CW: anxiety, abortion
A Piece by CHARLIE RICHARDS
So, as I sit here in the south of France (no, this is a one off, I’m not part of that type of family) with my cup of coffee, I ponder over what am I going to write. I don’t really know – at first, I thought that everything that I’m going to talk about must first be defined. My whole life is full of definitions – from a to b and x to y. Everything is defined (even more so if you’re doing a BSc), but some things cannot be defined– the limitations of our language confine our thoughts and feelings. But what on earth am I talking about? Sitting here not really sure what it is I’m trying to get at. But that’s a lie, I know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about anxiety, so I should define anxiety – what is anxiety? Well, if you’ve had anxiety or if you are very anxious you’ll know exactly what I mean. Especially if it was bad the first time around (most people can relate that to something, at least). Anxiety to me was feeling hopeless and scared, for a reason that was unconceivable, like something you’d forgotten to do but you couldn’t quite remember it. An itch that you couldn’t find. The fear of not knowing why you’re feeling this way was the hardest for me to conceive – why do I feel like this? What is the reason? Will this ever end? Hopeless, completely hopeless. How did I get here? You don’t just wake up one morning and exclaim “wow, I’m very anxious – I wonder why”. No, it’s more of a journey of personal discovery – guiding yourself, perhaps getting a grasp of what’s going on, overcoming confusion on your own. You know when you’re getting super ill, you feel it in your chest, you feel the heat running through your body originating in your core. Imagine that feeling in your mind. Your mind is sick.
(Something worth adding – when my anxiety was manifesting I did not know I was anxious: this was the problem. If I had known I was anxious I would have done something about it. I was treacherously unaware.)
For myself, this was all made so much worse by being what I would call “emotionally intelligent” – this means understanding your emotions and being able to explain them, i.e. you’re sad because xyz, or you are agitated because of something your dad said to you many moons ago but because you’ve got such bad daddy problems you push these things to the back of your head in order to forget about them, but your subconscious occasionally throws itself a bone by pushing out an emotional response months later in order to attain some sort of closure from what to anyone else would have just been a small un-noteworthy comment. This is what I mean about emotional intelligence – you must know why you feel a certain way to understand yourself. It’s a curse, but also a gift. Apparently, I’m meant to be more emotionally intelligent than most guys because I’m gay (I didn’t make that up; I heard it on a TedTalk). So anyway: emotional intelligence. This makes anxiety worse because of the drive to know why you feel this way, but you’ve never felt like this before, or at least you don’t remember feeling this dazed, confused, and… scared. You cannot explain these feelings – you must find a way to find their origin, but sometimes these things are not obvious at all. I think I can give you an example. (Back to daddy.)
So, picture the scene, you’ve had a long (not that long, lol) and complex relationship with your father, who you think is a great, exciting and fair man – you think the world of him! He’s your dad and you’re his son. This idea of such a just character in your somewhat young mind is shattered one day. Like a mirror. (Someone once said trust is like a mirror – once shattered you can put it back together, but the scars will always be there… this is gross.) So, pray tell… how did he disassemble your trust? He lied, lied, lied, lied, and lied. But he didn’t just lie – he made someone so dear to you lie, which is even worse. The complete reversal of how you feel about someone who makes you feel so vulnerable ruins you, completely erodes any trust you have. And any economist will tell you that trust is the only thing that keeps the world working. Trust is all we have, and once it’s gone it scars you.
You try to put together all the pieces and make sense of this mess. You can’t though, you’re too young and dumb – but at the time you don’t feel young and dumb; you think of all the memories you have and all the things you’ve been through, all the strides you’ve taken. You are full of hot blood and you don’t think anything can hurt you. It can. Which is such a shock to the system. It’s not obvious at the time, and looking back it really wasn’t. Imagine the ice bucket challenge, but instead of freezing water, a cloud of dirty air being chucked on you– you are completely oblivious to its arrival, so unaware of how to get rid of it, or even know if it’s there. That’s kind of what is was like – remember what I said at the beginning about definitions? Well, I’m trying my best to explain, but like most things, it’s hard.
