It’s been an interesting couple of weeks or so.
I started a new job, one I was thrilled about. And then lost it.
My ex-husband has his overseas girlfriend here and I’ve both flipped out (initially) and since been completely zen about.
I’ve been in utter despair about drinking and completely ok with not drinking.
It’s been a month of ups and downs and weirdness and normalcy.
Typical life, I guess.
I have had one major realisation. I’ve spent a long time (two years,three) thinking about my drinking- when and why I drink, how much, how often, in which circumstances, how to control it, how to eliminate it completely.
What I’ve disregarded, to a good extent, is the depression and anxiety I’ve dealt with since I’ve been in my teens (or earlier).
I’ve focused on the alcohol use, which while certainly dysfunctional and abusive at times, is not THE THING.
THE THING is anxiety and depression.
It’s been there since I was a child. I can recall my first panic attack at age 8.
I was in year 2. I had moved to a new school halfway through Year 1. Somewhere along the line, someone realised that I was smarter than the class I’d been placed in. I was moved “up” and then had to adapt to a new learning style and pace. It took time to adapt and I did but suddenly there was a temporary teacher who threatened one day to keep us in after the bell and I was flooded with fear that the unknown teacher was going to keep me trapped in the classroom forever. As soon as the bell rang that afternoon, I grabbed my bag and ran all the way home, not stopping at all, despite the angry cries of the relief teacher behind me when I left. I remember feeling safe once I arrived home.
More panic attacks followed.
I had a cousin drown when I was 10 and then six months later my Year 6 teacher died in a horrific car crash, in which he was decapitated. I recall reading the newspaper reports about both cousin and teacher and feeling helpless and terrified.
I remember my teacher dying and then having to attend a choir recital within a day or two of reading the news reports. We had to catch a bus to attend the recital and although my Mother dropped me off at school in time to catch the early bus from school, I saw the bus and was immediately convinced I would die on the bus in a horrific crash in the rain that was pouring, pouring, pouring. I escaped to the nearest toilet stall and cried and vomited and hyperventilated until the early school bus was finally, finally gone and I could creep into my classroom, pretending I was not part of the choir group.
The next panic attack arose soon after.
A wet, rainy. windy afternoon at school. The teacher gives us a task and we all set to work, diligently. The teacher leaves the classroom to attend some other task. The rain outside falls, intensifies, builds.
I suddenly and without warning, become convinced that I am about to drown, to die, far from my family and home. The rain falling outside the classroom door and large windows will surely kill us all. I go from sitting at my school desk to sitting in the back room of the class, screaming, crying, terrified that I am going to drown from the rain falling outside the room. My classmates attempt to placate me, to convince me I am safe. I am inconsolable. My breathing is heavy and laboured and I am convinced I will. Die. Now. The teacher reappears, recalled from the office by a sensible class member and tells me to breathe. The end of school day bell rings and I flee from the room, running, running, running until I reach home and can act as though everything is ok.
It was just the beginning.
In the ensuing 30 plus years, I’ve experienced many panic attacks. More still episodes of anxiety. And as for depression, well, it’s stolen so much time, I don’t really want to think about it, because if I do, I’d want to cry for the many wasted years and opportunities.
Finally, at age 43, I accept that I have anxiety and depression. I accept that these are illnesses and that they are a disability, just like a physical disability. There are times when I will be able to meet all of my and society’s expectations and then there are times when I cannot. I want to function like ‘a normal person’, whatever that is, but the fact is, I have an illness which prohibits this.
I want to be able to function normally. I don’t want to be a depressed, anxious introvert. But I am.
It’s just who I am. I always have and maybe always will think deeply, feel deeply and need time and space to recover from thinking and feeling. I often feel anxious (daily), sometimes have panic attacks, frequently experience depression and generally feel like a fish out of water, but I’m trying.
Accepting anxiety and depression has been life long for me. I first went on antidepressants over 20 years ago and let me tell you, it was not really embraced by those closest to me. I was made fun of, disparaged and ridiculed. Can you imagine a diabetic being questioned for going on medication? Wouldn’t happen. Yet I had to field questions like why? what’s wrong with you? are you over reacting? can you do something else?
Fighting against that (prejudice, ignorance), is hard. It’s also ironic, given that many who opposed my taking anti depressants in the earlier years, now take them themselves.
So what is my point?
That my focus has been wrong. I zeroed in on the alcohol side of things for so long.
But the real problem, that which came far before alcohol misuse and abuse, is depression and anxiety. Because the alcohol thing is symptom relief. Nothing more.
I have drunk to relieve anxiety. And panic.
But if I deal with the anxiety and panic, the need to drink doesn’t arise. It just doesn’t.
Be here now. Just be.