Hi, wow this feels strange, though most of you won’t quite understand why – having completely packed in the writing thing all but two months ago – it seems almost fraudulent sitting on this train and penning this essay. Well, essay seems rather enthusiastic, we’re not quite there yet are we Written Word?
While a large number of people have contacted me – whether it be via Whatsapp, LinkedIn and an increasing number, via email – asking why it is that I fled the internet, mental health in tow, I finally have the answer. I feel it my duty to explain exactly why I needed to remove myself from the social spectrum altogether. To completely eradicate my online self. Are you ready to hear my truth? Or rather, read my truth. The hope would be you’d now know me well enough that you’re able to hear this in my voice. My monotone, shaky, terrified voice…
For the past few years of my life – if I had to put a time frame on it I’d say since the age of 17 – I’ve suffered from chronic anxiety. Though I often mock my anxious tendencies and floods of angst and depression on the net, I am all too often broken. In my head, erasing myself from the internet, from the place where I watched each and every person I followed or knew personally succeed, I wouldn’t crumble so much anymore. But it wasn’t enough. Sure, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders, free from all the people consistently questioning my status in life or what exactly my “real life” job was, but it wasn’t quite enough. True, I made it public knowledge by highlighting my highs, but that in itself is why I chose to remove myself from the spectrum entirely. I couldn’t bear another moment pretending that I was totally okay praising everyone and their achievements while my 2017 went about as high as a led balloon.
So I sought help, plagued by my anxiety attacks that chose not to discriminate on when to strike and where to attack, I sought help. Though I did it all in secret. I suspect that many of my friends will be wondering who it was that I got help from, seeing as I was too terrified to tell anyone. At my lowest, I signed myself up for therapy in the hopes that breaking down in front of someone other than my four bedroom walls would be enough to ‘fix’ me. I didn’t want to hate myself every time I saw someone succeed on my timeline anymore. I didn’t want to ‘disappear’ every time someone celebrated themselves when I struggled to do the same in my own life. I needed something, anything.
Two weeks after applying I had my first consultation. When I first received the call I couldn’t even remember that I’d put myself forward for therapy. Was I really so numb that I couldn’t recall sitting down and adding myself to a helpline for actual assistance with my issues? From the first twenty-minute call I felt instantly at ease. My thoughts of being better off gone from the earth, dissipated. I didn’t hate myself… that much, the burden was elsewhere. It was another week before I received a second call and I was feeling so much more like the Lauren I pretended to be on the internet. The confident, humorous, carefree Lauren. When asked, I beamed with excitement and told the counsellor, “I haven’t had a panic attack in a month!” Sat in Starbucks on my lunch break, I didn’t care if anyone could hear me speak on my past struggles because as far as I was concerned, those days were behind me. Or so I thought.
Having quit the whole writing spiel for fear of failure and the constant painstaking rejection each time I put myself out there, I turned my efforts to jobs so far removed from my true calling, so to speak. The farther away I was from that world, the easier it would be to keep my anxiety at bay, and it was successful. I didn’t cry, I didn’t crumble and I didn’t complain. I just worked and made my money the old-fashioned way.
Finally, I thought, perhaps I am ready to get back into the writing world, in some way shape or form. I started things off lightly by emailing editors my ideas once again. I tapped into my contact list and annoyed the editors I adored, this had to be the one time that they noticed me. After all, it’s in every successful person’s story. Annoy the people in charge, get them to notice you and then you’re in. I used my lunch breaks to attend job interviews and worked on becoming ‘me’ again. The first few interviews, though unsuccessful, each taught me a lesson and helped me to critique myself enough that the next interview I’d be un-un-hireable. I was building myself so high that I felt almost whole again.
So confident in myself and my capabilities, I applied for a job that listed every one of my skills. It jumped off the page and danced around my head, pointing and jiving at me and so I applied. I didn’t for a second think that I’d get a reply, much less an interview, it just seemed implausible to me. Even if it was everything in my capabilities. The HR person behind the role was fabulous and made me feel as though I was perfect for the role, I mean I was. I am. I prepped for the interview and made sure I knew everything relevant in my CV to highlight to the interviewer. I sat and read through everything humanly possible on the website though I already knew so much about the company, something I’d even written about in a previous role. I was ready.
I knew something was wrong when I arrived, I didn’t feel nervous and my mother routinely tells me that if you don’t feel nervous, you don’t really want it. But I did. I wanted the job so bad because I knew I could excel in it; I just couldn’t translate that to my body for some strange reason. It was time to go in and talk myself up. I spoke poetically of my achievements, listed my special skills and why it was that I’d be great for the role in question, but she looked at me unconvinced. With every question answered, she stared at me blankly with an, “Okay… and? Go on…” look on her face. She nodded routinely and gestured at me that I continue by way of her pen. Throughout the hour-long interview, I felt myself lose more and more confidence in myself. My speech became slurred and the words stopped making sense altogether. My communication, listed at the top of my CV was now a lie. I could feel the panic ensuing my whole body but the interview refused to end. I felt as though I was trapped in that room for hours and soon my body became numb. “Fuck,” I thought, “it’s happening.” I panicked at the thought of suffering another panic attack, after all, I’d done so well to keep them at bay I wasn’t yet ready to experience another.
Finally, I was let free from the prison cell… well, interview room and I was free to get up and leave. So eager to get out and get some fresh air I stood up and still couldn’t feel my legs. I left my bag behind me and foolishly ran back to collect it. Well, that does it, I’m definitely not getting this job. Walking back to the main entrance I felt as though everyone knew my panic was due, the paranoia set in and I found myself unable even to crack even an exit joke. Was everyone staring at me? We shook hands and I turned to leave, it was time to go home and drink myself into an oblivion over the sheer shambles of the last few hours. I tapped my destination into Google Maps and walked back feeling empty to the station.
Ironically in the cold, I froze still, blinked and had no idea where I’d ended up. Well, that’s what it felt like. In my panic haze, I’d somehow blacked out, walked aimlessly and ended up in the middle of nowhere. “It’s coming,” I thought to myself, as my brain rushed to the many techniques I’d studied, but was yet to try for these pesky panic attacks. Nothing made sense at that point and so I dropped to the floor in a ball, lost all sense of my body and cried. There I was, somewhere in the back streets of Paddington having the biggest panic attack I’d ever experienced and I couldn’t stop it. I just had to let it run its course.
From what I remember, I removed my coat, unzipped my dress from the back and sat in the cold sobbing uncontrollably, all the while trying to catch my breath, but it wasn’t stopping. It only grew worse. My head felt lighter and lighter, I began to feel nauseous and the tears now flooded my lap. I could hear an echo of the words, “are you okay,” from strangers but struggled to reply. I was the same person I’d escaped all those months ago and I hated myself for it. The weaker I felt, the more I disliked myself, the more I panicked and this went on for an hour. The cold air dried my tears but they continued to flow, the hours I spent perfecting my makeup seemed fruitless. I panicked about not being where I want in life, I panicked about my ongoing inability to browse the gram without feeling totally worthless, I panicked about my inability to communicate during my bouts of depression, I panicked about no one ever being able to understand me, I panicked about not knowing where I was and not knowing how to get back, I panicked and panicked and panicked until I was blue in the face.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully reintegrate myself in the online world, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to be myself without having to joke or lie about my mental state or capacity and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to truly return to the writing thing, but one thing’s for sure, I’m back on day one of my panic free days. Here’s hoping I make it past day 40 this time around…
(Artwork via @thepoopculture)