I always thought I was just weird. That weird kid. A total spaz. It was a lie. But I believed it wholeheartedly.
That’s why I love Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk day (#BellLetsTalk) which is today.
Because it brings into the light something that has been hid too long in the dark. In shame. Covered in lies. Maybe Crazy Uncle Bill wasn’t crazy. Maybe there was more to cousin’s addiction than we understood. Maybe Nervous Nellie had something else going on. It was the big white elephant in the room but nobody dared talk about it. It’s happened in too many homes.
Thankfully things are starting to turn around. Mental health is being discussed openly for both caregivers and those who battle with it.
For me, the anxiety attacks started when I was ten years old. I had been sick with the stomach flu and once better, all of a sudden I was afraid to be anywhere but home. I was afraid of being sick again. I was afraid of throwing up. I was afraid of embarrassing myself in public. I felt unsafe in the world around me.
I would sit in school or church, rubbing my hands up and down my legs, continuously. The constant motion soothing my nerves. Until someone would turn around and tell me to stop. The noise was distracting.
Or I would be at my desk, looking fine on the outside but inside it felt like all hell had broken loose. My heart and mind were racing. I couldn’t concentrate on what was being said. All I could focus on was getting out of that classroom. I would count down the ticks of the clock. I would tell myself that I could get through the next five minutes. And then the next five. I would eat a hard candy to calm me down. By the time the class was done, I was exhausted from the mental battle that had raged for the last period.
Other times, I would get into OCD mode. (I didn’t even know that term then.) I would have to say or think things a certain way and if I didn’t, I had to start over again. And then repeat it perfectly or start over again. Because if I didn’t do it right, something bad was going to happen and it would be my fault.
I thought I was weird. I knew I had to get over it but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know what IT was.
As I got older and entered high school, I thought I was getting better. Managing it. I’d have occasional attacks but they weren’t as frequent.
In fact, I was numb. What I was doing was stuffing things down deep. Eventually it comes back to the surface. Rage masked the fear.
You either get mad or sad and I was definitely mad. Anxiety would overtake me and I’d get angry. Not wanting anyone to know that I was scared or panicky at some “imagined thing” because they’d think I was crazy, I would get mad. My friends would be confused. Why was I freaking out? I felt like a freak.
When I really lost it, I would see red and there was no turning back. I broke things and once slammed my hand into a very hard door and had to get x-rays.
I could go on but I’m hoping you get the picture. It wasn’t until I was an adult that the words panic attack, agoraphobia and OCD entered my vocabulary. In research I had stumbled upon these words at different occasions and felt somewhat relieved that I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t the only one. That there was something to this.
For so many years I was ashamed of me. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get it together. I thought I was broke. Maybe I was. But broke can be fixed.
I was afraid to talk about what was going on inside of my head and body. So I kept quiet. I didn’t ask for help until the anger was so bad that I was scaring myself and those I loved. I endured years of agony, exhaustion and shame.
That’s why I’m so glad that Bell Canada, Clara Hughes and some other very brave people have started this discussion. There is help out there but first you have to recognize what’s going on. Ignorance is not bliss. There is no shame in asking for help. You are not weird and you are not alone.