The courage to keep breathing…

I once read somewhere that if you think about something strongly enough, it happens. It’s a lie.  I spent all night willing my heart to stop, and it quite clearly has not. The rest of my body is on my side – I ache like I cannot even put into words. The rest of my body is shutting down. I feel like I’ve been ran over. My chest hurts. My legs have bruised themselves overnight (?!) my head is pounding, I keep shaking, and I feel very run down. My body has started to give up. Except for my heart, which is still effortlessly beating away….and driving me crazy.

This morning I woke up, and technically should have been on campus at 9am. Or 11am at a push. 11am came and went, and I was still in bed, stubbornly pressing ‘snooze’ on my alarm every ten minutes, rocking with tears, and getting about 4 minutes sleep in between each alarm. I could hear my heartbeat in my pillow; could feel it in the mattress and through my body. It was taunting me. This endless rhythm. When does the conductor put her baton down? When does this sick song end? When can the beating stop? At one point, hearing my heartbeat grew so unbearable that I shifted my position so that I couldn’t hear it and could only feel it if I focussed. It was an uncomfortable position, and I welcomed the sensation of deadness in my limbs as the circulation was cut off. I slept through the next alarm, at peace now that I couldn’t hear my heartbeat reminding me that I’m still alive. But soon enough, I was awake again, and burst into tears. I couldn’t deny it any more; it was nearly midday – whether I liked it or not, I had to face another day of this mess.

Once diagnosed with agoraphobia, to which I protested loudly, this morning I began to wonder if there was an element of truth in this. I once believed agoraphobia simply meant fear of leaving the house, but actually agoraphobia is this: ” an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives certain environments as dangerous or uncomfortable, often due to the environment’s vast openness or crowdedness. These situations include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, as well as uncontrollable social situations such as the possibility of being met in shopping malls, airports, and on bridges. Agoraphobia is defined within the DSM-IV TR as a subset of panic disorder, involving the fear of incurring a panic attack in those environments. In the DSM-5, however, Agoraphobia is classified as being separate to panic disorder. The sufferer may go to great lengths to avoid those situations, in severe cases becoming unable to leave their home or safe haven.”

The above? I do have. But I think for me it’s more PTSD related anxiety which shares some symptoms of agoraphobia, but is in fact not agoraphobia. (I think this because it’s not constant, sometimes I’m fine and other times I’m very much not fine…phobias are constant, whereas PTSD flares up and down for us). Some days, such as today, it’s crippling. Most days, it’s not so bad, we just feel anxious and sometimes have panic attacks for no apparent reason. We don’t ever have a day of not feeling anxious. We do as a rule avoid places that are crowded, because almost certainly a crowd will trigger a panic attack. We’re scared for their safety – in a crowd we can’t keep an eye on everyone – and we’re also scared for our safety – in a crowd we can’t vet everyone, and also where are the escape routes? Being 5 foot 1 does not help. Even small crowds can feel overwhelming. Vast open areas can also be enough to send us into a panic, unless we’re with someone we know, or in a location we know. “Uncontrollable social situations” is the key here. I’m feeling so anxious today about leaving the house…why? Not actually because I’m scared of abusers getting me – I have that too, but that’s *fear* of them rather than anxiety of just life. I just don’t know what the day will bring, and if I stay at home then it’s all much more within my control. I don’t know what mad emails I might get. Don’t know what might happen on campus. Everyone’s bouncy because it’s the festive season so there seems more crowds and more out of control-ness. My wish to die is from pain, but my anxiety to leave the house is nothing to do with that. I had a panic attack in the shower at the thought of how busy the campus will be. When I get to this point, my mind goes into hyper-drive. Every possible worst case scenario (and then some) suddenly feels like a very real option. I guess this is PTSD anxiety really. But in the shower earlier, I heard a car’s engine backfire outside, and I ended up sitting in the shower, sobbing in a panicked mess, waiting for armed men to break into the house and kidnap me. Then the idea of armed men invading campus filled me with terror. Then I couldn’t remember where all the fire escapes are on campus and had another panic attack at the thought of a huge fire breaking out. Then I thought about the stampede that would ensure from such an emergency, and people getting trampled. I felt my chest tighten in claustrophobic empathy, and I went rigid with panic, and threw up.

