Before the Train Hits

I’m going to paint a picture for you, and I want you to really immerse yourself in it.

Imagine standing in the middle of a train track, with a rope almost cutting into each arm as it’s pulled taught and tied to a column on each side. You’re in the middle of no where.
You have no where to go, no one to hear your cries – no white knight to save the day as we’re so often told in fairytales. None of that, because this is real life.

You stand there, dread settling in your stomach, your mind racing as your fight or flight response kicks in. Wanting, NEEDING, to live, to be okay, to be safe.

Then you hear the distant sound of a train approaching… Panic replaces dread. Your heart rate reaches inhuman speed, your breathing all but stops in your throat. You feel the need to escape, to do anything possible to get out of that situation. You cry, you want to throw up, pass out, or just crawl out of your skin.

You lose track of everything around you except the feelings your body is drowning you in. Taken over by an inane instinct to survive.

Now, the train becomes visible, heading straight towards you with no signs of stopping. That panic you were feeling? You are consumed by it ten fold. Your body is your enemy, your hostage… And you? It’s prisoner.

That feeling of terror right before the train reaches you? THAT is exactly what a full-blown panic attack feels like.

Anxiety is bad enough, but it’s not panic, it’s not the same. I’ve had many painful surgeries, I’ve suffered a lot of loss. But nothing can compare to that inescapable feeling of terror. Inescapable because your own mind is causing it, inescapable because you can’t detach from your mind or body.

It feels like every nightmare, every fear you’ve ever had, rolled into one moment of pure, crushing terror.

So, why do people panic? Why do we actually catastrophise everyday situations until we feel like we’re about to be hit by a train? Why does our fight or flight kick in with little-to-no apparent danger?

Because that’s what anxiety is. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it’s causes are different for everyone.

Does that make them weak for suffering through that? For needing medical intervention to treat this issue? No. Having experienced this panic first hand, I’d say with full conviction that those who suffer panic attacks are some of the absolute strongest I have ever known.

I witnessed my friend ride the waves of panic and anxiety for a full half hour on a boat. I saw her fear, I felt it… And I felt pride at what she was surviving. Her mind and body were fighting her to basically jump off that boat, to escape the situation… But she didn’t. She mentally fought the battle, survived it, conquered it, and rode an easy ferry ride home on the way back.

If you’ve been through that, you should never feel anything other than pride.

The different faces of anxiety are interesting, and the way people react when faced with panic. The fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in, and it’s like internal torture.

When I have a panic attack, it’s invisible. No one has ever been able to tell (unless I faint… Whoops!) I sit there quietly, desperate to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. And I fight the urge to run from the situation, knowing that running only feeds the panic. With my friend, her panic was utterly palpable. You could see it, feel it. The sobbing, the shaking, the hyperventilation. We’re feeling the same things, but wearing it completely differently.

So, before you call someone dramatic or weak, because they didn’t ‘look’ like they were having a panic attack, or because you don’t understand why they were having one in the first place. Stop. Take a look outside yourself, and realise that even if you can’t understand what they’re going through, your steady support is all they need in that moment.

Fly Free

It happened gradually. So gradually, that I didn’t even realise it was happening until I was unwittingly set free.

Cages – used to keep animals and people controlled. These days you can find beautiful ornate bird cages, with intricate detailing so beautiful that you forget its original purpose.

That’s the kind of cage I imagine that I was in. It seemed so beautiful from the outside, that I barely knew it for what it really was.

I used to be a dreamer… I wanted so much from the world. I wanted to try everything, do everything, go everywhere. I wanted to travel to ancient and foreign lands, have hundreds of different careers, move to the other side of the country – I wanted to continue to learn and grow. I wanted to experience everything that this beautiful world had to offer.

So, why couldn’t I follow my whims?

I’ll start with a broader reason… Relationships. Now, before I go on, I’d like to point out that I’m not saying “I hate my ex – he trapped me in a bubble.” Not in the slightest. This isn’t a reflection on any one person, but a simple fact that relationships mean your decisions need to be made with consideration of another person…Duh! So, all those possibilities become smaller, especially for me as someone who has always put my partner first. I’m not sure that I’ll ever grow out of that. I would sacrifice what I wanted if I knew it would make them happy. I wouldn’t speak up – and that was the beginning of my gilded cage, a beautiful cage I built for myself. I got myself to a stage that I hardly even knew what I wanted.

