Smol anxious stress bundle

It’s me, your anxious little bundle of stress. The anxiety has been so real recently. Yesterday, I freaked out because the new tattoo I have (it’s so pretty!) is healing kind of weird and I thought I’d ruined it because I had exposed it to the sun a little bit, and what if it was a little bit too much, like just a tad too much UV and the ink was already fading and I’d accidentally savaged my beauty before the ink had even set properly? The day before it was planning the route to a new place – I couldn’t get the times out of my mind. Over and over and over again I had to check the map, check the bus, check the schedule, check the time, then the map, then the bus, then the schedule, then the real time data, and then leave an extra ten minutes early despite the bus running seven minutes late and the stop being a short few minutes from my house. But it was a new route so all of this was necessary and the pounding in my chest didn’t stop until I could finally unclench my fists as I stepped off the bus at my destination. The day before that, it was the new housemate I need to find for next year as my current one will be moving out and I don’t want to lose my apartment but absolutely could not afford this place on my own. The day before, there was the new moles I noticed, and the weird way a scar has healed, and the blemishes on my face that just won’t go away. Now it’s the mountain of a cystic pimple between my eyebrows that refuses both to pop and to go down and so it’s just sitting there and I keep poking and poking and poking and I’m only making it worse because of the germs of my fingers and the phone I just touched and the dirt in the air.

And now, right now, I’m anxious because I just wrote a massive paragraph about all the things that are currently making me anxious without spacing it properly and the English major in me can’t stand it, but that’s one small way I’m facing my anxiety today.

Today, I will resist the urge to research the appearance of moles that indicate melanoma. Today, I will check my bus route once before leaving the house, and once when I’m at the stop, and then I’ll trust the bus will come. Today, I’ll stop prodding at my face knowing that it’s only making all the blemishes worse (especially that one between my eyebrows) and I’ll use a face mask instead.

Today, I’m taking small steps to deal with anxiety and all of the intrusive thoughts that arise.

Sniffing lavender balm. Giving myself a massage. Lighting a candle. Drinking good quality tea I save for days like today because I’m cheap and want to feel luxurious only sometimes, and only when I need it most.

I take a breath, and remind myself that this too shall pass, and reach for my bible if I can sit with Him today, and the stress releases, just a little, just a smidge.

And the bundle of anxiety that I felt physically throughout my entire body becomes a stiff ball isolated to just my chest and shoulders.

I’m officially scared of chairs

For a little while know, I’ve known that conventional seating isn’t my thing. In a bit of a weird way. I just don’t like chairs. I much prefer sitting on the floor. I don’t know if it’s because they symbolise waiting rooms and classrooms and doctor’s rooms and rooms of other people I’ve somehow irritated with my existence. Whatever it is, chairs make me uncomfortable, especially when I have to choose between two seats and consider all the possible scenarios of what might happen sitting in each different spot and how it might affect my life going forward.

But today in group this was taken to a whole other level.

We were asked to move seats. As in, Hi, Welcome guys, we’d like you to sit somewhere new today.

Nope,

Nu-uh,

No thank you.

When did a chair of all things become an anxiety / panic trigger? And also why? 

It’s just a chair.

But I couldn’t do it. I could not sit in another chair. I could not choose a different seat. I was (as I was reminded none too gently by the group therapists) that I was not thinking particularly dialectically.

No shit. You think I know why I’ve suddenly developed an irrational fear of chairs? All of a sudden, something in me changed. That panic system that I’ve so carefully constructed for times of ‘threat’ and ‘danger’ erupted. It bubbled out in breathlessness and uncomfortable sensations and racing thoughts and a racing heart and hidden hurts.

What if they write on the board this seat has the best view of the whiteboard and what if I sit somewhere else then I might make the others uncomfortable because they sit far away from me for a reason and what if I need to escape the room because I’m wildly dissociating and this seat places me uncomfortably far away from the door and what if I forget where my seat is after an activity and we return to sit down and I sit in my usual seat now-someone-else’s seat and I break down all over again and what if what if what if what if.

