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It’s Not A Choice, It’s A Disorder

By Anna McKeon

CN: discussion of anxiety

I am constantly on. It feels as if I am buzzing. Not the good kind of buzzing though – that hum of excitement ahead of meeting up with friends or the anticipation before enjoying an evening out. No, it is the unrelenting, uncomfortable sensation of feeling permanently anxious. It is the kind of buzz that I desperately wish I could turn off so that, for once, I could feel even the vaguest semblance of calm.

You see, almost everyday I feel this way – on edge, on guard, hopped up on adrenalin that never seems to dissipate to let me breathe out. My limbs ache as if the blood running through them is acidic, my face burns and in my skull, my brain feels like a swollen cactus, pulsing and spiking. My mouth is dry, my throat tight, and my voice shaking. My stomach, like the rest of me, is in knots. And I rock backwards and forwards, holding my own hands in an attempt to keep myself from being sick.

Sometimes I’ll go a day, or even a few days where I’m free of this all, but sadly that is not often. Most of the time, I can just about manage to keep my head above the water and bear it if all is going to plan. When something goes wrong though, almost instantly I can fall apart.

It doesn’t have to be an existential disaster, but something doesn’t have to be truly awful to completely knock me off balance. On days like today, when my supervisor (rightly) roundly damned my latest essay, even that can be enough for everything to feel much tougher. Handing it in, I had known it was not a strong piece of work, but it is painful, even embarassing to have that spelled out so blatantly, and it hurts. Immediately the feelings of self-doubt flood back along with the sinking feeling that I shouldn’t be here and should never have come, and I recall my old teacher’s sneer when I mentioned applying to Oxbridge.

‘It’s just an essay’. Yes, I know. But having that kind of perspective does not keep the panic and distress at bay. I am not incapable of understanding that there is no reason to get so upset about one essay, one essay that does not count and will doubtless be forgot in a couple of days. But my body will still respond as if the world is burning and it is entirely my fault.

Recognising that my natural reaction, too, is not a personal, moral failing on my part is hard. As someone so naturally inclined towards self-criticism, it takes a lot of effort to remind myself that actually, this response is part of having an illness and it isn’t my fault. Even writing this is difficult – I feel a part of myself sneering that I’m just making excuses, that I’m lazy, unintelligent, incapable etc. etc. etc. The list always goes on. I cling desperately on to my diagnosis to convince myself that yes, I am truly suffering here and I have a doctor’s note to prove it.

At the same time, I know that if a friend was in my situation, that they were ill and genuinely struggling would seem beyond obvious to me. And I think that the reason why I can’t seem to show the same compassion to myself is perhaps part of the anxiety – it feeds off of self-doubt, and what better way to strengthen itself than convince me, the sufferer, that it is all in my imagination and that there is no need to get help?

I certainly can’t claim to have mastered the art, but being kind to ourselves does seem so important.

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