Friendships – a lot more freedom there than in a relationship, but your happiness in said friendships is based solely on who you actually decide to become friends with. “Friends are the family we choose.” Clique, but oh so true! I had toxic friendships for years… They were clipping my wings and caging me in, and I didn’t even know it. Meeting my ex was a blessing in more ways than one, because he taught me the importance of standing up for one’s self, and the importance of cutting people out of your life who are a type of poison for you. Cutting out those people (as harsh as it sounds,) cut out some of the bars to my cage.

The next reason is money. Yep, so many problems in the world are caused by money. But I never grew up to put value on it. Money is to live, nothing more. At my first job, I watched my boss (a small business owner) place his happiness on how much money he made that day. I saw his darker moods, his scary temper, but I also saw his kindness and generosity when things were going well. His moods affected all of ours. It made us feel anxious, like we were walking on eggshells. If we didn’t sell enough that day, his mood would visibly sour.

And I didn’t understand, not at all. I mean, to a certain extent I would understand the stress of running a small business and the worry that can cause, especially during times as difficult as these. But not when every dollar and cent defined your happiness. If any of my friends or family came up to me right now, struggling and desperate for money, I would give everything I could to them, every cent if I had to. Because those people are what I value most, not money. This became an issue in my previous relationship, right from the very beginning. His ambition was inspiring to me, I was always proud of that – but his value on money didn’t align with mine. And I found myself feeling smaller and smaller, actually shrinking and using my cage to hide the pain that I felt like I was only worth the money in my bank account.

Now, that’s a terrifying thought. What’s even more terrifying is that I let it happen. I got in my cage and shut the door, because that’s where I felt safe.

I always felt the need to apologise, often laid awake at night anxious about money – anxious that my partner would stop loving me if I didn’t earn enough. But the greatest and heaviest expectations came from myself, from my own insecurities. I can’t blame anyone but me. I jumped into my half-built cage and hid there willingly. Not wanting to voice my opinion, not wanting to cause confrontation… Simply not wanting to lose him. For that, I would have done anything.

The next issue became my health… This is probably the biggest reason, hence being the reason for this blog. Feeling trapped in my own body, like a bird being shoved into a shoe box. I couldn’t breathe, I was scared to move, for fear I’d hurt myself or make things worse. I was flailing in the dark, having no idea what was happening on when things would get better. At one stage, I even got a false positive for a rare type of tumour – a test that took an extra two weeks to complete to find out that it really was false. That was the longest and loneliest two weeks of my life – because I made it that way. I didn’t lean on those who cared about me the way I should have. I caged them out, at the same time as caging myself in.

My health has been a trip! What started as what seemed like a panic disorder, turned out to be dangerously high blood pressure and tachycardia. It developed from there – fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, chronic daily migraines, dizziness, malaise. I would work all week and sleep all weekend. My world shrunk further, and my health continued to build my cage towards completion. What I could do on any given day, relied solely on how my body felt. That thought was utterly suffocating. I craved answers, I craved my choices back, I craved understanding. What I found was loneliness. The kind of loneliness I’d never experienced before – I believed this was my fight… Me against my body, me against the world. So, I shut out the world. I let my fatigue drag me down, let me physical capabilities define me, let me value diminish based on the lack of income I had coming in.

The next is mental health. This is a big one for many people, especially at the moment. Our mental well-being is so important, and so complicated, that it has a way of grabbing hold of us with both hands and not letting go. Feeling good, feeling happy, has it’s own way of making us feel free. But when we’re struggling, we’re trapped in the M5 tunnel at peak hour – seeing no light at the end and feeling like we’re moving in slow motion. That’s exactly how my anxiety makes me feel, and I know a hell of a lot of people could related to that. My anxiety hit me hardest with my health. Approximately six panic attacks a day – yep. That panic had gripped my heart and I never seemed to feel any relief.