This, just in case you missed it, was because of a chair. 

Something is happening to my brain, and I don’t like it. Never before have I described myself as an anxious person. I normally leap straight for depressed or suicidal. But not anxious, not until recently.

Something to ponder.

Earlier.

More noticeably than ever have I been noticing the pull of polarisation that BPD brings. It comes with an anxious tremor, and a silliness fringing on hypomania, and impulsivity and outrageousness. But it also comes with dark thoughts and dark urges and the lure of punishments desecrated across my skin.

Tonight I have experienced every single of the above emotions. I have been silly and happy, enjoying time with friends. I have been anxious, shopping, the type of anxiety that makes me outrageous and loud and impulsive. I have been low, and thinking of pain, and finishing a bottle of wine alone.

A few days ago, I wrote this in my journal:

It just hit me – literally, just then – how big of a deal it actually is that I can enjoy study again. It hasn’t been days or weeks or months of anhedonia for me. It’s been years. It’s been almost a decade. It’s been practically my entire adolescence. But I’m finally not punishing myself by isolating and studying to meet my unrealistic high standards that I can never, ever attain; I’m studying and I’m genuinely passionate about it. It feels good that my head is brighter, and that without a little of the darkness, this is what my mind can do. This is the gift that God gave me to use that’s been hidden beneath a murky layer of depression for so long. It feels good to have a reveal, even it it’s only brief, I’m going to savour it like an individual portion of peanut butter salvaged from a cafe (seems an appropriate comparison). 

And by brief, I meant less than 24 hours. Because the following night, I had one of the most distressing phone calls with my mother ever, in which I screamed at her and essentially told her she didn’t care about me and she didn’t do enough (which I believe, somewhat). And the night after that, I invited her to my baptism. And the night after that, I giggled in the pouring rain at the bus stop. And then tonight, even as I feel the alcohol hit my system, I just want to keep on drinking. And I think, wow, I’m pretty sure I’m not meant to drink on my current medications. But fuck it. 

The ultimate highs and lows of BPD, ladies and gentleman.

The ultimate highs and lows.

She’s creeping in

There.

Just there.

A little more to the left. Shift slightly upwards.

There.

Did you see that?

I can count every rib.

Wait. No, there’s some missing. There’s too many missing.

There. Just. there. A little to the right, a little to the left. The light is in the wrong place now, and I’ve lost them. They no longer exist. If I can’t find them, even if it’s because the light is wrong, then it’s because they don’t exist.

Lately, my ribs have reappeared. I’m surprised, and relieved, and also excited. It fills me with warmth to see some bones again. Looking down at my wrists, I can see that they’re approaching thinness again, but then I look upwards at my arms and they don’t have quite the concave shape I’m after, and neither does my stomach. There’s no space between my thighs, but at least we’ve dropped a size. Step onto the scales, and then off again – because they’re lying – and then back on and back off before I realise it’s not me that’s broken, it’s the scales, so it’s off to buy a better set, a more advanced set, the kind that determines your fat percentage for you. That obsessive tic has returned, the sideways glance in every reflective surface (I’ve gained weight today), the wrap around the wrist to double check it’s the same width, and if not, then that’s the kind of motivation I need to do better. I take out the clothes I’ve kept specifically for this purpose, to measure my progress back towards my goal, and they still don’t fit the way I like. Deep breath, it’s okay, that just means only coffee today. I slump to the floor in a sudden spell of dizziness and glance at the dark circles in the mirror. I shake when I sleep because my body wants me to eat.

I ignore it.

I only indulge in food twice a day if I can resist the temptation, and if it comes to a third, then it will be once the following day. Nothing processed here, only wholefoods, and if it comes from a packet, then only ingredients I know and can pronounce.

And slowly, she gets louder. Good. Look at us go! Look at our progress! You’re doing so well!

