Freedom vs. Slavery – How my anxiety makes me feel enslaved.

thunder

This is part of my assignment for a class I had this semester where we discussed fundamental cultural assumptions on life vs. death, freedom vs. slavery, wisdom vs. folly, and good vs. evil. I decided to discuss how I felt most enslaved by my anxiety. It was my intention to try to explain what I have always felt was so hard to explain – the way that I feel panic, and how it controls me. I hope you find this helpful, interesting, or… I guess anything else!

Hands shaking, heart racing, vision blurring

Unseen to the unseeing, she can’t escape

Behind bars, caught and captured

there’s no way out

Heart racing, chest tightening

“Breathe”

How do you breathe when there’s no air to inhale?

Left to fight these mind demons alone, no hero in this story

The crowd turns away,

blind to the battle inside her, deaf to the cries

Hands shaking, mind racing

Unknown and invisible, a wraith rattling along the cage

Screaming in silence

It comes in waves, threatening to push her over the brink

Sinking, drowning, let it bury her

The crowd stands confused, there is nothing there

She’s gasping for air, but there’s nothing there

When thinking of the question: “When do you feel the most enslaved or free?” the first thought that comes to mind is within my anxiety. I tried to think back to the time that I had a panic attack in the middle of Disneyland, during a busy park day. I’m on vacation in the happiest place on earth, and yet I couldn’t find a way to escape the crowd that kept coming at me in droves. My mind raced to all the life-threatening situations that could possibly happen while stuck in a crowd, even things that weren’t possible like a breakout of a zombie virus. I knew deep down that I had been watching far too much of The Walking Dead, and still I felt as if my life was in danger.

I told myself to breathe, but it didn’t make a difference; there was no air in my lungs. I told myself to calm down, but there was no slowing my heart rate. I lost complete control of my body. And that’s how the panic hits you – it relinquishes your control to function. I was completely helpless and vulnerable to the demons controlling me, the ones that I am forever chained to, enslaved to. This is when I feel the most enslaved because I am constantly fighting this war in my head, even in situations where I should feel safe.

Her hair is curled, her eyelashes too

Her eyes are decorated in soft neutrals and a subtle wing

Her outfit, carefully selected

On the outside, this earthly prison is a painted doll

The her that is seen is happy, successful, outgoing


Stripping this painted doll of all these signifiers of

Happiness, success, desired personality

She is hurting and in pain

No drop of blood will you see fall from her flesh

No physical ailment or disease

Her demons are not worn on her sleeve for the world to see

So they must not really exist.

Her expressions are false advertising, a learned practice,

A permanent smile to appear friendly,

A focused gaze to appear listening,

Inside, her mind is in chaos,

trying to keep up with everything she is supposed to be.

The night before she questioned her sanity,

She wasn’t sure if what she was seeing was real.


The unseen behaviours are subtle, but the only way to cope.

She twists the ring on her finger, counting the turns.

She taps each finger on the pad of her thumb

Trying to feel connected to her own body,

in control of its responses.

Her toes flex and point in her shoes

Hiding under the desk, out of sight.

She focuses hard on the wall behind your face,

Hoping desperately that you won’t notice

she isn’t focused on you.

She knows to repeat the last thing you said

To appear to be actively listening,

though her mind is elsewhere.

She is painfully aware of the shake in her voice,

Her body tenses and she draws in a deep breath,

Trying to calm the demons in her mind.

The demons are not satisfied until every inch of her tingles,

Burns,

Hurts,

With anxiety.

Each cell activated in panic, ready to fight or fly.

The adrenaline of imminent danger builds up,

bubbles to the surface.


There is no danger,

no life or death situation.

There is no problem, no issue, no reason to be scared.

There is only you in front of her,

discussing the answers to a question the professor asked.

It is not threatening, there is no right answer.

There are just opinions.

But for her, there are feelings and she is feeling all of them.


The demons inside are controlling the unseen her,

She knows that she cannot fight them,

So she tries to keep her painted doll face on.

She tries as hard as she can.

It is the only thing she has left to control,

but she’s losing grip.

