On Creating Breathing Space and Anxiety

Last weekend I started filming a You Tube video, and then I got far too angry about the content and decided not to post it. The crux of the discussion was that even though I try not to read or watch the news, because I was still following major news outlets like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), SBS News and The Age on Facebook, I was feeling totally swamped by awful stories from around our country. As a particularly sensitive person, I was finding everything really upsetting, and I've been trying to find a balance for myself between staying informed (because I genuinely believe that it's important to be aware of the policies our government are passing into law and how they impact the world we inhabit), and just getting paralysed with rage when Homicide Detectives tell women that we "shouldn't be alone in parks". So for now, I've decided that the best option for my sanity has been to un-follow all of the major news outlets across social media. A week in, I'm still finding that news is filtering through to me via friends reposting and the discussions we have, but the constant fucking bombardment has eased and created a little breathing space for me to start thinking and working again.

Interestingly enough, the additional breathing space allowed a blog post I wouldn't normally have considered reading to appear on my little radar screen - and I'm glad that it did.

Here in Australia, we have this website called MamaMia - I guess that you could say it's kind of like the Australian equivalent of xoJane. It's hugely popular, and was started by ex Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Australia (and a host of other trashy titles) and body image campaigner, Mia Freedman. As I've written previously, I try to avoid reading it. This is due to a whole host of my own baggage and opinions. While my reasoning that I believe MamaMia tends to post shame fuelling click-bait type articles, seems like a good enough reason to avoid the site, it's not the whole truth.

The whole truth is that I never enjoy reading Mia Freedman's work because doing so makes me feel crappy.

  • I can't read her writing about feminism, or her outrage at commercial radio stations for playing 'Blurred Lines', without remembering that through her work in the media, with titles including Cosmo and CLEO, she's actively contributed to and profited from maintaining the exact same, shitty status quo systems and structures which allow and encourage this to continue being a thing.
  • I choose not to read her work because it makes me feel like a shitty feminist, as if I'm dismissing another woman's expression of feminism because it's not as coherent and robust as I believe mine to be.
  • I feel shitty because I wish that someone with such a prominent voice, who appears to be trying to get a similar message out as I am, didn't make me feel as if she's just cashing in on feminism as if it's a buzzword.
  • I feel shitty because I wholeheartedly hope that she's genuinely learned some huge lessons through her role as a media commentator, and I really WANT to see her contribute something amazing.
  • I feel shitty because as I posted the other week, I'd much rather focus on building a community - one where women are supported by one another, rather than torn down. While I know that many of the criticisms I have are valid, I feel shitty that I can't voice them without feeling catty - especially considering that I know for a fact that there are plenty of critics who have already picked apart both Mia Freedman and her work.

With all of that out in the open, I want to say this: It's not that I expect Mia Freedman to be without her flaws. I totally accept that she's a complex human being, who took the opportunities she was presented with, and has created enormous success for herself - as well as creating a platform for other women to voice their opinions and thoughts to a wider audience, and that she did instigate positive change at the publications she worked for - all of which are great things.

So all of this brings me to earlier this week, when my friend Elle shared and recommended a post from Mia Freedman's personal blog, Debrief Daily, titled, "I'm Finally Ready To Talk About My Anxiety." Apprehensive, and maybe even a little dubious about the content, I put off clicking on the link - let alone reading the article for days and days, but kept it in the back of my mind.

I know first hand how daunting it can be to speak up about struggling with anxiety and depression, so I really didn't want to read another woman's personal account and feel like I was dismissing her experience based on all the shit I was bringing with me - seriously, that would be some Gene Simmon's level douchebaggery, and I do NOT want to be that guy.

After sitting with things for a while, I decided I was open to reading about Mia Freedman's experience with an open mind - and to be totally honest, I'm really fucking glad that I did.

It was the first time that I've ever read a description of the fear of speaking about anxiety while you're in the grip of constant anxiety, which felt SO accurate to my experiences. Mia Freedman writes,

"...for reasons I couldn’t understand, my anxiety was trapping me behind very thick glass. It was like being in that nightmare where you tried to scream but no sound came out.

The worst part of mental illness of course, is not being able to find respite from your own mind. My anxiety was like my evil conjoined twin. My ugly shadow. And the realization [sic.] that I couldn’t escape made me despair."

Her description of simply going through the motions of life - appearing totally fine to the outside world, while feeling gripped by a state of total panic both physically and mentally, is something I know extremely well - a key factor in almost two decades of poor sleeping patterns and insomnia. Factor in study and two physically demanding jobs, on top of a hectic party schedule, and the weekly binge drinking I was doing at 20-21 and it's no wonder I burnt out and crashed my car into a tree.

While that led me to working with a psychologist, and starting to do something about my mental health, this constant state of fear had become so normal to me, that I was almost too scared of living any differently - I mean, at the heart of everything, I still liked myself and the things I was doing in life - why would I want to live any differently?

It was only a couple of years down the track when my anxiety and depression started causing massive problems, that I opened up to the idea of taking medication. I was living with constant physical pain and exhaustion - with real physical issues being dramatically amplified by my perceptions and the state of my mental health. My cortisol levels were so far out of whack by this stage, and after a hellish fortnight of trialling Lexapro, my prescription was switched over to another anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication called Effexor.

While the medication didn't fix everything I was dealing with, it did at least numb the worst of what I was going through and allowed me to live as close to a normal life as I was willing to at the time - bearing in mind that I was still in a toxic relationship, working two casual jobs (including waitressing late into the night) and attending art school by day, so my sleeping patterns and diet still weren't great.

In the spirit of focusing on the positive contributions people make, I'd really like to acknowledge Mia Freedman for writing such an honest post about her own experience, because I know that having a voice to relate to is super helpful. I'm also really grateful that she's put into words the frustrations of feeling locked into yourself, silently screaming. I really hope that conversations like this can help create awareness about what it's like to experience anxiety - not only for those going through it - but for those living with us. I know that my family really didn't know how to talk with me for a long time, because I literally couldn't answer their questions, or express why I couldn't do something - despite my being an excellent and passionate communicator. I can only imagine how painfully frustrating having a discussion with me must be when I'm feeling closed in.

I no longer use prescription medication to manage my depression or my anxiety, but I have gotten far better at managing them. I cut down on the amount of coffee I drink, I stopped eating meat and I very rarely drink alcohol - let alone to the point of being drunk, and I try my best to maintain a regular routine with plenty of sleep. I've also gotten way better about acknowledging when I'm going through a rough patch (when I'm depressed) or feeling anxious - and I make a point of checking in with someone (even if it's just a message to say I remembered to eat lunch) I trust daily so they know how I'm doing. Talking about it isn't as scary now, and while I'm not scared of the idea of using medication again if I feel things getting too much, I do get nervous about the period of time it can take to find a medication which works for me - and the right dosage. These things are definitely challenging and are widely reported as reasons for people not taking their prescribed meds, but from my own experience, I'm glad that I stuck it out.

While there is no 'One Size Fits All' solution to anything in life, let alone when it comes to mental health, if you're going through what I call a rough patch at the moment, or you're struggling with anxiety, finding your voice - even if it's small, or sending a text and voicing what you're going through, is a big first step to working your way out.

xx

Kym.

 

Image Credits: All images were sourced through Google, and can be traced to the source I accessed them through by clicking on them. [contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]