And lately, when I make an inevitable mistake – too much cheese, too much yoghurt, one too many bites, there she is again. Stupid fat fucking bitch worthless useless bitch just go kill yourself you deserve it you don’t deserve life you deserve to be punished fat stupid worthless bitch do it just do it just do it useless ugly disgusting piece of shit. 

And I listen. Because I’m a good girl, and I listen to authority, and in these moments, Ana is my authority.

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Things Change + A Poem

I made a fairly big call recently. I decided to return to my home town in regional coastal Western Australia. It is a place seething with bad memories, and as I have made very clear on this blog before, the source of much trauma.

As I was flying in, I realised something.

This isn’t a bad place. It’s a place where bad memories were made. And this week, I have had an opportunity to make new memories, and this place doesn’t seem so bad anymore. It’s uncomfortable to walk the streets, I have more anxious sweat then I ever realised was possible for a human to produce, and it’s triggering some very unstable mood shifts. But it’s been… okay. It’s been good. I saw my drama family (AKA my youth theatre of twelve years), and it has made me happier than I have been in a long time.

I suppose things change, and I’m glad that for once, they’ve changed in a good way.


Bad memories lurk beneath green rolling hills,

simmering with seasons toiled by decay,

a land marked for its absence and its lack,

even by those who choose to stay.

This place festers with bygones and

the wayward lost, to vices disguised

as adolescent adventures.

This place hides hurt beneath

roiling waves that crumble against the collapsing coast.

Salted waters sting against scars

leaving breathless gasps to mark their paths.

This place is one of hatred and despair,

with privileged joys mistaken for burdens,

with experience lost through ash coloured glasses,

that which cannot be returned nor replaced.

This place is underestimated, with its

stifling heat, and broods of gossips gathering;

the single skyscraper, barely reaching the clouds

that graze the sky rarely and tenderly

to drop an ocean desperately sought

by those governed meticulously by time.

This place is powerfully loaded, and painful,

and desecrated – not unlike myself –

But this place is mine;

this place is home.

Anxious Human Here (4.0)

Turns out, there’s still plenty on my mind. Here are some of the things that are making me anxious:

People on buses who sit too close, whose clothing brushes against mine. People on buses who cough, or sneeze, or rub their hands against the seat, or avoid sitting next to me when I’m wearing short sleeves (because they must be looking at my scars, why else would they choose to stand?). Buses which are late. Running late because of late buses. Running late. Lateness in general.

Trying to figure out if I have OCD because I pick at my skin and pick at my pimples and scratch my body when I’m in distress. Picking at fluff and dust and hair on clothing when there’s nothing really there as a coping mechanism for thoughts racing through my head. Different thoughts to normal anxious thoughts about being late and exams and study and my appearance and social situations, which just make me frantic and worried and panicked. Are these coping mechanisms really disproportionate? Are they in response to intrusive thoughts? I have always been obsessive and sometimes compulsive but they don’t necessarily follow on from each other so is that the same thing as having OCD? I don’t know.

Visiting home. Seeing my parents. Seeing my sister. My sister and my parents seeing my scars. Seeing their reactions. Potentially opening up to my sister, who I have never spoken to about my mental health struggles. It will go wrong. It always goes wrong. It will be my fault because nobody likes me and everything is my fault because I’m a failure.

Going to emergency for a self harm wound which I thought needed stitches but apparently didn’t and now it looks infected and I’m not sure what to do about it, but the doctor said it was fine so it must be fine, right? It looked deep to me. Deeper than usual. Does my opinion count for anything or nothing or is this just an example of splitting where I can only self-harm superficially or so severely that it kills me? Is splitting one of my BPD traits or a facet of my eating disorder or is it normal? The nurses and doctors and psychiatrist on call must think I’m a burden. I’m always a burden. Why am I such a burden to everyone around me? If I had taken the opportunity to go deeper, in a different spot, a little lower down, right about the artery that I learned about in physiology, then I could have bled out just like I wanted. Just a little deeper. Just a little sharper. Just a little more dead. Why am I always so stupid. 

Something is eating the house plants. The indoor house plants.

