March of 2017 was when I was forced to acknowledge that there was something not correct with my essence. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sat with my teacher who was helping me with an essay and was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling of defeat (I had lost count of how many times this had happened to me, by this point). I broke down into tears and kept repeating, “I cannot do it. I do not have the heart for anything anymore. I am not clever enough.” I was hysterical. School had sucked the life out of my soul.
She gazed at me for a few seconds, stunned. Then out came the tissues, the pat on the back, the rub on the arm. She asked me how I felt inside. I told her I had been carrying around with me, a dull ache in my stomach for months now. I told her I could not think about my future because the vision of it was clouded by my extremely slow progress with school. This slow progress had made me question my intelligence entirely. I was convinced I had lost it. This made me question my worth. It also set alight nostalgia within me; I began to wonder where I had gone.
She then asked me how I had been dealing with all these feelings inside me. I remember her tone of question; it was as though she had a suggestion waiting to be raised that would exceed my response. I told her I meditated every chance I could get. I would wake up and meditate, I would meditate on the train, I would meditate whilst walking, I would meditate before I slept. I relied so much on meditation, on feeling grounded and on feeling in control, even if it was for a period of only a small 20 minutes. It helped me set and renew my intentions, continuously.
However, even I knew that was not enough. I could not be in a constant state of meditation. I lost it to the stress that school work introduced to me. I was studying something I should not have chosen to study at that particular time of my life. I was convinced it was not meant for me in that moment. It was too late for me to make any changes, however. I had to finish. The entire process was gruelling, no matter how many mornings I woke up and told myself I would handle it with grace and poise. It was one of the toughest periods of my life, for numerous reasons, and maybe I will write about it if I ever feel ready.
“Have you considered talking to your doctor?” she asked me, gently. “I think you should.”
I was mortified. A slow feeling of confirmation began to settle in. There really is something not right with me.
“I haven’t, no.” I responded. “I do not want to be on any medication.”
I was convinced I could heal myself through different forms of wellness that the idea of medication seemed absurd to me. I did not want any form of artificial healing. This was also influenced by my opinions of the pharmaceutical industry.
“Well you can’t fight this yourself. I don’t feel like it is going to get any easier.”
At this point, I believed it would not either.
“I just feel like you are anxious. Not depressed.”
I felt like I was consumed by both.
“You wouldn’t have to take anti depressants. A lot of students take anti anxiety medication. You wouldn’t believe how many. You’re not the only one who feels this way.”
That made me feel a little better.
“Talk to your doctor and explain how you feel. I really feel like medication will help you.”
I cried some more and she held me.
I gathered the courage two months later to see my doctor, after a horrible episode where I truly felt like I had lost myself. It was May 2017. I went alone. I explained to him how I felt like I had become consumed by something that was out of my control. I told him everything. I told him about my coping methods, which I sometimes felt like would fail me. I told him how I had come to feel exhausted of fighting myself with myself. I told him how against medication I was. I told him my teacher was convinced I had anxiety but I did not know whether this was true and please could he just give me confirmation so I could have peace of mind? He listened to me calmly. My voice was shaking. I was fighting back tears. Hell, I am fighting back tears sat here writing about this experience. He let me finish.
“I am so glad you have come to see me about this,” he began. His tone of voice was calm yet firm, as though he was determined that he was going to assist me. “Your teacher is right. You cannot continue battling these feelings by yourself.”
He proceeded to ask me about my studies, whether I thought I was doing the right thing for me. I explained it was the right thing, but not the right time. We delved into this a little bit more and then he asked me why I was against medication. I said I did not want anything that would alter my mind. I could do that myself if I gathered enough strength and courage to. I did not want to rely on a pill. My mind and body did not deserve that. I cared about them too much. They were severely precious to me. He understood and surprisingly agreed with me.
“I’m not keen on giving you something that will affect your mind either, but I do want to give you something because I really believe you need it.”
This is when it hit me hard that I was weak. I had failed in healing myself. It made me feel so low.
He began speaking about Propranolol. It was used for patients with high blood pressure. My doctor explained to me how it would reduce the physical symptoms I was experiencing which contributed towards influencing my mind with countless thoughts. So it would help with the sickly feeling in my stomach, my shaking and so on. He prescribed it to me and told me to come back to him after a month of taking it.
When I began reading into the experiences individuals had with Propranolol, I was pleasantly surprised. The majority claimed it helped with their anxiety massively. Some had minor side effects. Overall, I could not see any reason for me to not start taking it. So I did.
I definitely noticed a difference. My anxiety attacks decreased to such an extent where I went almost an entire month without feeling what I previously felt on a daily basis. I felt amazing. I was organised. I was getting things done. I was focused. The only downside to Propranolol was that I could not fall asleep at night. I would lie awake until early in the morning and then throughout the day, would steal quick naps at my desk. It was bad. I did not like feeling tired constantly. Yet I somehow managed to work through this.
I stopped taking Propranolol daily in August 2017 because regardless of its benefits, I was determined not to rely on medication. So I only reserved it for my “bad days.” There were a number of these and there still are. Whether my anxiety has stemmed from a form of dysthymia, I do not know for certain and when I am emotionally ready, I shall speak about the depression I feel resides within me, with my doctor.
I was re-diagnosed with anxiety this month and instead of reacting how I did last year, I handled it with grace. I welcomed it. My doctor asked me a series of questions, looked at me and said, “you are definitely anxious.” That was the moment I realised and understood that it is not going anywhere and that although I am in a completely different place in life from last year, a better place, it has stayed with me.
Therefore, I have come to accept that my anxiety is a part of me. It holds me back from getting out of bed some mornings. It screams at me to turn and run when I see large crowds. It makes me jump when I hear doors open and shut. It causes me to burst into tears when I am walking in public. It chases me when I run to the nearest lavatory to lock myself into. It floods my mind with unnecessary thoughts and magnifies what I may be feeling. It overwhelms me with memories from the past and worries belonging to the future. It chants, “what if? What if? What if?” constantly. “Why? Why? Why?” persistently. It convinces me life shall not work out the way I want and so I should just kill myself. It is omnipresent.
However, it has taught me. It has taught me to be patient with myself and with others. It has given me the strength and ability to take good care of myself, in different ways. It has granted me the wisdom on who and what I should surround my being with. The wisdom on what is healthy for my spirit and what will allow me to feel grounded. It has given me the courage to say “no” when “yes” will be damaging to me. It has allowed me to demand respect and love from those who I choose to surround myself with. It has turned me soft yet hard. It has torn me down yet made me evolve and bloom. It has stolen from me yet given me so much. The most beautiful paradox.
I have never spoken in depth about my mental health so openly – especially for it to be received by strangers. However, with every post written and read on mental health, the more the stigma attached to it is diminished, the more awareness is granted and the more it is accepted. I suppose I shared my experience because it is a part of me that I am tired of secluding. More importantly, it is something I have learnt to be proud of. I no longer want to hide it. It deserves to be celebrated for all that it has transformed me into. I also want to use this space of mine to be transparent and honest.
So there you have it. Atifa has anxiety and she is fighting it all by herself. Props to her. Props to you for doing the same, if you are. Here’s to invisible illnesses. All of them.
Please refer to my previous post for a different approach to this topic.
Thank you for reading.