The first few weeks of class I tried to attend as often as I could, and still my mind went back to the fall semester when the class was so full and students crowded the door. I thought to that first class in September when people kept coming in, taking their place by the only escape route in the room. Even though the door remained clear in the beginning of this semester, I knew that it was only a matter of time for more people to join. The class was half over and still the door was clear, but all I could do is stare and anticipate my next panic attack. It was so exhausting that I gave up. I stopped attending classes and tried to focus my attention on going through the material on my own.

This prison also manifests in agoraphobia. I am so aware of everything that moves and breathes when I go outside. In the corner of my eye, I could see my neighbour, and I knew that I had to be more aware of my actions… rushing them to get out of view as quickly as possible. If I was too slow, I might be victim of judgment, I might be confronted about how I live or behave, I might be pulled into a conversation that I have no input in. This mind reading is constant; it never rests. In class, I am sure that I am not writing down enough notes – or maybe I’m writing down too many. If I am on either end of the spectrum, I clearly have no idea what the professor is saying. I must be dumb. I don’t belong here. This snowball of anxiety is always how the panic starts. When the body responses join and my heart rate increases or my breathing becomes more shallow, that’s when I know that this one is going to be the last – I’m surely finished. It’s a heart attack this time, not just the panic.

My mental health controls my life. It decides the days that are good, the days that are bad. It determines whether or not I go get groceries that day or I show up for the test that I have scheduled. It chooses the nights that I sleep and the nights that I am awake until morning, when I can hear others’ alarms going off to let them know it’s time for a new day, but mine hasn’t finished yet. I tried to control it with medication. I tried to control it with therapy. It is a resistant beast. Yet still, I refuse to fall. My focus is set to freedom from this prison, where I am in control again.

Taking the step to volunteer before trying to work again.

workforacause

Throughout the year, I’ve been volunteering with the Mental Health Awareness Club at the University of Calgary. I haven’t really been able to juggle school very well this year, but volunteering has been a incredible way for me to feel like I’ve still been contributing to my community in some way. I specifically chose this club for its inclusive attitude and understanding when it comes to mental health. After the first meeting, I knew that I wanted to get involved on a deeper level than just a general member.

I’ve been volunteering as a junior executive and it’s been an incredible experience. I have had the opportunity to have my voice heard when discussing mental health issues on campus and I feel like I have contributed to the awareness about mental health, especially as it relates to students. There have been some milestones this year that I have reached in my advocacy for mental health and they really started with my involvement in this club.

I first reached out as a personal experience panelist at one of the events put on by the MHA Club. The event surrounded stigma and even at that time, I was still so far in my own self-stigma that it was hard to even speak during the event. But – I did it! I answered questions that the audience members had and sat right next to two of our city’s child psychiatrists that we were lucky to have in attendance. It was a growing experience for me because at that point, even most of my family did not know about my panic disorder or that I had a depressive episode and that was the reason why I quit school for a year. After the event finished, I began to really take my mental health advocacy seriously.

I participated in an initiative put on by the club called Scribe Videos. My story is right on their Facebook page, it is on YouTube, and it is 100% public. Holy hell that is scary. But, I know that if what I said in those videos helps even one other person to know about the resources that are available, it will have been so very worth it. (Check out part one and part two here!)

At the time of recording, I was feeling really good about my mental health. Things were starting to get into place where they should be. Listening to it now, I can hear how confident I sounded and how happy I was to hopefully be making a difference. Though things happened later in the year that really set me back, I feel like I’m getting back on that path and it’s such a good feeling.

The club members have been so understanding for the days that it’s hard to make meetings or events, and there’s really no judgment there. I can call in because I can’t leave my house and they understand – I don’t have to hide the reason or pretend to be physically ill like I would if I had a job. The environment is so very important to my success this year and I’m not sure I would be in the same place I am now – even writing this blog if it weren’t for the supportive community of the Mental Health Awareness Club.

If you’re in the same situation I’m in, where you want to have a schedule and a reason to leave your house during the day, even get out of bed… I strongly suggest that you consider volunteering in an environment that will be just as accepting. Not only does it -ahem- look awesome on your resume, but it’s a great step before getting back into the workplace that gives you a commitment, but is also flexible.

As always, if you’re on campus at the University of Calgary – check out the Mental Health Awareness Club and consider joining for Fall 2016 to have your voice heard in advocacy for mental health awareness on campus.