MHAM Post #16: Hope

I met Hope, the writer of this piece, when we were in middle school. We were, I don’t know, 14 maybe? To this day, I still remember how, when we first met, I thought she had it all together.

No one has it all together, obviously, that’s the whole point of these posts this month. But it’s just so interesting that you still can’t help but assume that about people sometimes. 

Hope has been one of my friends for a very long time now. She’s the kind of person who I used to spend every second of every day with, and I’d still never get sick of her. But even now, we can go months without talking, and the minute we do, it feels like we picked up right where we left off.

That’s something I really appreciate about her. I think there’s a kind of unspoken understanding between the two of us. We just know how each other’s brains work, like we’re on the same wave length or something. 

I know being vulnerable isn’t always Hope’s favorite thing, but I think she’s such a talented writer that I just had to ask for her help this month. She writes in a way that makes people who can’t understand, understand. That’s what I enjoy most about this piece. It’s not as much about specific experiences, as it is about making a concept make sense to others. 

I’m sure all of you will get as much out of this as I did. Check it out: 

I am not generally an open person. It takes a lot for even those I am closest with to truly get me to open up. In fact, I am having a hard time even writing this because of the sheer idea that someone who doesn’t know me will read this and I’ll be exposed in a very vulnerable way. But I have faith in the idea behind why I’m writing this and because of the fact that it might make even one person more comfortable with themselves, or help them realize that there are so many (normal) people who have these types of feelings/problems/issues – whatever you want to call it – that helps a little bit.

I found out about anxiety when I was much younger, although at the time I didn’t have the explanation for it that I do now. I do remember waking up suddenly in the middle of the night, not able to take a full breath, feeling like the walls were closing in. I remember feeling a terrible pit in my stomach, a feeling I have become quite familiar with, thinking that there must be something wrong but for some reason not being able to recognize just what I was so fearful of. I often feel that when people think of anxiety, they immediately associate that word simply with worry. I can’t tell you the frustrating amount of times I’ve been on the other end of, “Well why are you so worried? Just calm down.” If that was a viable solution, I would have been cured years ago! The best way that I can describe anxiety in my case (disclaimer: not the same for everyone) is an overwhelming sense of fear. It’s a fear in the worst way, because you’re not even sure what it’s really of, and in the rare case that I can pinpoint it, it’s usually something that I know in my brain isn’t valid, or even something that warrants this type of reaction. The part that separates anxious people from those who aren’t is that even though you know and can tell yourself you shouldn’t feel a certain way, it will never help or cause it to go away.

On good days, panic attacks are just a few minutes long, they’re slow to come on and I can recognize hours beforehand that they’re creeping their way up to the surface. On the worst day, my calcium levels spiked from breathing so hard and fast that my hands froze up in a weird position that resembles claws, my muscles in my face became paralyzed and my speech became slurred because my jaw went numb (my mom thought I was having a stroke and took me to the ER – a fun day). There are some days where my biggest success has been getting out of bed. There are periods when I go days or weeks being physically and emotionally exhausted from having constant feelings of anxiousness and depression all day, every day. It’s during those times that I can feel myself becoming disinterested and detached from everything around me because it’s so much easier to just go home and wait it out. *Note: I have found it hard to explain to someone that the reason you’re so tired is because of worrying so hard. Although it is a mental issue, the effects manifest themselves physically because your brain feels like it is on a constant treadmill of fear and worry. Something that may seem so minor to someone else, becomes a giant source of gut wrenching uneasiness, which branches into 100 different little anxieties which all bubble up until they become as horrible and thought consuming as the first.

There have been times when I was so scared to get on the train or in my car, I couldn’t go to work. I’ve counted down the seconds to leave a meeting because I know that for whatever reason, any second I might start hyperventilating and crying for no reason at all. It’s a terrible feeling when you have to explain to someone that you “just feel off” but have no good explanation as to why. What does that even mean? To someone else it may seem that I’m just feeling too lazy to carry through on our plans and am blowing them off. But to me, it means that at that moment, the only safe haven that I have is home because at least there I can curl up in a ball until I feel normal again.

In the grand scheme of things, I am so lucky to be who I am and have all that I have-my health, friends, family, the list goes on. In some moments, in the midst of a panic attack or a particularly depressing episode it’s hard to recognize all of the things that I should be grateful for. Some days it’s much easier to focus on the negatives which can drown all of the good out. Treading through the topic that is mental health (that even today has such negative connotations and at times, very little understanding throughout society) is a confusing and painstaking process. I’ve only just recently found a medication and the right dose of it that works for me, and that’s after many years of visiting doctors and talking to professionals.

My hope is that with more open dialogue and open minds, people will feel more comfortable talking about these issues and that society will become more receptive to learning about them.