It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in an old battered waiting chair. Beads of sweat have formed at the top of my brow, as I pick at my nails, nervously. A man in a trench coat opens the door and summons me in to his room…
“It’s not good news”, he says. “We’ve got your scan results and the headache you’re experiencing is a brain tumour. It’ll probably rupture within two hours and you’ll die on your way to Ravenscourt Park. I can’t guarantee it, but you’ll likely roll down the side of a river bank and a seagull will find you floating across the Thames. Nobody will recognise you, because silver chemical compounds will have seeped in to your skin, leaving you with Argyria. You’ll be mistaken for The Tin Man and used down the West End as a life-sized prop, the taxidermist will label you his best creation yet”.
You’re fine Chelsea, come back.
I look up and force a smile. My best friend Jo is sitting opposite me, flicking a rollup and fussing fondly over other peoples dogs. I’ve been day drinking with barely any water, so of course my minor headache is an opportunity for some well earned self-torture.
My therapist diagnosed me as having “Catastrophic Thinking”, a condition which pretty much means what it’s called: to think catastrophically. Her solution in dealing with my, utterly exhausting, repetitive voice of gloom and doom, was to acknowledge every negative thought I have and say “Not today thought! Not today!” Well, fuck me. With tools like that I may as well embrace the fact I am batshit “crazy” and save myself some money.
I once dreamt that Paul Walker was my boyfriend and in the dream, he was so smitten he kept following me everywhere; how had I nabbed such a talented, handsome, successful man? The next morning, in real life, he died. I was sure that I had killed him: Paul Walker picked up that YOU wanted to have his babies and got so unconsciously freaked he left the earth.
I hate being me.
I was encouraged (by my therapist, obviously) to write a diary listing each negative thought as it came up. Definitely the creepiest thing I’ve ever done and – rather than helping – it sent me in to a “law of attraction” panic. By acknowledging my thoughts out loud, I feared that every awful thought I had would suddenly come true: that I was summoning myself to a fate of disaster and tragedy.
Welcome to my rollercoaster of neurosis. Here is just one days worth of noted anxiety:
31st January 2019, Mum’s Birthday
9.15am, riding the tube:
It’s going to be so awful when Dad dies. We’ll need to find and fly his body over. How am I supposed to console my little brothers if I’m broken? Who’s going to identify the body? Probably Gavin*. What if Gavin then has a breakdown? He’ll end up being sanctioned and when we visit him, he’ll be in a weird vegetable state. He’ll have dilated pupils and saliva hanging from his mouth. Only then, will I wish he was alert enough to call me an idiot and insist that my way of thinking is going to make me sick.
9.36am, still on the tube:
What if my little brothers are getting bullied at school? How am I supposed to protect them if I can’t spend all my time with them? They wear tracksuits; Brian’s so tall now. What if he gets targeted simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? It must be so tiring being a young man and having to show bravado. What if Brian finds it hard to express his emotions and turns to self harm? Maybe I should keep an eye out for his wrists, casually roll up his sleeves next time? I’ll do that. I’ll buy a set of those fake tattoos and ask if he wants a transfer sticker. He’ll love that! It’s a plan.
11.17am, washing my hands:
Ahh it’s Mums birthday today! I hope she’s having the best time and that everyone is spoiling her! Man, she really is the sweetest. Imagine I lost her? Who would I share all my highs and lows with? Nobody else really cares THAT much. If I lost the sound of excitement in her voice, her care; empathy: I may as well be dead. I’ll have to learn what it means to face the world alone and fall in to a black hole of numbness. Joanna will probably look after me out of fear and obligation but then…what if I kill myself and ruin her life too?
18:57pm, walking along the platform:
Fucking hell, these crowds of people are annoying. I’ll just walk on the bobbly part of the platform to get near the end sooner. Oh god, what if I slip and fall in front of the train? I’ll delay all these commuters going home; what will my mum do? My childhood friends will probably turn to the needle I mean, who needs weed when you have heroine, right? Maybe I should text them; make them promise to look after my mum if anything happens to me.
20:47pm, “zenning” on the yoga mat:
I love Warrior Pose. Wait a second, what the…? What’s that weird pain in my side? Why am I always so bloated? Maybe I have appendicitis. Or worse, bowel cancer. Fuck it, I’m coming out of this pose to jab myself in the belly button. Feel any pain? Nope. What about there? Nope. Maybe it’s just my polycystic ovaries flaring up again. Ah well, Child’s Pose it is.
