxiety, sociopaths, and pretty views

Nice view outside Rotorua

Do you find that your best ideas come to you when you’re struggling to drop off to sleep? I know it’s a cliche but often true for the anxious mind. Many nights I have wished I had my boyfriend’s ability to drop off to sleep within 30 seconds (no jokes, he has a sleep gift).

Last night, I was struggling to sleep in the heat and humidity, with a million worries running rampant in my mind. I’ve been researching sociopaths for a writing project I’m working on, add that to the sheer quantity of Sherlock I have been binge watching, and I found myself back on a familiar train of thought around self-doubt and concentration.

It’s true that some people are naturally a whole lot smarter than others (academically and conceptually I mean, there are so many different types of intelligence but I was pondering the classic ‘knows lots of stuff’ kind) but really I think those with a pretty decent brain such as mine (I am no genius, I lived with a pair of near Mensa level smarties growing up – my Dad and brother – so I am aware of my place in the scheme of things) just requires concentration and the will to learn.

So, Sherlock Holmes is a genius, with a keen eye for every little detail around him but does a part of his ability spring from his apparent “high functioning psychopathic tendencies” (or sociopathic depending on your choice of terminology. Personally I don’t think he would score very high on the Hare scale as he shows frequent empathy, ability to apologize and only appears to lie for the greater good such as solving a case rather than for his own gratification and status). Is he able to concentrate and pick up every little clue because he is not distracted by flurries of emotion and social niceties?

Yes, I am going somewhere with this, not just blabbering about my latest binge topic, I’ll try to get to my point.

The question is, would I be a far smarter girl if anxiety, both social and intrinsic, didn’t get in the way of my life and learning?

I think the answer is yes. If I could find a way to quiet my self-doubt, to care a lot less about the opinions of others, of society and the general public, I think I could concentrate more adeptly on the gazzillion topics I would love to learn about, to research and to study. I am frequently disheartened by the amount of time I waste going over and over pointless conversations, interactions and catastrophisings. If I were able to find a way to shut my Bruce up for a few more hours a day, think what I could achieve!

In this day and age, a grandiose sense of self may seem like a deplorable personal characteristic, arrogance, even gluttony being anathema when managing tricky interpersonal life admin but it sure as shit helps a person get things done. Self-doubt is such a time waster, but for those of us unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with clinical disorders such as GAD, OCD, phobias and panic attacks, the road to self acceptance is a lot more complicated than the  glut of inspirational Instagram post would have you believe.

My anxiety resides in my brain like a thick smog. My mind, and all it’s possibilities are a house on a hill with a beautiful view, so many wondrous avenues to mentally take and enjoy, but anxiety clouds my view with thick toxic, shitty Beijing quality smog, so I only get to enjoy my minds excellent view capabilities for a few hours a week when the smog lifts and Bruce has fucked off down the shop for a pack of ciggies (B&H gold in case you were wondering).

Management is my clean air law, letting the toxic producing shit go into the past is an important part of getting to see my view, however much of a cunt sociopath that makes me seem.

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Train rides from Paddington

Frequently, my anxiety and panic attacks inconvenience not only me, but those I love. It’s ironic, in an Alanis Morissette kind of way (ergo; not literally ironic) that when I am required to get somewhere on time, my panic gets worse, causing me to be late. Too many spoons, no knife.

Over the years, I have very nearly, or actually missed trains, buses, planes, and person-driven rides because I freaked out and had to get out, or was unable to even leave the house at the correct time.

One particular event, when my Mum was visiting me in London, we had plans to travel to Bristol by train. We did all the right things, booked cheap seats online then left nice and early to journey to Paddington to catch the National Rail west. The tube that morning was busy. We were travelling with cumbersome suitcases and backpacks, which you will know, if you have ever negotiated a super busy tube and station changes in with heavy suitcases, is awkward.

After a few changes and 40 odd minutes in a fast shooting tin-can filled with sweaty, grumpy Londoners, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. My discomfort lead to panic which I tried my damnedest to breathe through. The suitcases only made things worse, because I knew that if I needed to escape it would be so much harder hauling heavy shit up so many stairs to find safety and a toilet.

My management attempts didn’t work and I had to get off the train. It’s hard to explain to someone who has never had a panic attack the need to get away. Logically, I can understand why someone would say “Why didn’t you just hold on? Stay on the train. It’s not like you would die.” But in that moment it feels like you might die. Not literally, but in some way deeper, like your brain and body will short circuit & you’ll just be a shell. Like you will implode but look no different from the outside.

