Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Confronting a Mental Disorder

Burn #210 by David Nadel
It is quite difficult to bluntly admit one's weakness, to lay bare one's closely-guarded, mangled pieces without excuse or explanation, without mounting some defense or plea of extenuating circumstances. Easier to lay charge on some environment factor, to impugn some abtruse agent-- school, work, weddings... or perhaps to construct some detailed analysis of the influencing factors. If this, this, and that coincide, then this failing is the inevitable result. Such constructions lead to false hopes: once this is done, all will be well and normal again; if we just make it till Christmas, till graduation, till the 5th of March, this won't bother us anymore. 

But the circumstances change, the deadlines of change come and go, those influencing agents mysteriously fade away, and the gaping wound remains, unhealed, unchanged. More explanations can be sought, perhaps even convincingly found, but the facade begins to slip, paint peeling, frame sagging. Those willing to look will see the straining timbers beneath the plaster and cheerful signs. Much longer and down it falls.

The honesty begins with oneself, for the excuses, though to them told, are not so much made for the others. Acceptance of these flaws is often feigned but rarely carried to full term. It's the schedule or the assignment, the sheer number of demands or the short time in which they must be done- it must be. A change of scenery would cure it, but since there is so much to be done here now we must grit our teeth and suffer through. It's easier to believe this than to grapple with the fundamental shift required to cope with a permanent impediment. 

Mental disorder is a term quite apt for application to anxiety and panic. One's thoughts are constantly asunder-- leaping from thought to thought and task to task propelled with an impending sense of doom. The inability to stop the mind leads to flurries of business, the harnessing of thoughts for productive activity or their preoccupation with stories and news of the day, for at the moment they are left to their own devices comes the overwhelming wave of dread, the paralyzing sense of failure, the seemingly prescient clarity that nothing will end well. These thoughts, if captured, are easily dismissed as irrational, but the feelings are not, nor the physiological response they provoke. The clenched jaw, the racing heart, the perspiring palms and quickening breath, the trembling frame, weighted chest, sudden faintness all spell fear, choking, inescapable fear. At the surface these fears bear names: the deadline-missing-fear, the offending-fear, the being-mistaken-fear. But at their heart something unnameable lies, no matter how often one tries to conjure it into words in the middle of the night. And after the weddings and paper deadlines, the moves and illnesses, the self-imposed deadlines, the thing remains, evidencing its persistence and forcing a new reckoning with the frustration and shame of admission that one cannot control one's own mind and hasn't the slightest idea how to change that. 

The last few weeks have been full of projects, opportunities, exciting news, nasty flu, tasks checked off and more tasks to do, and they have brought with them the difficult realization that I have once again underestimated my anxiety disorder. My deadlines have passed, and the terror remains, whether the week is busy or calm, whether the deadlines are short or long, whether the project is going poorly or splendidly. It feels like a continual drowning: treading water on the good days, flailing and gasping on others, whittling away at the last shreds of patience, stealing any sense of hope or calm, wearing on the ability to function reasonably, trapping me in my own thoughts, unable to claw my way out of a perpetual state of semi-isolation. The feeling of having little to know control over one's thoughts leads to perpetual frustration and exhaustion.  And at this point it is difficult to know how to cope with this unwanted companion. I know the practical steps: the breathing, the centering, the reframing; but such small tools seem vastly inadequate in the shadow of the monolith that towers above me, like spoons in a  sinking ocean-liner. Still something else whispers that this is all in my head while another suggests that I am not trying hard enough. Another points out that hearing voices, metaphorical or not, is evidence enough for a lack of sanity. I wonder sometimes if turning toward pharmaceutical solutions would be a wise choice or a cop-out. The winning feeling seems to be paralysis. 

Yet even with the realization of these last few weeks come comforts, most of all that even in this we have begun a marriage. In all honesty, it probably took a marriage to provoke the final blunt admission that things are wrong and cannot easily be righted. And though my anxieties wear on him-- the volatility, the crises, the moments of despair-- he says that he knew what he was getting into and that this does not change his love. Together we'll struggle through and find something that helps. It's by no means easy, but it is incredibly reassuring to not be alone. 

Part of the practical reality of the moment means that I'm not sure how much I'll be writing at the moment. I'm beginning to learn that I need to give myself grace, and, with a house still half in boxes and a number of key school projects and important interviews coming up, I'm finding it necessary to carefully conserve my time and energy. I'm not sure how long this process of managing this anxiety will take or what it will look like, but I know it needs to happen now. And so I start and hope for the best. 

1 comment:

  1. Kara - I know you posted this awhile ago but I just happened to stumble across your blog! You have a beautiful heart and I LOVE your honesty and transparency... I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks earlier this year while having health issues - it sucks! prayers for you two as you live life together... I pray for continued strength and peace that passes all understanding :) Feeling trapped and subject to one's mind and irrational thoughts makes functioning nearly impossible at times and results in extreme isolation/loneliness I am so thankful that you also have a wonderful husband! :) it's not easy in fact I felt so hopeless at times... It was really hard for me to accept that I (a nurse) required anti-anxiety and anti-depressants meds for a time to just be... God is so good though! Anyways sorry for the novel of a comment but you and Nate are dear friends and we wish the best for you as you start out your new job!


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