I couldn’t let Mental Health Awareness Week pass without writing something but I wasn’t sure what to write until I saw something on Twitter this morning. An offhand comment by somebody I didn’t know on a thread I happened to be reading. It said ‘I don’t understand why people who just have anxiety make such a fuss. It’s all in your head, you’re not really sick.’
It’s all in your head.
I think a lot of people think that. ‘Just remind yourself it’s just your mind playing tricks on you.’ ‘It will pass, it’s just your brain having a bit of a moment.’
It’s not all in my head.
It might be caused by my brain ‘having a moment’ but when I’m in the grip of an anxiety attack or having a bad week of it, I promise you it is not all in my head.
Here’s some examples of my physical symptoms of anxiety:
I get short of breath and that tightness you get in your chest when you’re underwater for too long and really need to breathe.
I get the spasms in my stomach that you get when you’re really scared except it’s not really a spasm because it doesn’t go away and it makes me want to crawl into a corner and be sick. Sometimes I am sick, if it’s particularly bad.
I get weird pins and needles in my hands and arms that are vaguely painful and make me drop things and shake.
My muscles ache. Some days I wake up and I just feel heavy all over, like I’ve done a really intense workout the day before and forgot to warm up or down. Getting out of bed hurts.
Sometimes it feels like I’m not in my body at all. I’m totally disconnected and just watching a movie of myself moving around. It doesn’t feel like my legs walking along or my arms swinging by my sides. Sometimes you might see me running my hand along a wall or something as I walk along – that’s me trying to ground myself. Touching something solid to convince myself that they are my hands I can see, that I’m not in some peculiar dream-state.
I struggle to communicate. Sometimes I hear you speak and I understand but it’s like the signal has to come through a wall of golden syrup to get me and then my response has to fight through the cotton wool in my brain before it comes out of my mouth so my answer is a beat out of sync or a few seconds slow and sounds a little awkward. To you. To me it felt like about five minutes passed and now I’m convinced you think I’m a total weirdo/really rude for not paying attention to you.
I get insomnia. All I want to do is sleep but it is the only thing I can’t seem to do at night. Some weeks I get through only by having two or three 10 minute naps through the day.
I sleep all the time. Yeah, all or nothing is a thing. Sometimes I can sleep for 14 hours and still wake up exhausted and listless. Every day.
My short-term memory goes to pot. If I’m having a bad week or two my memory really suffers – if I don’t write it down, it’s probably gone. Totally. I might not even remember it after I’ve been reminded. I turn up late to things, I forget them entirely, I let people down. And all of that makes me more anxious and the spiral continues. Turtles all the way down.
Anxiety, depression, OCD, stress, PTSD, PND – all the other mental health conditions I can’t immediately name off the top of my head – yes, the condition starts in our heads, but it isn’t all in our heads.
It’s all-consuming and some days it is all we can do to remember how to breathe and eat and survive the day because everything hurts. Not just our heads. In fact, often our heads are utterly numb to the world.
It’s not all in our heads.