The other day I met a lady who reminded me of me.
She stood in front of me, shaking, scared, hyperventilating, trying to speak through a stream of tears and fear. She wanted help, but she didn’t have anyone to turn to.
Something small, probably trivial to you or any other onlooker, had made her think all of the worst things in the world were happening to her at once.
She was terrified.
And my heart imploded.
Because she is me.
I know that fear. It follows me round too. A sickening dread, as if something terrible is about to happen and there is no way I will be able to stop it. Except there isn’t anything bad going to happen. Or if there is, it is something that to most people is so small and insignificant, something that can be rationalised and a likely outcome can be guessed. Something mundane and everyday.
Or if there is no fear there is a niggly doubt. A little gremliny thought that nibbles and worms its way around my head, goading me. Something I can’t put my finger on, although I do my best searching my mind for what it could be. On good days, when my medication (yes that’s right, I have medication, lucky me!) is working the daemons fade, the dementors shrink and I can smile. My sense of humour, my ‘patronus’, can ward off the darkness and keep the anxiety at bay.
On bad days, throwaway comments or gentle teasing by others will hit me like daggers,stabbing at my insecurities. For most people, these comments would slide over their head like rain off a ducks back. But the lady and me, we aren’t like ‘most’ people. We are one of the ‘1 in 4’ mental health statistic that you might have heard about. Mental health practitioners (and society in general) like labels. My particular labels are ‘General Anxiety Disorder’ and ‘Depression’. I could probably have a small sticky label with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder too, but that one isn’t official yet.
I don’t like labels. Labels define, pigeonhole and box people in. My problems are not well defined shades of black and white. They are grey. But society likes labels. They like to know what they are dealing with. They like to be able to categorise, and separate ‘normal’ from ‘not normal’. I guess to most , the lady and I would fall into ‘not normal’. I can’t speak for her, but I can speak for me, and I’m ok with that. I don’t want to be normal. But I don’t want to be ‘crazy’ either.
‘Crazy’ is how other people saw the lady. ‘She’s acting weird’ they said ‘She’s crazy’. No, I tried to explain. She has anxiety. Her brain works differently to yours, and she is scared. She thinks the worst thing is happening. She might even think she is going to die. You need to reassure her. You need to calm her. You don’t need pity her. You don’t need to be afraid of her. Talk to her normally,don’t roll your eyes or snigger behind her back. Don’t say she is being silly, however silly or small or pointless you think her fear is. To her it is real. And that is all that matters.