The thing is, anxiety lies. It tells you things that aren’t true and because it is so close to your brain and the inside parts of your ears, it becomes very hard to ignore it or logic your way out of the panic.

In this case I got off the tube, left my Mum on the platform, ran up a million stairs, and exploded into the daylight to find a loo in some station or other. I don’t remember which station it was but I remember a labyrinth of tiled halls and fighting to get out. The visceral nature of a panic attack means that my usually good memory for things like stations, history and facts was reduced to the memory of snap shots and feelings. Like I was inhabiting a different part of my brain to normal days.

I calmed myself as quickly as possible and we got back on the tube, but once we got to Paddington we had missed our train by a matter of minutes. I felt so guilty and imagine I cried, but there was nothing I could do.

My lovely Mum had been so organised, yet her plans were brought down by my broken brain. In the wonderful tradition of the British rail, our pre-booked tickets (purchased maybe 24 hours earlier) had cost around £14, but to re-book for the next train, 20 minutes later would cost £90. How such a price hike is justifiable, I am not sure but I imagine some business capitalism dude could tell me (please don’t).

We got to Bristol in the end but not after my Mum’s NZ credit card took a pounding (pun!). With the exchange rate and fees it ended up costing over $200NZ for arriving 3 minutes late. That’s about $60NZ for each minute my panic attack made us late. Anxiety is expensive.

Today’s anxiety blurt : Banks and lies

I started this piece last week, but some how couldn’t manage to get my brain to work enough to complete it. Let’s try again shall we?

I lived in London for a while.

You would think that everything about a city that size would provoke extreme levels of anxiety for a socially panicked, agoraphobic girl. But lots of things about London suited me down to a tea.

There, I found a level of anonymity that only a vast crowd of pissed-off hospo staff, office workers and cleaners can offer you; the anonymity of ‘get the fuck out of my way’. A million people might buzz past me on a day out shopping in Covent Garden but not a single one gave a flying fuck what I was doing or if I was making a twat of myself. On any street in London you will find a surfeit of people far stranger than I could ever hope or fear I may be. So what if I am nervously fast walking up the street looking for a bathroom to hide in? Compared to the dude in an 18 inch laced and boned corset, spiked latex heeled boots, and mini skirt, preaching about the love of Jesus and handing out questionable looking sweets, I am but a blip on the social radar.

Something I did find difficult about London was queuing, the classic British pass time. You have to queue for pretty much everything in London. If there was no queue, it lead to wrinkled noses and dubious questions as to the validity of said business.

Queues at the Post Office and bank were the hardest for me because they were ALWAYS long and there never seemed to be toilets anywhere near to save me in a panic. After work one day, I resolved to make the journey (a ten minute walk) to what was then the closest HSBC and sort out what ever banking related issues I was having. Funnily enough, I have no idea why I was there but the memory of what happened will stay with me forever.

HSBC

I was feeling brave and steady of stomach when I walked in, but after waiting in the desk line then moving on to the ‘sitting down enquiries’ line, my nerves were on the verge of breaking.

I knew if I left now and came back I would have to wait in both lines again causing the same internal issues (my digestive system was not a fan of waiting and on this particular day the longer it took, the more liquid my bowels became). By the time I got to the front of the line, faced with a smiling young woman who offered me a generic, cushioned barrel chair, I was clenching hard. I asked her if they had a bathroom for customers. They did not. The idea of trying to have a real grown-up conversation about money or credit or whatever, while I was in such a state seemed impossible. I told her I would be right back and shot out the front door like a greased cannonball. I knew the public toilets across the road were locked but luckily I had spied a pub a few doors up. Thank the Lord for London’s capacity for an open pub on every corner.

Pub, Holborn London

After sorting myself out for less than the ideal amount of time, I literally ran back to the bank and plonked into the aforementioned seat to the concerned gaze of my banking operative. Now to be clear, I don’t do lying. I’m terrible at it and my guilt complex is vast.

“Morning sickness” I said. A total and utter lie.

“Oh” she smiled. “How far along are you?”

“About 10 weeks” I replied feeling more and more guilty for telling a nice lady a massive bullshit story.

I don’t know why I didn’t just admit that I had a dicky tummy. I guess the idea of saying “I needed a shit” was too much for me in those days. Honestly, I don’t know if I would be able to say that even now. So, why is ‘needing to vom cause knocked-up’ less embarrassing than the honest explanation of anxiety?

I still don’t really know the answer but when I claimed to be pregnant she seemed to understand and empathise with my plight. The universal language of sickness and human regeneration is more acceptable than something we all do every day, shitting.