The day that my doctors discovered that my then-current panic attacks were caused by a physiological response rather than psychological… Well, it was somewhat a relief – and yet, somehow made me feel even more caged in. I felt even more trapped in what my body was doing to me – because not only was it affecting me physically, but it had now gripped my mind too.

The final bar to my cage was the concept of moving out. I always thought I’d move to WA, live with my friend. Go where I wanted, when I wanted. But being in a relationship changes your priorities, means having to compromise (which I was more than happy to do! Not forced to.) However, I wasn’t the one fronting the money in our goal to move out – which I felt strongly limited my opinion in the matter. So, I shut down further. Stopped speaking up, went with the flow, pushed my unhappiness and claustrophobia in the situation way down until I didn’t feel a thing.

My cage was finished – complete with a beautiful brass padlock. And I couldn’t blame anyone but myself.

Now, this isn’t meant to make me sound like a victim, this isn’t meant to say that I wasn’t happy in my relationships or friendships, or in my career, or in life. This isn’t meant to say that I have any regrets. Because I don’t – not one.

It’s meant to be about choice.

We all have it, whether we choose to admit it. We have freedom – we just need to actively choose to fly towards it, not hide in our seemingly beautiful cages. That’s where I went wrong – my choices, or rather ignoring my choices, had ultimately locked me away.

This year has been a shit storm – for everyone in the world. But during this time, I’ve found strength in sorrow, forgiveness in anger, empathy in pain. Most importantly, I found my freedom again. Because, ironic as this sounds, choice was forced on me. I was put in a situation where I actually HAD to think about what I wanted, for the first time in a long time. I was forced to drop my own expectations of myself, step back, and see what I really wanted, where I was really meant to be, all along. This year I became a dreamer again. I became a bird soaring through the sky instead of hiding in a cage.

In loss, I found myself. Self-love, putting yourself first, isn’t ugly – it certainly isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. I know that now. I built a cage for myself, and I’ve spent the last year tearing down my beautiful self-made prison.

My final statement is this – the reason my self-built cage was so ‘beautiful…’ That’s easy – it was beautiful because I was still happy. Blissfully unaware, as they say, but never truly content.

And now…? Those obstacles are still there, but not holding me back.

Now I feel like I’m really starting to soar.

Photo by Guillaume TECHER on Unsplash

The Social Anxiety that comes with Chronic Illness

I don’t trust my body – not even a little bit. I don’t know how I’m going to feel at any given moment. It’s unpredictable, to say the least.

Now, you might be thinking, “isn’t that the same for everyone?” To some extent yes, but not like this. I’m sick every single day to some degree. Maybe it will just be mild fatigue and a lingering headache, maybe my chest pain will get so bad I’ll end up in hospital, maybe my fatigue will leave me bed ridden… I have absolutely no idea.

I can’t make plans, not really. I accept plans with the usual “but it all depends on how I’m feeling on the day.” Because, let’s be real, I have NO idea if I’ll be able to make those plans or not. In fact, I’d say it’s more likely that I’ll have to cancel. Which fills me with no end of anxiety and guilt.

I love my friends, I love my family, I love my boyfriend. I WANT to spend time with them – and yet, my body doesn’t always let me. My Pilates instructor even took me off weekly lists, and assumes I’ll just turn up when I’m able.

This is frustrating for everyone, including myself. ESPECIALLY myself. I’ve seen friends distance themselves, stop inviting me anywhere, and just lost friends in general. They’re not bad people, they just didn’t understand and took my flakiness for not caring, and I don’t blame them one bit. I understand that chronic illnesses are hard for people to understand unless you’ve been through it, I really do. BUT, it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

This is the social battle every person with a chronic illness must go through at some stage. Do we go to that social event, knowing that we will pay for it tomorrow, and probably for days to come? How do we pick and choose which social engagements to go to each week, how can we spread them out? Why, oh why, can I not just have my body back so that I can go to ALL social engagements and not have to lose sleep over this petty shit anymore?