I need to clean the floor. Doing yoga in the lounge revealed to me just how much dust there was. But if I clean my housemate will notice and that might make her feel weird. I also want to do her dishes but maybe that will make her feel weird too. Does she think I’m a clean freak or have that stereotypical portrayal of OCD that revolves around hand sanitiser and cleanliness and neat organisation that can be observed simply by comparing her fridge and pantry shelves to my own.

I wasn’t supposed to eat today but then I did and I can’t remember how many crackers I’ve eaten and that’s important because I need to burn them off and I can’t do that if I don’t know how many there was because then the calorie count will be off. Instead I must overcompensate regardless, and not eat afterwards, because that’s how weight loss works. I worry this will only cause me to binge, and then to restrict, and then the whole fucking bulimic cycle will continue.

Not only am I struggling with intrusive suicidal thoughts, the intrusive anxious thoughts are also very loud.

Anxious human is done now.

But to see some other things I get anxious about, here’s part one, two and three.

Whispers – please don’t go

Chapter Zero: A Brief History of My Time with Mental Illness

I’m going to tell you a story:

There once was a girl who was slightly insane, with eyes so bright they matched her brain. She had no troubles of what the day might bring, and when it was silent she would secretly sing. There is still a girl who is more or less sane, but behind not so bright eyes, she hides layers of pain.

There was once a girl who was so energetic people described her as “crazy”. She had a wild, untameable personality, and loved nature, acting, art and school. She was proud of her intelligence, and she didn’t let being different stop her from doing anything.

Then her mind turned against her, and everything changed.

Looking back, things probably changed earlier than the date I’m going to call ‘the beginning’, but I think starting high school was the trigger for a spiral into mental illness. There were signs I suppose, before then, that I was not like the other kids, in more ways than one. Signs of BPD, precursors of anxiety, hypomanic episodes. I hated making decisions. I couldn’t stand it when I wasn’t in control. I was a perfectionist, and couldn’t make mistakes for fear that I would get in trouble and everybody would leave me.

In 2011, I started high school. All my friends from primary school except one had moved to other schools, or other towns. I was alone. I was isolated. I started to retreat to the library during lunchtimes. I was constantly irritable. I was constantly alone. This is what depression felt like to begin with.

Around the same time, I developed an eating disorder, which I’ve written about pretty extensively here, and here, and here, and a little bit more here, and here. It started when I realised I was never hungry. I needed to be hungry, otherwise it meant I was consuming more calories than my body could handle. No wonder I was so fat! (I was not. I could see ribs, even at this point in time) It started with sit ups and push ups and being really ‘healthy’ by not eating carbs or sugar or fat or anything over x number of calories that I had arbitrarily decided was the magic number for weight loss. I had a growth spurt, because, you know, puberty, and that was the final trigger. I weighed myself every day. I counted calories every day. I exercised every day. I needed to be hungry. I needed the numbers to go down. I needed to be perfect. Slowly, I saw hip bones creep to the edge of my shorts, I saw ribs peek through beneath my tummy, which was gradually falling away. By the time I was thirteen, I was at my lowest weight. I was emaciated, malnourished, exhausted, and alone. My inconsistent periods became non-existent, and wouldn’t return until my final year of high school. I was constantly anxious, self-conscious and insecure. The depression had also gotten worse. I was suicidal.

Oh yeah, and I was being bullied at school. Physically, verbally, and online. It only emphasised to me that if I was just thinner, if I was just better, that she might stop tormenting me. I tried to open up and was told to ignore it. When I retaliated, I was punished by the school for physically hurting another student. So I made a promise to myself that I would never open up. Two years later, when I eventually told the principal the whole messy story, the culprit was still never punished.