 

Quick fire

I think perhaps I just had a minor epiphany and no it didn’t hurt. Only an idea, not a fully formed theory as yet, but bare with me.

I wanted a new justification for frequent, quickly formed posts which inflict upon me limited levels of writing-anxiety. Similar to the medication change diary I wrote when swapping from SSRIs to SNRIs. Quick-fire blurts of anxiety related rawness that may or may not help someone coming to terms with their own issues or accepting their own daily fears.

My idea; just writing out a fully detailed description of an anxiety event I recall from my personal history. Day to day events which, on reflection might be really rather funny but at the time imbued with suffering, panic and sometimes a fully fledged shit-fit (pun intended). Some of these may end up being apologies to anonymous people whom I have wronged with my often weird behaviour but hopefully being really painfully honest about how often I suffer from these attacks and the diversity of the situations in which they arise, I might make someone out there feel a little less awkward about themselves.

What do you think reader-folk?

The first situation I will divulge sprang to mind when I saw this meme

Anxiety meme

Mannnnnnny years ago when I was in the second year of study towards my under-graduate degree, I had a head tutor whose quiet, stern, no bullshit façade gave me some of the worst anxiety attacks I had experienced to date. He was and still is the total opposite to me as a person; I am a heart-on-my-sleeve, what you see is what you get, loud explosion of a human being. He was measured, cautious and quiet. I didn’t have a fucking clue how to deal with him and that in it’s self scared the shit out of me.

As the head of my department he held in his yellowed hands my capacity to pass or fail the foundation course of my degree each year. At the time he smoked almost constantly. When urging myself not to panic in his presence, I would stare at his hands. The tobacco yellow stains on his first and second fingers, the weathered warm brown leather look of a person who has spent their life up to the elbows in paint, turps, thinners, oils and every other accoutrement of a practising artist sticks in my mind almost 15 years later. The smell of Drum tobacco takes me right back to his sun-room office.

The look I read on his face each day was one of disdain for every thing I was and every painting I made. I was pretty sure he hated me, though I had absolutely no evidence to back up my belief.

I began avoiding school. Not coming in to my studio and creating pretty much no work at all. I stayed home and panicked ever day rather than going in and working through my issues. The more days I missed the more I panicked about my absences. One morning he called me at my flat to ask if I was coming in. I was officially mortified and just jabbered a bunch of crap down the phone and eventually made my way in with my head down feeling like the biggest piece of shit alive.

At the time I was in the very early stages of being diagnosed with GAD, agoraphobia and other panic related stuff but I had no real understanding of what it was or what it made me do or how it made me behave. I didn’t understand how to talk to him about what I felt, or even the name of what I was experiencing. I didn’t understand that my feelings were a genuine disorder, not just my own weirdness about a specific person. Part of me blamed him for not being more forthcoming, something my then boyfriend backed me up on. In defence of my tutor, he had no idea I was a ‘special’ case. He didn’t know that I was anything other than another lazy ass 18 year old with a newish boyfriend whom I chose spending my days with over investing in my class work and practice. My boyfriend at the time was in actual fact a total moron, so looking back listening to anything he said was a foolish idea, disorder or no disorder. Ahh the arrogance of youth!

That year I had begun a series of sessions with a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist and though the lady I was seeing was very good and helped me in many ways, she gave me one particular shit piece of advice; to meet with the university counsellor and ask for a meeting with my tutor to discuss my issues. She also suggested that I bring along my (moron) boyfriend as a personal support.

I think about that meeting frequently; the awkwardness, the guilt, and the fact that it solved absolutely nothing other than to let my tutor know I thought he was doing a shit job. This wasn’t even the case. I tried to explain myself but I wasn’t armed with the right words, the correct terms or even the frame of mind to understand what I wanted from him or he from me. One facial expression he made stuck in my mind. When the uni counsellor suggested that I didn’t feel I was offered enough support. I agreed because I didn’t know what else to say. My tutor’s raised eyebrows said more than enough about my own lack of input let alone being around on a day to day basis to be supported.

Over the years I found a way to talk with my tutor but we never had a real conversation about my struggles. I still see him from time to time and I wish I could sit down and explain what I was going through and how I never blamed him, I just didn’t understand what I was experiencing or how to manage it.

Hiding at home was never the answer. Leaving my house, even on my worst days became my triumph. Going to scheduled meeting with him even though they caused me so much anxiety I would vomit or need to shit constantly before hand, that was my achievement.

When I do see him, I still think he believes me to be mental and honestly he isn’t totally wrong about that. Just a lot more aware of my mental than I ever was then.