Personal Essay: Not all problems are physical

'Not all problems are physical'. Write a personal essay about your response to this statement in light of experiences your life that you consider significant.

‘It is the noise that appals me most of all, 
The unintelligible syllables. 
It is like a Roman mob, 
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together.’
- Sylvia Plath

Until four or five years ago I naively had no idea, that there was such a thing, as ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental health’. Occasionally, I’d hear words like depression or anxiety nonchalantly thrown around in conversation or in a film. It was a foreign idea to me, rare and unimaginable. To be honest, it took me a long time to realise that it was actually, amazingly common and experienced worldwide. I am proud to say, I now understand that all challenges, are most certainly, not physical. There are people suffering every day from an agonising war inside their head. This is my story.

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I was oblivious. I had, had many challenging days but this one was different. The feeling was unambiguous, challenging and impossible to comprehend. It was like a shadow, an alter ego, a ghostly presence looming in the darkness of the undiscovered. I questioned myself: was I changing, was I doing something wrong, was I even myself anymore?
Still to this day I remember that it was Tuesday, 28th November. I was in maths. Many days previous to that I had had moments in school where I wanted to escape, times where I felt swamped by panic and fear. But this time there was no choice, I knew I had to leave. A voice penetrated my stream of consciousness,it lured me in, convincing me in a matter of seconds that nothing was safe. I felt impending doom at the thought of staying. I sat in my seat with a moving discomfort in the pit of my stomach and an unbearable hum in my head. So I left.
I was completely unaware that there was something seriously wrong. When I got home, overcome by immense fear, I cracked; I burst into tears - and became dependent on my mom. The voice that felt like another person latched onto my mind was cold, calculating and catastrophically corrosive. Like flies to wanton boys it began killing me for her sport. I acutely remember saying that I couldn’t go back. However I never actually believed I wouldn’t. That day was the beginning of a painful, harrowing, tumultuous journey in my life as I fought to overcome the war that was inside my head. The war, that I later learnt to be an anxiety disorder.

As time passed, I didn’t go back to school. Each day, I got gradually worse. The invincibility that I had courted through my younger years was robbed from me by an unyielding force. The person I once was: sociable, outgoing and devoutly daring vanished and in is place was an insecure, vulnerable, apprehensive stranger. I was a changed person.  It became impossible for me to be relaxed. There wasn’t a thought that I could escape from. Everything that came through my mind felt like a shard of glass, frightening and hurting me on arrival. I found myself struggling to fall asleep; I was unable to calm my mind. My body would lie down and my mind would ignite. I questioned whether I was good enough, if I was doing the right thing. I analysed my school work and doubted that I wasn’t performing to a high enough standard. I distrusted my integrity and what I believed in. I spent days and nights in blind states of exhaustion and anxiety. The voice, the thoughts the white noise in my head was toxic. All elements of enjoyment in my life vanished like sunshine on a rainy day.

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Some days I tried to go to school. For me my battles didn’t take shape in the form of violence, or as arguments, or even in words. My worst battle began when I had to get out of bed, when I had to get into the shower. The morning shower for me meant that I was preparing to go to school, something that  was terrifying and unachievable. I lucidly remember the amount of time I spent urging myself to climb out of bed, to just take that small step. It seems ridiculous that this, taking a shower, could be the hardest part to my day, but it was. I would get a gut-wrenching pressure in my chest, a hole in my stomach that would lead to a cloud of nausea that crippled me. Tears streamed down my face as I tried over and over again to simply leave the house. I don’t remember many times that I made it out of the house and to school. I was utterly unable to cope.

I spent countless days turning down invites or avoiding social occasions. Events that the former me would have thrived on. I had absolutely loved spending time with friends and socialising, but suddenly they became impossible. At 16 years old, a trip in a friend’s car was something I could not contemplate. A day without my mom, being literally by my side, was unattainable. A night watching TV manifested into an episode of extreme panic and upset because I would see something that initiated dozens of menacing thoughts from the voice that paralysed me. I knew it was wrong to get entangled in the web of irrational, nonsensical, harmful thoughts, but I was no longer in control. Something else was, it was like a drug, lustful and addictive.  

