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.