I couldn't calm my mind, It was spinning out of control. I was thinking about everything and nothing.
I didn't know I was having a panic attack. My system had been teetering on the edge for days. The attack itself not wildly more violent than the anxiety of everyday life. I was always on the precipice, every breath felt like panic. My girlfriend rested her hand on my back - the panic just increased.
I didn't want to enter the emergency psychology centre. But I had to do something! I wasn't ok. I was crumbling. I could barely stand, my knees clattered and each breath was like lifting a boulder with my chest. I wished for rest, just a moment to recover from the pain of breathing. Instead, the weight grew heavier and the breaths quicker.
It was an old federation building – the layout awkward, based off the existing house. An old bedroom wall in the centre had been punched through to provide space for a sliding glass widow. Thus, the adjacent living room became a passable waiting-room and the bedroom, a service desk and office. The house was surrounded by tall, ominous, deciduous trees, stark in their winter form. Stereotypical in every sense. Not clinical but also not comfortable.
As a kid, I'd imagined I'd grow into a strong, loving and capable man. Instead, I was 25-years-old and my girlfriend (whom I battled to muster affection for amongst the chaos consuming my mind) led me as a shaking mess to a small plastic seat in the living/waiting room. Then, she approached the service desk for me.
Shame, sadness, disappointment, fear, loneliness, weakness and guilt festered inside me. Mixed together like they'd all been thrown in a blender. No longer distinguishable as individual emotions. Just one giant, consuming mess! I noticed the gaudy mental health posters and cliché motivational slogans plastered on the wall – frustration was thrown into the mix. "Timothy Guy - the psychologist will see you now".
Although I didn't want to live, I had no plans for suicide, I had no plans for anything! So, I was not admitted to hospital. It was suggested I return to my normal GP to reassess my medication and therapy. It resulted in a boosted number of sessions with my psychologist and a hunt for a new and more appropriate medication.
In order to begin a new medication, I first had to wean off my old one. The reduction resulting in weeks of feeling "off" - nauseous, lightheaded, churning guts, fatigue, aching muscles and a foggy mind. The reduction process was done in periodised steps. Just like with physical training, the body needs to adapt to the new level of stress. I couldn't just go cold turkey. Rather, I decreased in two or three steps over the course of a number of weeks. Once totally off, I had to wait an additional few weeks before I trialled a new one. This time, it took me two goes to find something that helped. The first had me feeling like an astronaut without a helmet - my head wanted to explode. And, I was so tired, I spent the days challenging myself to keep both eyes open at once.
These months were hell – I’ve lived more years in this state than I care to remember – still, I took myself to work as a High School teacher every day. I rode my bike to school, locked it a storeroom and nervously entered the staffroom. My colleagues were great, there was no reason to be anxious of our interactions. None-the-less, I was petrified. And every morning I had to bolster the courage just to open the damn staffroom door!
My relationship didn't last and not because of the lack of patience from my then girlfriend. Rather, it was because I could not settle, nothing felt right, nowhere held peace and it wore at me day in, day out. I couldn't be the kind of partner I wanted to be. I felt distant from life, which meant distant from everyone in it. We had both grown up in strong Christian backgrounds, so sexual intimacy was not part of our relationship, nor had it ever been part of my life. This added additional stress. I felt limited desire for anything. Would I marry and have no interest in sex ever? Was it the relationship? Was it my upbringing? Was it the medication? A combination? I wanted to explore and figure it out. I wanted to feel alive, to feel passion. I felt ripped off that I’d never allowed myself to experience it when I was younger. That i had spent years never knowing if a real connection would ever be possible. Was that wrong? was I selfish? I felt guilty for wanting desire, guilty if I did feel it, shamed if I didn’t. I felt lost and alone. I didn't want to be in a relationship and feel lost and alone. But, maybe I’d always feel lost and alone. Maybe it was better to feel lost and alone with someone than actually be alone. Then again, maybe it was better to feel lost and alone and actually be alone than to feel it when you were not. No – I couldn’t handle it.
I’ve been single since – I’ve gone on dates, I’ve had fun, respectful experiences, but my world has still remained lonely. I've felt intense guilt for any pleasure I have felt and simultaneous disappointment that I could not experience more. Wishing it wasn’t so obviously blunted.
Finding life amongst all this is hard, it’s confusing and it hurts like hell. Sometimes, it’s like I’m still sitting in that waiting room. Hoping someone will say “good news - life has agreed to finally open its doors to you, it was all worthwhile, you are more than you were and you can thrive." That of course, is not life. Instead, I’ve tried to face the hardest things I can, I’ve tried to allow things I’d hoped would be more to be just as they are.
Sometimes, I look back and am proud, sometimes I see where I’ve come and say to myself “You are so much more than you ever were, or could have expected to be. Despite the loneliness, you've done well, don’t stop, there is more yet to do”.