Regardless, it’s hard to put the pieces back together – why did my daddy do this to me? I’m not sure I know, or that he knows. So, I grovel, times go on and I push it to the back of my mind – not consciously. You must remember that everything that happens you remember one way or another, bad or good. As news arrives and your mind asks questions of it – you must find answers, when one big question comes: the question of who your father really is – you need to find out. However, when you push it to the back of your mind and forget, your mind does not forget – it wants answers – but you don’t even remember the original question. Bang! You have anxiety!
Hi, my name’s Charlie Richards; this is what I wish I’d known, and how I solved my anxiety. Notice the word solved – to me it was like a complex mind game of existential dread constantly searching for answers, but to answer what? This is the first thing you need to work out.
I know a lovely girl who, from the outside, lives a wonderful privileged life. Regardless, she has awful anxiety, and – being so curious – I always wanted to know why. Maybe my simple brain thinks that everything has a reason – some people will tell you some things don’t have reason and that’s just the way they are. I think that’s a lazy answer. She seems to be doing great in every way possible (in a relative manner); she studies medicine, has loads of friends and a rich social life. So why does she suffer – with an emphasis on suffer– from anxiety? To tell you this, you must imagine another exciting evening as a student: drinks, cigarettes, the occasional joint, and the evening glow of London. The night has begun, you are going out and you are going to get fucked up (you only go to uni once). The general way these things unfold is that time warps – and suddenly, you’re very drunk, at some dire club dancing to the same but slightly faster music you were listening to earlier. Anyway, to the point, you and this girl start talking as you always do in clubs. (I assume most people confidently slur at each other on dance floors, because, hunny we are best friends!!!) Things start getting personal, she seems emotional – I mean more emotional than someone who’s drunk and studying medicine. You talk. She tells you. Everything makes sense. All the brainstorming in your head as to why she has anxiety is put at rest. When this dear girl was younger, she had an abortion. If none of this makes sense to you I’ll quickly explain: well, do you remember about 300 words ago I was rambling on about unanswered questions with a lack of an answer? This is exactly what this is, but manifested in a completely different way. She was young and lost her baby by her own choice; she chose herself and rightly so, as it’s her choice. However, she did not grieve properly (she tells you this at a later date) – instead she put it to the back of her mind and did not do what was necessary – to grieve for this lost child.
This may all sound like complete bullshit, but to me it makes sense. This created years of problems – her mind needed to heal but it was never given the chance. There was no closure. What ensued after her abortion was years of anxiety, sprinkles of depression and a few teaspoons of dread. A recipe for a plethora of mental health problems. I think, looking back, the only way she could solve this in my eyes was to have a small informal ceremony for her lost baby – something at the time I suggested, but as with many things in life stuff got in the way and nothing came of it. The simple act of being aware of what your question is, is sometimes enough to start healing your mind. Awareness is always the first step. I remember in my infancy the smartest girl in my class told me that the point of a councillor was to unravel your mind to question your feelings, to attain and understand why you feel a certain way. Finding the truth will set you free… and trust me, I think it did for myself.
If you’re searching for answers I hope I haven’t made you feel consumed with existential dread, since I have absolutely no clue as to what your question is. You must trust me, when I say you won’t feel like this forever. Close your eyes, count to one, that’s how long forever feels. (Thanks, Kurzgesagt!) You must not live your life searching for this question – all you need to know is that there is a question, and one day something will click. You probably have an idea as to what it is. There’s no problem if you don’t – it’s an opportunity! An opportunity to understand yourself better, and that is, indeed, exciting.
I also must add at this point – you may be asking ‘why me?!’ Why must I be drowning in my thoughts and feelings constantly searching for answers? To this I say – well, I think a lot of people have said it before – ignorance is bliss.