(Tears are starting to drip onto my keyboard)

I was sitting by myself every day. I was taunted every day. My eating disorder was at its worst. I had stopped socialising completely unless it was absolutely necessary. Not that I had ever been very social, but I honestly felt like my ‘friends’ were treating me horribly. They hadn’t noticed, they didn’t care, they weren’t interested. They could see my being bullied, and to this day I cannot understand why they didn’t step in for me. I maintained high grades – I remained top of my cohort year after year. I maintained a facade. Eventually, this facade shattered, and came crumbling down around me.

The strangest part throughout the development and maintenance of my eating disorder is that to me, this was normal. There was no problem with this sort of behaviour. Not for one second did it cross my mind that I had an eating disorder. It took me two years to realise. It took until I lost control, and until Ana consumed me entirely, and I couldn’t distinguish between myself and her anymore. And when I did finally realise my behaviour could be classified as both anorexia and bulimia (this came much later), that’s when things got really bad. Because I knew that if someone found out, they would try to take Ana away, and by this point, she was the only friend I had.

But at least I felt good about my body, at least my body was lithe and petite. Although, I hated buying clothes because nothing would fit. I didn’t feel like a woman. I didn’t feel alive. All I ever feel is numb. Exhausted. Hungry. But still, I thought this was okay. This was good. But I knew I could do better. It was a challenge, and I accepted it. It’s 2014.

Then, something changed. I don’t know what. I guess I looked up from the scales, and into the mirror, and I saw a skeleton staring back. I couldn’t believe it was my reflection.  From that moment, I started fighting. It was difficult. I wasn’t really gaining weight. I was still alone. But I was trying, trying, trying. Still on my own. For whatever reason, I began to eat more, consciously made an effort to try and eat more. I actually lost weight. I thought I had been in control. I wasn’t and I never had been. Every single thought was conflicting. If I felt strong, and ate a little more to try and combat these thoughts then I would instantly feel awful, instantly it was like another person (this voice is who I named Ana) had put these horrible horrible thoughts into my head and that little bit of extra food quickly disappeared when I went for an hour long bike ride, or a run, or obsessively engaged in sit-ups and push-ups until I was certain I could still get hungry.

I hated my skinny wrists. I hated getting my picture taken. I hated myself for doing this to my body. I hated myself for considering getting better. I hated eating for making me feel fat. I hated exercising for making me feel skinny. I hated a certain member of the female species for monumentally fucking me up. I hated my friends for leaving me on my own. I just had a lot of hate inside of me.

At some point, I told my mum that I was worried I couldn’t gain weight. I had lost control. Ana was in control now, and Rosie was fading away, a ghost for her to leech off of. Even now, I did not mention anything at all about an eating disorder. I did not really know it was an eating disorder. I knew I was doing it deliberately, I knew what anorexia nervosa was, what bulimia was, but I didn’t know they could manifest in quite this way.

My mum didn’t get the hint. She took me to doctor after doctor after doctor who all asked the same question “are you starving yourself?” and “the next step is a psychologist”. Over the next two years, I gained a very measly amount of weight, just enough to keep me out of inpatient treatment. Just enough so that nobody would try to take Ana away from me.

It’s 2016 now, and my weight has increased to just within the normal range. My eating disorder is still bad. Ana is still loud. My brother just got cancer. I’ve started self-harming. I’ve made plans to kill myself. I cry myself to sleep every night. I have finally started seeing a therapist. My parents still don’t know about Ana, or about depression, or about being bullied. My hatred for them is stronger than ever. There is constant yelling in my house with my brother at home. It’s my fault he has cancer. It’s my fault they’re always fighting. I worry my parents will get divorced. I’ve broken friendships with what I now recognise as BPD rage. I ask my parents through tears if I’m bipolar, a question that won’t be answered for another two years. Graduating high school is the best thing that ever happened to me, because I can finally leave behind the shithole that promised to protect me, and didn’t. More people who didn’t notice, and didn’t care. I thought I had beaten my ed thoughts but I hadn’t, they’re back. The feeling of being split in half has also returned and, even though I feel fat all the time, I can’t decide if I do or don’t want to be skinny again. Ana says “I’m fat” but Rosie isn’t so sure…

The problem is, when I have ed thoughts, I eat to try and combat them. Maybe I’ll have dessert tonight; that will counteract those thoughts. But then I feel terrible for eating extra, so I exercise in the morning to burn off the calories, and it just goes around and around and around and around. And this is the start of the shift from anorexia to bulimia. The irony is not lost on me. Recovering from one eating disorder by undergoing weight restoration alone, led to the development of another eating disorder. The underlying issues of low self-esteem, self deprecation and perfectionism weren’t addressed – so I never really recovered. Physically recovered, but not mentally. Never mentally.

