Finding Your Way Out Of Darkness
The story I'm about to tell you isn't special. That, is precisely why I'm telling you it - nothing that ever happens to us is. My story is such a common one nowadays that I feel compelled to tell it. It's not a story I intend to glamorise in any way, because the reality is far from it.
I want to remind you though, that there are three sides to every story : your side, their side and the truth. These events happened around a year ago, and it's very possible given my state of mind at the time that my interpretation of events is far from the reality. I also know that the way I see events now is slightly different from how I saw them at the time, but I suppose that's a given. I hope that I don't do people a disservice in this telling because the people involved were trying to help. Please know that, and know that I appreciate the effort more than any of them will ever realise.
My whole body was shaking, so ferociously that my mind seemed to collapse in on itself. The tears came before I could stop them, flooding from my eyes like a waterfall, and flowing down my cheeks. I tried to breathe, but my lungs were filled, drowning out everything around me. Breathe. In. Out. Repeat. Pencil down. Breathe. The girl next to me was still writing. Breathe. I was going to fail. Breathe. I know this. Breathe. No you don't. My breathing was ragged, the tears were flooding. In. Out. No one had noticed. Breathe. I nudged her, but I couldn't speak.
"Miss? Miss!" She didn't know what to do.
The teachers silhouette was blurry but I knew her to be crouching down in front of my desk. Her words were faint. I shook my head. No. I wasn't okay. I stood up, shaky, unsteady, and walked out, letting the door shut behind me. I had to find him. He had to calm me down. There was a bathroom. That's where I was supposed to go. He wasn't in there. Obviously. The toilet couldn't calm me down. I wasn't ill. Not physically, anyway.
I couldn't find him. Not before somebody else found me. Guidance. I was too far gone for that. He was bigger than he realised, and he didn't know what was going on. Questions. Perfect. Just what I needed. His finger pointing in my face, his tone invading, harsh. I shook my head when necessary, my brain unable to form coherent sentences for me to say aloud. He was frustrated, unable to help.
"Calm down. Calm down."
I couldn't calm down. He was only making it worse. "I don't know you" He said. Frustrated. He was getting nowhere. I was still crying, my lungs were still heavy. I would tell him, but what could say when no words would come out? He turned away. My brother had left already, his classes finished. I had to go. I had to find my brother. He had to calm me down. Only he could do it successfully. Then the words came. It was easier when he wasn't looking at me.
"Can.. can I.. can I go now?" He didn't hear me. I tried again.
"Can I go.. now?" He nodded. Followed me to the door.
"I'll be telling him.. about this." I nodded. I never heard about it again. I don't know if he ever found out. I don't know if he ever did tell him. I headed back. The bell had rang already. I'd missed most of the test. Definitely a fail. The corridor was empty. Lunch had begun. I went to the classroom. She was still there. Waiting. I could breathe again.
"Don't worry about it. Honestly. It doesn't matter." She gave me my bag. I knew it mattered. So did the one I had that afternoon. I left anyway. I had to find my brother.
The story above was the narrative of the worst panic attack I've ever had. Mainly because it was in public- in front of my classmates, teachers, people who didn't know about my anxiety when I was completely unable to explain it to them. I have suffered from anxiety since I was little - I have always been a massive worrywart, that kid who cried whenever she forgot her homework or had a test the next day. As I grew up that didn't seem to change like it did for other people, but it seemed to get worse. Yet, despite all those years this time was the first time I physically couldn't breathe. Usually I found it hard, certainly, but I could never not do it. That scared me, and it was after that incident that I became determined to get better. To overcome the bubble of worry I was constantly surrounded by and overcome with.
So, a year on, I am enormously grateful and overjoyed to tell you that I am okay. I know I have times when I'm not okay, but it is with a full heart and the help of some Kalms, I can say I am now, okay. For me that is a really beautiful place to be in- for more reasons than one. Before I get into that I'd just like to mention something about seeking help. I'd coped with anxiety for many years before I truly felt myself become powerless to do anything about it. It was a dark time, and it took a lot of courage and support to admit I needed to get help, and pluck up the courage to openly talk about what I was going through. Talking about it was beneficial for coping, but I wasn't making real progress towards overcoming how I felt. So very, very reluctantly, I resorted to medicinal help. I was already afraid of my own brain, and the idea of adding more chemicals to mess around with it, absolutely terrified me. So I took Kalms instead. I don't know if they're just a placebo, or if they really do help, yet I cannot express the magnitude of difference in which my quality of life has improved since I started taking them when necessary. I am not crazy, run-around-the-house happy/fearless that I feared I would be, nor am I still at that horrible dark place where I realised I was out of control of my own body.
I am simply me again. I can breathe again. The relief and liberation I feel about that is so positively overwhelming. So if you are in that situation, please know that accepting you need help is never a sign of weakness. Nor is mental illness anything to ever be ashamed of. People get sick. People get better. I am okay, and you will be too. Anyway, after one of the hardest years of my life, finally returning to myself has made me so, so grateful for a lot of things. And possibly the biggest thing of them all, something which makes me almost tear up with gratitude and pride is the people who have been around me and seen me through this.
Something which helped me, even more than medicine and therapy ever could, was finding people who understood. My ‘friends’ this time last year, as I’ve mentioned before weren’t right for me. They didn’t understand. They didn't notice that I was slowly falling into a deep black hole or worry over little, insignificant things. That summer I found myself surrounded by a new group of people, friends who understand, one of them being the girl who was sitting next to me that day. The other day when we were reminiscing about how we first met I actually became a little teary thinking about all that has happened since then. The love I feel for each of them is so bursting and colourful, just to be in their presence is the most inspiring and motivating thing in the world. Even when I think about the first couple of months when I started hanging around with them- when I was kind of awkward and didn't really know them - until suddenly something clicked and I saw them all every day and fell so deeply and affectionately in love with them, it baffles me to imagine how different my life would be if that hadn't happened. Being reduced down to your darkest and most pitiful depths of human despair, where that little twinkle of hope gets slowly distinguished by this clouding mass of creeping black smoke, I could only ever pray to have been so lucky as to peep through the cracks in my fingers and notice a small little glow heading my way, to look up, and see there in front of me each holding little flickering lanterns, holding out hands to help me find the way back, are these people who love me. Who care about me. The people you love so dearly and you should never ever take for granted.
I suppose the point in this was to show you that things really do get better. Sometimes, it takes being reduced to nothing but a empty shell -devoid of confidence, self- belief, faith and happiness- to really find who you are, and who you’re meant to be. With nothing to hold on to, you have endless opportunities to find better, stronger, more amazing things to keep hold of. I can’t put into words how immensely grateful I am for what happened to me. It was truly horrible and soul destroying at the time, but it made me who I am. It gave me the best friends I’ve ever known. It made me determined to overcome anxiety. I haven’t, I suppose it’s something that never really leaves you, but I have learned to control it. It scares me, actually, to think who I would be if it hadn’t happened. Would I have ever escaped the clutches of a group of people who weren’t really my friends? Would I have ever become stronger than my fear? Would I ever have been so happy?
I don’t know. What I do know is that we will all encounter a dark time, when we can’t find a light in the darkness. But I also know we will make it through:
"And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about."- Haruki Murakami