My friends and family might have noticed that they’ve not heard from me or seen much of me recently. There is a reason for this. Alongside generalised anxiety disorder (the constant feeling of nameless terror and low level panic), my anxiety manifests in more targeted ways.
It’s like a game of phobia whack-a-mole, squash one and another will pop up. Top of the taster menu for this month’s manifestation is social anxiety and agoraphobia. For a few weeks now the only place I’ve felt safe is alone in my flat. I’ve developed an irrational fear of meeting people, of being in groups, of crowds, of strangers, and of having any contact with my friends. I’d been tackling this in the time honoured way of facing my fears head on. Getting out there, seeing people, socialising, getting in touch.
This was going ok, until I decided it was a good idea to start cognitive behavioural therapy for low self-esteem. Low self-esteem, the rock-solid belief that I have no intrinsic worth as a person and do not deserve to be happy in any way, is the driver behind a lot of my more damaging behaviours. It is the fuel that keeps my illness going and stops me recovering. However, opening up that Pandora’s box of the negativity and self-hate I’ve kept buried has let these inner demons come roaring out and take over my mind.
"Negative experiences gain the full weight of your attention, positive experiences get forgotten or dismissed."
I know rationally that my fears aren’t real, and my self-image is just an opinion and no more substantial than smoke. All I need to do is change my mind, and take a different view. But mental illness distorts your perception of the world. Every interaction with the world is filtered through a twisted prism to reinforce your private misery. Negative experiences gain the full weight of your attention, positive experiences get forgotten or dismissed. It’s like having a pet Dementor following you around and getting in the way of everything you do. This time round has been particularly challenging, as I don’t feel I can reach out to those around me for support or accept help when it’s been offered (social anxiety is a bitch).
Right now I’m feeling frightened and lonely, but my mind hasn’t beaten me yet and I’m not going to let it start now. I will beat this. I’m sorry I’ve not been there for the people I care about recently. I will be back soon, and I hope when I’ve walked through this fire I will find my friends waiting for me on the other side.