And so concludes 2016, the year I actually started to open up. After nearly 5 years of endless anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorder.

It’s 2017, and I’ve moved to Sydney, on the other side of the country. I thought I could escape my past, but turns out that I couldn’t escape my own mind. I thought I could escape an emotionally abusive and invalidating environment, but self-deprecation is its own form of invalidation. My eating disorder has faded somewhat, or so I thought, but it is actually bulimia in disguise, and that was just a fact I didn’t want to face, because being diagnosed with bulimia after suffering from anorexia is a giant slap in the face. I’m suicidal again. I have never been more depressed in my life. This year I will be hospitalised three times, and accumulate more scars on my thighs and wrists than I ever thought possible. I don’t speak to my family. I am still alone. I graduate my first ever eating disorder treatment, but there’s hatred simmering inside of me for the disorder I lost, and the one it was replaced by.

It’s 2018. Things have finally gotten better, just a little bit anyway. Rather than constantly being depressed, now I ride the emotional rollercoaster every day instead. I’ve been formally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar II. I’ve tried a heap of medications and rotated through a bunch of psychiatrists and doctors who don’t know what to do with me. I’m coming to terms with my diagnosis of bulimia, and the anorexia I so desperately wish I hadn’t left behind.

And I draw on my arms when I feel down, and scribble poetry on scrap paper, and do headstands in dangerous places for the rush, and practice yoga as I revise material for exams, and binge on peanut butter and bread and chocolate, and exercise to cope with the aftermath of binging, and gauge at my skin with sharp objects, and scrape the word fat into the body parts I like the least, as a reminder that good will never be good enough. All in an effort to feel better, to feel safe. To feel okay again. Finally.

Because the only time I have ever felt good about myself and about my body was when anorexia took hold completely.

For much of this time, I never knew that what I had was an eating disorder. It took me a really long time to realise that maybe, just maybe, what I had been doing to my body was what is known as anorexia. I was scared to use the term, because it made what I was doing seem real. Real and wrong, when to me all that it felt was right. I have never been diagnosed of course, and there are very few people who know how I really felt/still feel, and fewer still who have called it ‘anorexia’. I am still scared to use the term, because now that my weight is restored, it feels even more invalidating.

I called her ‘Ana’. Because you’re not in control, there’s another person inside your head, a voice telling you to act a certain way, feel a certain way, appear a certain way. This voice tells you that skinny is never skinny enough and that a single calorie is a calorie too many. She tells me that good will never be good enough, and that only bones will ever be enough.

Sometimes I want to kill these thoughts. I want to be happy. Sometimes I want them back. These thoughts tell me I would be happy if I was just a little skinnier. They tell me that I’m fat, but now that I’ve gained weight, I don’t know if these thoughts are actually true, or if I’m just making them up.

It took four years to reveal I was struggling with depression. Five to reveal I was anorexic. Five and a half to be medicated. Six to be hospitalised so I didn’t kill myself. And now, nearly seven years after ‘the beginning’, I finally come to realise that the first thing I should have done is just say what was on my mind. Instead of waiting, and berating, and getting sicker and sicker and sicker, and more and more isolated and withdrawn and losing more and more time, I should have just spat the words out:

Anorexic. Bulimic. Depressed. Anxious. Bullied. Obsessive. Traumatised. Borderline. Bipolar. Self-harming. Suicidal. 

Eleven adjectives which do not define me, but are a chapter in my history, and a part of my identity nonetheless.