It really goes beyond that though. It becomes a deep fear to even leave the house. You start thinking about things no one else would. Like – how can I leave at any given moment if I need to without drawing attention? How far from home is this plan, if I get a migraine how long will it take me to rush home? If I go to that persons house, will my stomach rebel against me and leave me in a deeply embarrassing situation? Do I have all my medications, comfy clothing, water bottle? Then if we do end up going, it’s rare we even have fun because we’re too busy worrying or pushing through whatever symptoms we’re dealing with that day.

It is so damn EXHAUSTING!

And so, we stop planning anything. We stop even accepting plans that are further than a half hour drive from home, or any plans that might be over night. We simply stop making plans.

How lonely is that?

The Depo Darkness

I often hear men and women alike joke about women’s hormones. She’s angry, so she must have PMS. That’s hilarious, right?

It’s not often lately that I get really bad PMS, mostly I just get extra jittery and anxious. But now and then it really hits me, and I spend the better part of a day crying or just feeling really low. I don’t really see that as funny. Emotions are all valid regardless of the cause. More than anything, it makes me really feel for the women that deal with that monthly, or the women suffering through menopause.

That brings me to my Depo Provera disaster.

Approximately 5 years ago I was prescribed a treatment for Endometriosis after a surgery, in the form of a Depo Provera injection. This is a reasonably common form of birth control that get’s injected into your butt cheek (hehe), and lasts for 3 months. The main ingredient of this injection is Progestin, which effectively stops ovulation. This in turn also prevents Endometriosis from growing outside your uterine wall.

However, what my gynecologist at the time forgot to take into consideration was my sensitivity to medications, especially the hormonal kind. Within a week of getting this injection, I was too depressed to even make it into work. And guess what… There are no medications to counteract an injection that stays in your body for at least 3 months.

I proceeded to spend the next few months with severe insomnia – sleeping a maximum of 2 hours a night. Spending the rest of the night either tossing and turning or simply crying and wondering how I was going to get through this. Of course, I didn’t actually realise at first that it was this injection causing my sudden depression, no one had explained to me that it was a possible side effect. I was only 6 months into dating my boyfriend, Aiden, and we both started to believe that it was my relationship with him that was giving me grief. This caused a tremendous strain on our new relationship, and left a few of his friends that I’d just met thinking I was an emotional wreck, and rightly so! Let’s face it, that’s exactly what I was.

So what happened after 3 months? Well… turns out that emotional side effects caused by this injection actually get worse before they get better. And so, I spent the better part of a year severely depressed . Not even being able to work most of the time – and when I did work I spend most of the day counting the minutes until I could curl up in bed and hide again.

I kept everyone in that dark about all of this. My parents saw the severe anxiety and panic attacks it caused in the beginning, but no one knew the true extent of my depression until I broke down crying in front of my mum in a cafe.

I would like to take a second to point out that I very rarely cry, and I basically never cry in front of anyone else. It’s not because I’m emotionally unstable, it’s just generally not what I do. So my mum seeing me cry for the first time in probably 15 years… Well it really kind of freaked her out, to say the least. She finally saw what I was going through. But despite that, I still felt embarrassed to share this with anyone else. I often laid awake and cried while Aiden slept without saying a word to him about it, and I never let my friends in on the whole truth. No one saw the real darkness that was caused by one simple hormonal ‘treatment’.

Do you still think it’s funny when a woman is being hormonal?

Mental illness is no joke. When it’s caused by or coupled with hormones, to put it plainly, you feel like you’re losing your god damn mind! Imagine feeling perfectly fine one day, and losing all control of your emotions the next. This is a lot more prominent in women with conditions such as Endometriosis or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, but no one seems to talk about it. It’s a very real side effect, especially to so many of the treatments for these conditions. Do you see why I can’t see the funny side to that?

I’m not laughing, and neither should you. The seriousness of this needs to be recognised. Next time a woman is “just being hormonal,” stop and think for a second. That thought, that realisation, could save your wife’s, sister’s, mother’s or daughter’s life.

To all the women out there struggling, please believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Speak out, get help and support. It’s 100% okay to need that 💙