I was sitting at a table one day, not long ago, talking with a newly made friend about my social anxiety. It’s a difficult topic for me because I’m partly ashamed of it, partly ashamed of what it makes me do. I don’t want it. I don’t need it, I want to claw it out of my heart and throw it into the abyss.
Yet it exists, so I feel I should talk about it. They say it helps. They say honesty with oneself, with your comrades, lessens the stress.
My friend rolled their eyes. This isn’t an uncommon reaction, I teach for a living–it’s difficult to compute that half the time I’m coming apart at the seams. “A family member of mine has anxiety,” they said. “They break out in sweats. They have the shakes.”
I do both of those at moments too, but I didn’t push the issue. I simply said there were levels to this thing. Layers of difficulty.
Another friend of mine asked me if I would be able to overcome it to save my wife. If I could, she implied, it was all mental. I was the one with the problem. That it was an excuse to get out of things.
Of course, I want to get out of happiness. It’s my greatest goal. To run away from all those who are cheerful. My other is to look down on others with sour superiority. I didn’t push that point with her either, I just smiled and let her ramble on.
And on, and on.
I get snarky, and vicious when I’m in a bad way. I’m already cynical, it’s not a good combination. My mind shoots faster than my brain because my brain’s occupied with controlling the anxiety. Then I realise what fucked-up things I’ve said, and I feel embarrassed and like a failure. I failed someone else, and then I failed myself. Again.
Now I have to go and teach a lesson. Advanced marketing techniques? I can do that. Let me swagger through it like a drunkard, unfocussed with eyes roaming the top of the room. If I have enough energy, I might cook dinner at the end of the day.
I apologise for my existence because I feel, y’know, like I shouldn’t exist. There’s no money in anti-existence though, I need a profession. So I teach.
Don’t ask me why, I just do. It’s what I’m skilled in. Been doing it for years now. Taught the greatest and the worst. Seen violence in classrooms first-hand, seen drugs in them too. Don’t worry, I won’t tell you the bad stories. They’ll just make you sad about our education system.
The thing is…this isn’t depression. This is regular life. Depression’s worse. When I first arrived back in Australia, I went through it. I’d hyper-ventilate on a phone call, I’d be so nervous talking to someone my shirt would go damp from my sweat. I would work five hours, and then have to sleep during my lunch time. I slept in my chair because…I don’t know…it made sense?
One time I crawled under a desk and slept there. I had to get away from people, so I did. I had to get away from their eyes.
I would walk home and my heart would feel as if someone was pushing on it, these invisible hands squeezing it. I had to tell myself to breathe.
When I went to work and didn’t feel that pressure, I felt uncomfortable. When I could actually string sentences together and talk about my day with coworkers, I was elated. But when someone got too close, I would snap at them. “I don’t want you to know me,” I’d imply. “I don’t need you. You’ll leave me. I’m fine.”
A lot of awesome people have befriended me over the years. They’ve been so kind. So wonderful.
I’m working on it. I’m trying to be better.
But depression is strange, it lurks. You’re never free from it. People who’ve never had it don’t understand. They can’t.
Even when you’re ‘out’, you’re never out. You’re just in relapse. It could jump you at anytime. You could snap at the wrong person, your brain might stop working right when you need it to, your mouth could clam shut even though you wish to speak. Some days Depression’s swinging its blades at you, other days its not.
You believe you’re boring. You don’t talk about your life and brush off other people’s interest in it. You’re rude, and I hate being rude. I hate being a failure.
My last workplace did something to me. It hurt me. It took my soul and burned it in so many ways. I’m still recovering. I can’t even explain it, the way it twisted who I was, who I had been becoming and distorted it. Made it angry.
I met a few good folk in the trenches, and too many assholes up above.
I’m going to work through this. Like I did when I was in Australia. One day at a time. One breath at a time.
I’m sorry if you get caught on an angry day. I’m sorry if I snap and snark. I’ll get better, I’m on my way. The bag’s on the shoulder, the eyes are on the horizon and the sword’s out. The safety zone is far, but if we’re lucky, I’ll need to apologise less and become nicer throughout the journey.
Here’s to those days.