Lately, when I’ve been spouting excuses like “I don’t think I can make it out today”, what I really mean is “I can’t bring myself to leave my bed”.
Every time I’ve told someone “I don’t know why I’m feeling so tired this morning”, what I really wanted to say was “I’ve hardly slept all week because I’m scared of being sick”.
And when I said “I’m sorry, I forgot I already made other plans”, what I meant to tell you was “I have been sat fully dressed, makeup done, shoes on, knees trembling in front of the mirror for an hour, but I am terrified to go outside”.
Tonight I should have been out with my friends, but I am writing this piece from the familiarity of my bed because, although my illness started over five years ago, at 19 years old I am still cancelling plans and avoiding anything and everything.
I appreciate that staying away from scary situations is common for the majority of people, and often very sensible, but as someone who lives with anxiety my idea of ‘scary’ isn’t jumping out of airplanes, it’s people throwing up at parties. To me, the fear that my Twitter peers secretly hate me is way more nerve-wracking than any cult classic horror film. The only thing I have had more nightmares about than The Grudge, was the boy at my school who touched my face when I was 15, because I convinced myself that this germ-ridden stranger could make me terminally ill. To this day I can still feel where his fingers grazed my cheek, despite the fact that in the hours that followed, I cried enough tears to sterilise my whole face, as if he had never even been there.
Then, there is my depression.
Sometimes acting to contradict my anxious tendencies, though often it feels like they are working together to completely debilitate me. As if one kicks me in the gut so the other can push me over.
Because anxious Jenny is too scared to be left alone, but depressed me insists on shutting everyone out. My depression makes me want to sleep all day whilst my anxiety keeps me up all night. I have failed essays and exams, missed college and work-related deadlines all because my depression tells me I am bound to fail anyway, but my anxiety forces me to remain the perfectionist who refuses to ask for help. My depression would then chime in and say I don’t deserve help anyway. Petrified at the thought of losing contact with those I care about, but not making a fuss because I feel I am taking up too much of everyone’s time. My anxiety says that everyone hates me, whilst my depression argues that nobody cares about me enough to form an opinion at all.
In the past five years I have rejected job interviews, award ceremonies, my own school prom, countless parties and “let’s catch up” coffees. I have messed up exams, dropped qualifications, writing jobs, lost friends, given up driving lessons, alcohol and who knows what else.
The reality of it is that when I have to choose between crying all night at some party, or crying all night in my room, I will choose the latter because at least then I don’t have to put makeup on.
At this point, it would be easy for me to quit.
Retire to my bed in defeat (which I definitely still do some days), and give in to the temptation to hate my sick brain. It is hard to keep trying to be brave and look after a part of my body that has ever been sympathetic toward me.
But this brain, the one that cringes at the thought of people-filled spaces, is the same one my partner calls selfless and kind.
It is the one that, despite a tough year academically, managed to secure a place on my dream course at my first choice university.
It is the reason why I have recently become employed, why my two best friends continue to support me regardless of my bad days, and why I am able to write the way that I do.
It is the reason why a friend told me the other day, “you always know what to say to make people feel better”, because whilst I see this mind as a burden, it allows me to help others.
It is responsible for my enthusiasm, my ambition, my empathy, my love for anything literary, and my burning desire to pet every dog I see. In addition to all the bad, everything I love about myself comes from this anxious, depressed, chemically-imbalanced brain of mine.
Right now, I am staying alive by reminding myself that the relationship I have with my sick brain isn’t always going to be rainbows and fluffy unicorns and being a self care goddess. If it was, I wouldn’t be mentally ill. This is my attempt at making my recovery less about a destination and more about progress, acknowledging all of the good and bad things that my brain does for me – whatever it takes to be my best self. If ‘getting better’, whatever that entails, means succumbing to despair and having a day in bed once in a while, then so be it, as long as I try to get up the next day and give it another go.
So, lately, when I say “I think I’m going to have to cancel tonight”, what I want you to understand is that I am currently going through a bit of a rough patch, so please be patient with me. But I promise, I am trying. I really am.
Based in the North East of England, Jenny Elizabeth is an angry bisexual writer, embroidery enthusiast and all round mess-maker. She is currently on a gap year before going to study Linguistics and English Literature at the University of York in 2018.