At this point it’s hard to believe that I was still trying to find answers to what was wrong. Eventually, we found somewhere where I could get the answers, but it was horrifying. I truly believed I couldn’t go. Despite having had enough of the madness that was propelling around my head, the day ahead of me, the appointment I had with a psychiatrist, was insurmountable.  I lay in bed as all my strength felt as if it was being sucked out of me like a syringe draining blood from a lifeless limb. (Surprisingly, there is a part to this story that lights up my face and fills my body with emotion and warmth. I remember my brother, who was going into school at the time, coming into me as I sat shaken in my bed. He said, ‘How about, if you go today, I will go to school?’, and that was it.) With time,  I took my deep breaths and put on a brave face.  I desperately hoped that the destination of clarity and a peaceful equilibrium would be worth the strife. I went and faced, what I can honestly say to be one of the most intimidating days of my life. I wish I could say it went excellently, but it didn’t, it was horrendous. Looking back however, I can see that I proved to myself that day that I was resilient and determined. Furthermore, I found out what was wrong with me, I had a mental illness, known as a generalised anxiety disorder. 

I didn’t improve, not for a long time. I think I got worse. My days were still saturated with dread and fear. I designed problems that did not exist. It became impossible to park the nonsensical thoughts.  I would create such a whirlwind of panic that it felt like my chest would break. I felt suffocated, I would start to sweat from every pore in my body and my heart rate would increase alarmingly. As I got tired and night time grew closer the panic intensified. My moments of vulnerability were the illness’ strongest, they were the times when it was utterly and solely in control. My throat felt so tight that it felt like I couldn’t breathe, or swallow food or water. I sat paralysed with fear, as what felt like a demonic spirit took over my mind and body. It was as unrelenting as a hurricane to a thatched cottage.

For me one of the most excruciating aspects of having a mental illness was that no one else could physically see the pain that I was experiencing. I was so infuriated and confused by how unjust this felt. I was overwhelmed with hurt and hatred that this had happened to me. Countless times I wished that I just had a broken leg. I wished for something that I could explain.
At times, I question what I would have done without a family who supported me, beyond belief. They truly were the ones who got me out of these nightmarish situations.  It scares me to think about people who are experiencing the same pain in silence and what I would have done without my family. 

I did gradually begin to improve. I finally, found something that worked. I started hypnotherapy. It was like coming out of a deep sleep. My thoughts became clearer, less perturbed. Similar to Sylvia Plath’s attempts in ‘The Arrival of The Bee Box’ the more I ignored the voice in my head, the less it bothered me.Within a month or two I was making changes. These are changes that the ordinary person would laugh at. They are changes that no one else could understand as being achievements. But for me they were enormous. I remember my first time seeing my friends since I had left school at the beginning of 3rd year. We went for a picnic on the beach. What’s hard to believe, is that my mom still had to wait for me in the car park. I couldn’t cope without her being there. No one knew, to everyone else I was the exact same, as carefree, as ‘normal’. They all thought that I had got dropped off at the beach. I will never forget how I felt, when I left and went back to my mom. I was ecstatic, abundant with amazement and pride, and my mom cried. It was that day I took control of my life again.

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I wish I could say now that it’s over, I wish I could say ‘and that’s the end.’, but life isn’t like a movie. Unfortunately, we can’t simply design a magnificent, blissful ending; we have to deal with the roller coaster of life.  Sometimes we are handed moments that we long to forget but, a lot of the time we are endowed with moments that make life worth living. I am overjoyed to say that I am the strongest I have been in a long time. I’m beginning to feel like the girl I had forgotten.  Part of me feels like I forgot who I truly was and I am glad I found that again. For so long I’ve lived in fear, in a constant frenzy of anxiety.  Finally, I am starting to see this grievous time in my life, as the past. I’m beginning to see the new journey that lies ahead of me. I’m passionate and enthusiastic again. I feel compelled to celebrate life and enjoy every single moment I’m granted. I’m finally ready to live and I cannot wait. ‘ The coward dies thousand times, the brave only once.’


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