A few months ago I was in a matatu (public transport) which was playing music so loud I could feel my chest vibrating. On top of the really really loud music, traffic was at a stand still most of the way. As we were traveling I started to feel more and more like I couldn't breathe. I've known forever that I was maybe claustrophobic but I thought that was just about being confined in small spaces. In recent months I've come to realise it's more than that. Being in that matatu, unable to escape from the loud music was to me equivalent of being locked in a coffin and buried.
(by the way just that visual makes me feel breathless).
I found myself in the beginning stages of a fully fledged panic attack. I asked the conductor to reduce the volume a bit but he ignored me. So I opened the window as far as it would go and stuck my head out of it. It helped a little bit; I could breath again. But the music still weighed my chest down. I still felt like I was being crushed. I contemplated alighting from the matatu and just walking. But it was dark and raining and the street had no lights. I was still very far from home. Did it make sense to risk potential harm on the outside just to escape some imaginary fear of death by sound?
Yep, that's the worst part; I dismissed my own issues because hey, suck it up right? Grow up. Stop acting like a pansy ass baby. It's all in your head.
Nobody's ever said these things to me. I say them enough to myself.
I don't like wearing chiffon or silk shirts/blouses. Especially those with no buttons so you have to take them off by whipping them up over your head. Sometimes, if you're sweaty or they're a tad tight, they get stuck somewhere around your neck.If I feel like that shirt isn't going to come off, I'd rather shred it to pieces than struggle with it because it takes maybe ten seconds for me to start feeling breathless and panicky.
A few months after the matatu incident, I got some sort of sinus infection. It was weird because I had no flu-like symptoms but my nose was completely blocked. It was irritating sure. But not life threatening in any way. Then I went to bed and fell asleep, and sleep apnea woke me. So I try blowing my nose to unblock them and there's just...nothing to remove. (Yeeesss, I know it's a yucky visual).
So the more I try to breathe through my nose, the more I can't. Then I start to feel that familiar 'being closed in' sensation. I start to feel like there is no escape. I will be unable to breathe for long enough and I'll die from asphyxiation. My mind is throwing up these increasingly helpless images of me shut in by nothing but the fact that my NOSE IS BLOCKED. I can feel the panic taking over, I'm about to start hyperventilating and shouting for help or something. In another part of my mind though, the part that counteracts panic attacks that I'm unaware I'm having is busy looking for solutions. Salt water, toothpick up my nose...wait; my son got some Utabon spray the last time he had a congested nose and it was still sitting in the basket in the living room. I ran and picked it up and put those two drops up my nose. Thankfully it worked fast. Crisis averted.
I still slept upright though for the rest of the night. And even with that, I still felt derisive of myself having a panic attack because my nose was blocked.
I won't even go through the years of depression I went through following my mother's death. It was bad, no lie. But it wasn't overt. I didn't stay in bed for seven years. I worked jobs, I raised my son, I ate, I slept. I was just really unhappy while I did all those things. I finally got a handle on it by doing a higher diploma in counseling. Because Africans don't do therapy. We go to church and throw ourselves on the mercy of 'God' and beg him to heal us. I remember my mother made me go to therapy when I left school after getting pregnant. I went, I spoke to the therapist, she told me I was a brave girl. It did help. Maybe that's why I chose the counseling option again after I couldn't take anymore. Even if it was disguised as an educational opportunity. Or maybe 'God' led me to it. I know that up to this day I can't even remember how I afforded to pay for it. Money was just found in that miraculous way that happens sometimes.
Depression. Anxiety. Panic Attacks. Claustrophobia. Maybe even PTSD.
Doesn't sound like me.
There's no reason for me to suffer from those things.
I'm a strong woman. Everyone tells me so. I tell me so. I believe it's true.
But you see, that's the crunch isn't it? That you have to be 'weak' to suffer from a mental health challenge? That you're somehow bringing it on yourself or being a self indulgent lil' bitch for giving in to these 'negative emotions.'
Trust me in those seven years, I tried everything; The Power of Positive Thinking, Escape through Books and Movies, Living only in Mom Mode...I couldn't escape it until I faced it. Faced that I was a depressed ass nigga who needed to deal with all these emotions.
In +Teen Wolf that chick who doesn't age, whose the shrink tells Stiles (I think) - If you're going through hell, keep going.
And that's excellent advice.
You know what else is good advice?
Sometimes you're really tired of going. So it's okay to sit down and rest. Maybe take a nap. Recharge your batteries. Then you can get up again and continue through the valley of the shadow of death.
A lot of people don't give themselves that time to just rest. Always trying to keep ahead of your feelings, deny them, escape them...
I really think that's the genesis of many people's alcoholism. Certainly many people I know who 'drink too much' might need to admit to their mental health issues.
I never really took the time to think about these things until I got involved in the +Supernatural fandom. What with +Jared Padalecki describing how he was diagnosed (which sounded so familiar and relatable) and the #AlwaysKeepFighting campaign and all the stories that people were telling about their own issues; it really brought the widespreadness of mental health issue front and centre. And I looked around in my own life and saw a lot of people struggling. But...Africans don't do therapy. How do you start to suggest to someone that they might be suffering from depression? or PTSD? or bipolar disorder? without them feeling insulted or disrespected?
I don't know.
I'm just here admitting that I have problems. And just knowing that I do is such a massive relief, they seem a hundred times more manageable than they did before. If I need to wallow in it a bit, I'll do that. I might write my troubles away; my anger; my grief. Or I might just dance and sing and let the music speak for me. What I won't do is run anymore. I won't hide.
I am here.
I am here for you. We can be here for each other.
Just keep living, no matter how bad it gets; it gets better.