Needless to say, today is not going so great. The courage it took me to just get out of bed and face the fact I’m still alive was one battle, and then the anxiety of doing anything and facing life is another battle. I’ve clearly made it out of the shower, as I’m at my laptop. I have to get on campus at some point today. But I just want to hide in a cocoon, where nothing out of control can happen, nothing that will surprise me. And it is a social anxiety – I’m not so much frightened about stuff which might happen to me, as frightened about finding myself in situations where I am out of control. My head is in overdrive trying to think about what I’d do if something crazy happened on campus, or in town. I am just a quivering ball of anxiety and irrational panic…and also suicidal for entirely different reasons. The combination of the two is….overwhelming.

I can remember times where the abusers would attempt to drown us as a form of torture – more mental torture than anything else. They’d push us underwater, often in icey water in the hope that the cold would take our breath away. Just as we felt we were going to black out, they’d pull us out of the water for half a second, allowing us one huge gasp of air, and then push us under again. We quickly learnt that struggling cost precious energy. We also learnt that it hurt more to try and hold it all, so it was less painful to very very gently let the air out in the water. After a few times of them dunking us, the will to take air in was weak. We would always reach a point of just wanting to drown, just so the out of control madness and pain was over. But we kept going. For whatever mad reason, we kept fighting to survive. Often we had no reason to, except that we didn’t want to let the abusers win. So we kept fighting for breath, kept fighting to find the courage to keep breathing. If we were tied to a bed after having been physically tortured for over 12 hours, we would be so weak that breathing was a conscious effort. But we kept going. Had to remind ourselves every 3 seconds to breathe in and out.

Somehow I have to keep hold of that courage. I’m so highly panicked about doing anything today, about facing anything to do with life. I also am simultaneously wishing my heart would stop so that the pain from the grief ended. But somehow I need to keep going, I need to keep grappling at the tiny strands of courage to keep breathing. I’m jumping at everything – every sound, every shadow, every text on my phone. I keep looking outside and seeing cars and thinking ‘they could crash. they could crash and die and I won’t be able to do anything.’ It’s that powerlessness that cripples me I think. Powerlessness and no control. Leaves my heart hammering, me sweating and gasping for breathe, and shaking. Panic attacks also madly make me feel like I’m about to die anyway, which is currently met with relief but also panic that I’m dying in an out of control manner.

Life is just generally a mess at the moment, and I don’t know how the rest of the day will go except that I know when I’m on campus the mask will be plastered on. But I’m just so filled with dread and anxiety. It’s so separate to the fear of the abusers getting me, I have that as a constant, especially as my ex seems to just be everywhere at the moment. But this anxiety is just about life in itself, and about everything being out of control.

Panic panic panic 😥


5 thoughts on “The courage to keep breathing…

  1. I so know what you’re going through. I had a very similar experience with PTSD anxiety. It was like I didn’t feel safe anywhere, and taking a single step outside my room was a huge deal. Sometimes, even getting out of bed is an achievement. I also have breathing issues that I’m sure are anxiety-related. Though I’ve been told it may be asthma. I don’t know if there’s anything at all I can say that will help. I found I felt safer going out after dark… Like I was less likely to be seen or noticed. Please let me know if there’s anything at all I can do.

    • Thank you so much Dani…. it’s just a comfort hearing from someone else that this happens (though I’m so so sorry for what you’ve gone through and you’ve also felt this utterly crap). I too feel safer after dark somehow, despite knowing cognitively that I’d be in more danger. Yeah I guess I feel I can hide easier; disappear in the darkness… yeah today getting out of bed was just like the hardest task, and I felt so stupid for it 😦 and then getting out the house… tomorrow is so busy and I need to get up and I’ve no idea how it’s going to happen 😥
      Thank you so much…just your words are a comfort, helps me feel less alone in this total anxiety madness :-/ take care… x

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