“Fear is the highest fence.” ~ Dudley Nichols
Hi, I’m Miranda, and this is my story. This is hard for me, there’s no denying that, but if I help even one person, it’s worth it.
Some people know, but most are unaware that I’ve suffered with generalized anxiety for 15 years.
I know anxiety inside out and back to front. Anxiety is like a drunk relative who won’t go away, he comes around at the worst times and sometimes doesn’t leave for ages.
He makes me cancel plans at the last minute and causes a plethora of symptoms.
Things like, my throat closing suddenly, not being able to swallow normally or sometimes, at all. I shake, I sweat, my vision goes fuzzy and everything goes red. I feel like I’m watching myself and that my hands aren’t mine, I can’t feel my toes or it feels like burning water is being tipped down my back.
At times of panic I don’t know what day it is, what the time is, my heart races and often, for no apparent reason. All I know is that I need to run, I need to get to safety, and for me it’s usually my house.
Years ago I was offered a role in a TV show overseas. I was so excited to be chosen and my tickets were in my hand when I had to cancel. Another time I was offered free business class tickets to the Middle East…and you know it, I turned them down. On more than one occasion I’ve missed flights, or after holding up the plane for a while, I’ve white knuckled my way through the flight and then been terrified the whole time I’m out of town about the flight back home. But, no, I’m not scared of heights, or flying.
I no longer go in lifts or places I might get trapped, and I’ve stopped driving because I started to panic at red traffic lights and felt stuck. I can’t enjoy walking tracks or walking the length of a beach. I can’t stray far from the car.
Another little known fact about me is that I often can’t try new foods because I have a fear that I’ll react to them…I find it hard to try new things.
This behaviour might seem crazy, but let me explain.
After a while we become frightened of the panic happening so much that a viscous cycle erupts: fear of fear, and it is often worse than the panic itself.
I have done counseling, therapy, massage therapy, hypnosis, self help books, several different medicines and relaxation therapy, and nothing has helped long term so far.
It was as if, on the day my anxiety started, a window opened in my mind that could not be closed. Sometimes I can shut the curtains over it, but it’s still open, and fear can still sneak in. And as if all of that isn’t bad enough, on top of that, there is a stigma in our society about mental illness, about people being weak and pathetic.
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It couldn’t care less what your religion is or if you are white, black, purple, green, gay, straight, bi-sexual, rich, poor, successful or not. Who knows why we develop these disorders—it could be any number of things outside our control.
Over the years I’ve been told to “harden up” and to “get over it,” but it’s not that simple. It’s like standing in the rain getting wet and everyone else has an umbrella—they yell at you to open yours up and look at you like you’re stupid, but the problem is that you don’t have one, and you don’t know where to get one, no one can give you one. You need to learn to cope with getting rained on and try to not drown.
Things may have turned out better for me if more people understood mental illness, and truly understood that it’s not something people can just “get over.”
Over the years I’ve let people down. I’ve made up excuses because the truth feels embarrassing. I haven’t been into a dance club since 2007 and I love dancing, but I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t last long.
I can go a year feeling okay, and then have one bad day, or week. I can attend weddings, perform in front of thousands of people singing or acting and be the life of the party. Sometimes I can’t bear he thought of standing in line at the supermarket, but I can fly to Auckland. And sometimes (like last summer) I can surprise myself and kayak far out to sea, loving every minute of it.
Despite all of this, I am a happy and upbeat person—like many others I suffer in silence.
On the outside I look just like you.
I’m witty, clever, have a sense of humor and am a compassionate and generous person. I’m a good friend, a good listener and I give really good advice. I’ve got talents, and things to learn from the world. I’m vegan (as if I need more stigma) and care deeply for animals and all life around me, whether it be a tiny beetle stuck in a puddle, or a spider I would rather release outside than squash.
Luckily for me I do have a few really good support people and I can lean on them if I need to.
The message motivating my post here is to beg this of you:
Please don’t stop inviting your fiends to things just because they often say no. They might be turning you down because they are secretly serving a jail term in their mind. Remember that just like it is for me, not every day is a bad day. If you know someone who is suffering, please don’t push them to do things they don’t feel comfortable doing.
The best thing you can do for them is tell them you are there for them. Please break the stigma associated with mental illness—realise that most mental illnesses, although manageable, are often uncontrollable
Don’t pity me or others like me. We don’t want sympathy, but a little understanding goes a long way. Please share this message and help break the cycle, because just knowing that you understand what we go through at times is huge and removes a large weight from our feet.
Anxiety may be the drunk Uncle, but society should be the brothers and sisters that band together to help one another through the tough times. And even though I may miss many yoga classes, this challenge, this learning experience and deep struggle with myself, has made me the determined person I am today, and I’m grateful to be that person.
Author: Miranda Clare
Editor: Catherine Monkman