1.13am, awake in bed:
Don’t think about it, just try to sleep. In for four, out for seven…okay? Repeat.
Not pretty, is it? Day in, day out, constantly battling with the mind. Part of me is rational, the other half, totally irrational! I am constantly convincing myself that the worst is going to happen, removing myself from the present and into a place of panic. The fear of losing my loved ones, something bad happening to them (or myself) is constant. It’s exhausting.
When I started to jot my thoughts down, I felt ashamed; insane! I was like: there are actually people suffering out there, experiencing grief and pain and yet here I am, frolicking around in cuckoo land, skipping down the path of “self-inflicted” mental patterns!
So yeah! Just in case you haven’t heard enough from my grim, depressing, melancholy-mind-merry-go-round, here’s a breakdown of what I typically obsess/panic/cry over on a daily basis:
- Death: Whether it’s imagining my own death, or the many ways in which my loved ones might die – I’m constantly thinking about it. I think about my family, friends, coworkers and even my unborn babies dying. I think about how depressing life would be without them; which songs to play at their funeral and whether I should draft their eulogy.
- Health: I always diagnose myself with symptoms, which are usually quite sinister and extreme. Mostly I worry about cancer, but I also worry about conditions like multiple sclerosis, brain tumours, chronic fatigue and even bells palsy – which is the common cause of facial paralysis. Typically, I avoid the doctors, because I’m afraid to face “the true diagnosis”. When I do turn up, they usually fob off my symptoms without checking anyway, and I go back to my imagined place of eternal doom and gloom.
- Appearance: Acknowledging the way I speak, think and feel about myself is ultimately the saddest because I wouldn’t dare treat another person this way! I scrutinise my chin, face shape, body, arms, neck, stomach, stretch marks and all the other things which defy conventional “beauty” standards. I convince myself I’m masculine, despite knowing that I’m a woman.
- Happiness: When something good happens and I have something to look forward to, I don’t let myself feel excitement or joy. Instead, I hurtle straight in to panic and think about all the reasons why my happiness will be ruined. Holiday soon? Nahh babes your plane’s going to crash. New lover? He’ll move overseas soon and leave you. Pay rise? The Tax Man’s going to own you fam. Oh wait…
I’m aware that this post may be a trigger for those who face severe mental illness and/or have lost loved ones (as I have too, by the way). In this sense, anxiety can not only be crippling, but also embarrassing and shameful. We don’t talk about or acknowledge our negative thoughts because that’s all we brush them off as: thoughts! Thoughts in need of replacing and rewiring; thoughts worth forgetting: niggling, nuisance, thoughts.
I had a conversation with a friend recently, we discussed our anxiety and shared experience of panic attacks. She said something which made sense to me, which was that as primal beings, staying nervously alert whilst navigating through a (concrete) jungle, marked an instinctive will to survive. She said that based on our animalistic roots, humans are constantly sniffing out danger.
The trouble is with being human, is that we can process our fear in to definitive words and thoughts, meaning that they can then manifest in to physical symptoms in the body. It doesn’t matter how much we kid ourselves by posing as civilised members of society: our instinct is to protect ourselves (and our own) before finally reaching the finish line.
This conversation, provided rationality toward my catastrophic thinking. Every time I now feel fear I play it back, to remind myself that nerves are all part of being alive. I understand this type of fear comes from a place of wanting to live; to experience life, with those I love; in as little pain as possible. It’s really not that crazy when I look at it this way.
Anxiety disorders can affect anyone. Facts.
If you’ve cultivated the belief that anxiety sufferers are only introverted, withdrawn; depressed loners: you’re wrong, baby! My case of anxiety never shows, but is felt. On the surface, I am an outgoing, fun-loving and confident young woman. I have a thriving work and social life, an abundance of meaningful relationships and I enjoy being alive completely.
They say that when you have negative thoughts, you should counteract them using gratitude. And it’s true, there is much to be thankful for. I chose to write this post as a means to process and release. To let anyone know, who feels similarly, that they are not alone.
In the end, we’re all in the same boat together, trying our best to enjoy the ride; moving with the tide, in the hope that we will some day reach the shore, safely.