I have some incredibly “intelligent” friends – they appear to be at the zenith of their life, always striving for more and better things – good grades, better sex lives (not always though…), to be hotter than hell. They seem not to hinder themselves with their own thoughts. Like I said at the beginning, I’m not going to prance around definitions (but I totally am) – “intelligent” I called them– but really, they’re not. At least in the ways that matter to me. They are completely ignorant of their own thoughts and feelings – completely emotionally unaware of their own problems, to an extent. What a blessing; what a curse. With a lack of personal emotional understanding comes a lack of understanding of other people – and with that comes a range of issues. It allows you to be completely oblivious that some of your friends may be suffering with awful mental health problems – but if you don’t even notice, you’re never going to be able to help them. Maybe that makes you a bad friend. I don’t think it does (I forgive you AT). But I do think this sort of issue is so much more prevalent in men – the majority of my male friends are as emotionally understanding as a dead tree. (Probably less, actually.) Maybe this is a reason for such high levels of suicide amongst men (twice as high as girls) – they don’t know how to convey their feelings this way, and none of their male friends pick up when their friend’s not right. I think I can see this because the majority of my friends are men, yet I have some incredible female friends who enable me to really talk about the way I feel. Girls pick up on this stuff so much more than guys. Thank God, God made me gay. Or… was it that fact that my mum had trauma during pregnancy? (That’s a point for another X.)
Back to the main point, we were talking about questions – but not rhetorical questions! Questions need answers! So how are you going to answer your question? I think it’s time for another example.
This is the point at which I struggle. This is the point where I am at myself, right now. I have not answered the daddy question. I have not told him that I know how much he has lied to me, and how that has completely shattered the feelings I had for him. Do I need to tell him? I think, personally, yes. I do need to tell him how much of a bastard he is. This is about me though – this is my story, not his. The way to answer my question would be to tell him how I feel – only then will I be free of this baggage I’ve been carrying around. I’ve already said this, but the truth sets you free, so tell the truth. It’s the only thing we have.
I understand that this is not always possible, or at least not probable – a part of me hopes my daddy will die so I can put all my toxic feeling to rest – and maybe this is how you feel. So, I offer you a solution (it might work) – an age-old cliché that will make you cringe beyond the grave. Write yourself a letter saying all the things you wish you could to that person – open your soul, flooding out all the water it has taken on over the years. Lighten yourself from all those undesirable thoughts and feelings. It might work; maybe it will, maybe it won’t. What’s to lose? Life’s too short.
People always say that “life’s too short” sounds like gas 90% of the time, and the other 10% is when you’re writing a book about life being too short (hi, that’s me). What people mean when they say life’s too short is that, when reflecting on your life, you wish you could have told your past self that everything was going to be alright, that your problems will get solved eventually one way or the other. No issue is too big or too small. It will be okay – as much as it doesn’t seem likely right now. Things tend to get better – they might get worse first, but that’s fine. Everything is fine; everything will be ok. My way of bettering myself in the future is writing notes to my future self in a “diary”. (I really am a 14-year-old girl.) I write this “diary” offering myself advice about future situations at the end of a tough time, which is a great shame because it’s full of depressing memories. Alas, how else will I learn from my own… mistakes? Problems? Weird times?
Do you remember when you were a kid and you did something terrible? At the time, you think it’s the worst thing you’ve ever done; you’re full of dread and anguish, unable to fathom a happy future? Then you completely forget this event a month on, regardless of your rogue emotional state at the time. This is what I think you forget as you get older – you completely lose perspective, you think the problems get bigger and bigger. These events filled with toxic emotions take longer and longer to forget. But what you forget is that you will forget them. Perhaps this is a great paradox of becoming an adult.
So, some closing words. Bad things happen, life is so fast-paced, and we forget about these bad things so quickly. We struggle to understand the things that have happened – they may not seem obvious at the time. We try so very hard to put together the pieces, but often we forget what half of the pieces were. Picture a jigsaw with every other piece missing – you know what you’re looking at. The problem is that you can’t see the jigsaw of your own mind – only when the majority of the pieces come together, things begin to make sense. This is your mind; it’s fragile, strong and complicated. It needs things to make sense sometimes, but you must put your thoughts and feelings to bed. Otherwise your mind exhausts itself – and that’s probably how you get mental health problems. I’m no expert though, and doubt I’ll ever claim to be one. But this is just a reflection of my own story. The only thing I hope is that someone somewhere will read this, and everything will make a little bit more sense. If this doesn’t help, then maybe people really are unexplainably different. But I don’t think we are.
Some problems may seem so complicated, impossible to decipher. My advice would be to reflect. Reflect on everything. Let the truth out – let it set you free.
feature image courtesy of Charlie Richards