When I first signed up to receive a copy of Gail Mitchell’s Loving The Life Less Lived, I thought it was a great idea. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, so this would give me the perfect opportunity to talk about it. Right? And if I felt like I was becoming too anxious to really deep dive into MY issues, well, I could always fall back on the book and just talk about HER issues instead. Right? Well. It’s been over a month of staring at this blank space of mine, attempting to fill it with words.
That’s the thing about anxiety and it’s asshole ex-boyfriend, panic. (You know, the one who dumps you but then keeps texting to make sure you don’t move on?) It keeps you fretting, fearful and frozen. And sometimes it makes you super creative and allows you to use alliteration in your writing. You’ve got to take the small wins when you can get them.
On Fear and Being Afraid of Everything
Over the years I’ve visited therapists and counselors to help me with my anxiety and panic. My life felt fine one day, and then boom! I’m on the floor with my back against the door — so that if bad guys broke in, I’d know right away. (Obviously.) I was sure I was going to either have a heart attack or be murdered any second, and at that moment, I would have been okay with either. Or maybe an earthquake could hit and my floor would open up and swallow me. Or maybe I could die in one of those rare Toronto tsunami’s I’d heard about…ohhh, never. Hey! Maybe a car could drive over a curb, crash into my apartment building, collapse some floors…anyway. You see my point.
Out of nowhere, my brain started spinning. Worry after worry after worry. And yes, right then and there, those worries seemed totally normal, but don’t let that trick you. When you start dreaming up irrational, no-chance-in-hell, dream like scenarios that all end with you dying? Well, something is going on in your brain.
On my very first visit to a therapist, this sweet, tiny old lady, (who looked exactly like what you might picture a therapist to look like, horn rimmed glasses and all) flat out asked me if I’d ever wanted to hurt myself.
“Whoa! No. Never. Nope.”
Inner voice: Oh no, oh no, oh no, she thinks I’m crazy and lying and now I am going to get locked up forever!
The therapist looked at me calmly and asked if I’ve ever wanted to die.
“Ha! Oh, that’s different! All the time. Always. I can give you 10 scenarios right now off the top of my head about ways that I could die and probably ALL OF THEM will happen to me. Let’s start with shark attacks…”
Inner voice: Well. You were honest. That was something. Get ready for the shackles.
“You know, that’s completely normal for you to think like that. To want to escape the way that you’re feeling. It must feel really scary to have all of these thoughts all of a sudden.”
This woman, well, her words, changed the course of everything that came after. I saw a therapist a few more times after this first session, but this is what sticks with me. She acknowledged what I was feeling, reassured me that I was normal and empathized with me, a completely bat shit crazy stranger (my words, not hers.) I sense a life hack, friends…
On Fretting and All Your Other Useless Worries
It often feels like there is a gap between myself and the people who don’t deal with anxiety and panic. There is a great big divide, a giant distance that some days isn’t there at all, and other days, well, we’re standing on two different mountain tops. Or more, they are standing at the top and I’m at home laying on the bathroom floor because it’s cold and my head is spinning and that’s where I feel safest.
I was 1 page into Loving The Life Less Lived, so, the prologue, and I already felt like Gail and I were old friends. She was talking about a supermarket visit that left her in tears, the self-serve machines that stopped working as she approached, whirring and beeping and flashing, drawing attention to her, but also keeping her from making a swift exit back to the safety of her car. I could feel my heart flutter while I read it. The fear of not being able to escape is almost inexplicable.
But then, the wisdom that came out of that experience:
“…we are all flashing. We think we are the only ones. Panic, Fear and Anxiety blinker us, lie to us and hide us from the truth. But we are all flashing. We are all calling out for help…but there are enough of us flashing to know we are not alone.“
The gap got lessened, a bridge appeared and I understood her and I knew she’d be able to understand me. That’s what talking about mental health does. It’s great to educate, but lots of us talk because it helps us feel less alone. It closes that gap. When and if you are able to pick yourself up off that bathroom floor, rest assured that we’re all just out here trying to do our very best.
On Being Frozen in Place
I don’t feel like I deal with anxiety and panic every day. For me, it comes in waves. Giant, crashing, take-your-breath-away waves. I always know when things are about to get rough and I can never stop it. That’s maybe one of the worst parts. Knowing what’s about to happen to your mind and having to just let it come.
When you feel the bad times coming on and you have no choice but to accept it and sit with the anxiety and pain, it can be hard to move forward once it leaves.
Eventually, I wake up and feel capable again. Does that make me spring out of bed and jump start my life? No. BECAUSE WHAT IF? Anxiety stops me in my tracks.
But, we can learn from others who have been down this road before us. What Gail acknowledges so truthfully in her book:
“If I could have foretold what was to come in the next few years I may well have stayed where I was and refused to take another step! If I had done that I would have missed out on an amazing journey, wonderful travelling companions and experiences that gave me strength and wisdom and also so many smiles and laughter.”
We can’t know what’s coming or what’s lying ahead for us. And in lots of cases, it seems like it might be better that way, because mental health struggles don’t just disappear. This could be the turning point for you or for me, or it might not be. If we knew things were going to stay tough for a bit, would we try as hard to get through today? Maybe not. And I’d like to believe that we’d be missing out if we gave up now.
I don’t have all the answers when it comes to making everything better. And I’m sure Gail would tell you that she doesn’t either. (She does say that, I’ve read her book.) But let me leave you with some more of Gail’s wisdom, the stuff she learned at a time when she felt lost and alone, but which once written down, has the ability to reach eyes and ears all over this small world.
“At the conclusion of my life my only achievement may well be that ‘I saw it through to the end’…if that is the best that can be said about me at the end it will be worth it. Life threw everything it had at me, and I saw it through. Can any of us really say more than that?”
Give Gail a follow on Twitter @GailMitchell42! You also can visit her website to read more of her writing and to purchase her book, Loving The Life Less Lived.
Disclosure: I reached out to Red Door Publishing and they kindly offered me an e-copy of Gail’s book. I believe it’s so important to talk about mental health and I fully support anyone who is willing to step out and share their story!