Over the next however long, I want to unpick with you some of the things I struggled with during this whole withdrawal & relapse debacle. So let’s not pull the punches – let’s start with the hardest thing. Lying. Or not, as it turns out.
You see, I’ve lost one of my greatest defence mechanisms. It’s the deep-seated belief that I’m making up my anxiety for attention.
I don’t know when this faded. I don’t know how. Time, I suppose, and a lot of support. But at some point, I stopped reacting to my anxiety symptoms with: oh look, how dramatic, I suppose you think this means people will look at you. Or this is not a real symptom, you’re just pretending to hyperventilate for attention.
Fun fact – it turns out that I did not in fact make up seventeen years of illness, convincing hundreds of people in the process. Who knew?!
I’m being glib, but in reality, losing this belief was absolutely terrifying.
I had a panic attack – well, several panic attacks – over the past few weeks. But one was particularly bad. And I remember sitting on the stairs, hand held against my chest where I could feel all this tightness. I remember realising, painfully and acutely, that I was really sick.
That I had been really sick for a very long time. That I hadn’t made any of it up. That even if I had made it up at times, that itself was a symptom. That all of the fear and nausea and panic I had thought I was performing was very, very real.
I called this a defence mechanism earlier. It really was. It made the stark reality of living with this illness a lot easier. Suddenly I was so uncomfortable with the way I’d behaved in the past, by presenting my mental illnesses proudly as a label. In that moment, I did not want a label. I just wanted to be healthy.
This symptom, the symptom of believing I was lying, isn’t one I’ve talked about a great deal. I have talked about it, but not extensively. So I don’t know how well I can articulate to you the pervasiveness of it. It was there constantly; every single time I was anxious. Every single time I got a physical symptom.
It was okay, I said to myself, because it’s not real. It’s just lying. It’s just the manifestation of how terrible a person I am. These thoughts were as constant as the anxiety itself.
So being without them is…it’s strange. Really strange. In some ways I feel very free. Mostly, I just feel terrified. Because now, when my chest gets tight, or my breathing speeds up, or my hearing gets sharper – now I’m faced with how awful this experience is. Unfiltered. Unimpeded by lying.
This will take some getting used to.