Scared Stupid: An Author’s Journey With Anxiety
I don’t normally like to post things like this on here since I try to keep everything all bubbly and upbeat… But I’ve been really challenged by something and feel like I need to have a bit of a sharing moment here. So here goes.
Most of you reading this won’t know this, especially if you’ve met my crazy, quirky, friendly self in real life at one bookish event or another, but nearly five years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD that spiralled very quickly into a panic/anxiety disorder. I honestly can’t recall what happened in those first six months afterwards, a time I now refer to as a “black hole” of my life. I still functioned – I went to work, I went to church, I was around people and to all outside appearances, seemed fine. But no joke, I remember times when I’d be standing in front of someone and they’d be talking to me and I’d be so far in my head that I’d watch their lips move and still have no idea what sound was coming out of their mouth, because the ‘noise’ of my anxiety was too loud for me to hear anything else.
Time has a way of helping to ease things, but nearly five years on and I’m still struggling daily with fears. Those fears change – what made me nearly catatonic with anxiety five years ago only causes me slight moments of worry these days, and things that wouldn’t have worried me years ago, can be nearly paralysing today. But that’s just how anxiety works. It’s irrational, unplanned, and most certainly unwanted.
But I’m not here to talk about anxiety in generalised terms. I want to share something more specific that happened to me – something that’s been happening to me.
For over a year now, I’ve been exhausted. I’m not just talking tired, I’m talking mind-shatteringly fatigued. It was around November last year when I started napping in the afternoon almost religiously. And I don’t mean 20-minute power naps – I mean 2-hour events (give or take). True, I definitely wasn’t getting the standard 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but I’ve always worked better at night, so it’s not uncommon for me to be writing until 2am or later. Indeed, for most of this year, 2am has been considered ‘early’ for me. I’ve had many a night where I’ve been typing away until the kookaburras start laughing with dawn hinting on the horizon. 3am, 4am, sometimes even 5am or 6am bedtimes, with perhaps 3, 4, 5, or 6 hours sleep, depending.
Obviously, this was/is not ideal.
But regardless, I was finding that even on the nights that I’d get a full 8 hours (few as they were), I was perhaps even MORE shattered on those days. For example, I got about 4.5 hours sleep last night and today I’ve felt fine, whereas I got 8 hours on Sunday and was exhausted all day.
To get to my point here, I’ve basically been terrified for over a year that something horrible has been wrong with me. Yes, I knew that rationally I probably just needed to get some more sleep. Rationally I probably needed to sort out my work-life balance. Rationally I needed to not be so concerned by things happening in the background that I couldn’t control. There were also about 8 months of book-related stress I went through from about last October until the middle of this year that didn’t help my anxiety or my sleep, either, but again, it wasn’t like I could do anything about these things.
What I could have done was gone to get a blood test. One measly little blood test would have either told me something was wrong, or something wasn’t wrong. Instead, I spent over a year being terrified of ‘what ifs’.
What if I had some horrible disease? What if the blood test told me I only had a few months to live? What if, what if, what-freaking-if.
Granted, my ‘what ifs’ were a little more specific than the vague examples I’ve just given, but you don’t need all the grisly details. My anxiety is mostly health-fixated (as a result of the PTSD that started everything) which means I’m basically OCD when it comes to catastrophising nightmarish medical scenarios. So me being tired for over a year – no, not tired, exhausted – had me certain that the worst must have been true.
But the stupid, stupid, stupid thing, and the reason for this whole blog post, is that I was too afraid to get that one blood test that would have given me an answer either way. That would have either confirmed that I had a reason to be anxious, or that I was wasting my energy fearing shadows because nothing was actually wrong.
And the funny thing (read: not funny) is, six months ago I went and saw my doctor for something unrelated and I mentioned my fatigue (with my heart pounding madly as I did so), and she printed me a form for pathology test then but advised that I wait a few days to have my blood taken so that the results weren’t influenced by the flu I had.
I didn’t wait a few days.
I didn’t even wait a few weeks.
And that’s because I didn’t go back at all.
I convinced myself that maybe I was just tired because I had the flu. (Never mind that I’d been fatigued for over six months by that stage, and the flu was only recent.) I also convinced myself that I’d give it a few weeks and surely, surely I’d be back on top of things. I’d catch some more zzz’s, take some time off, maybe do a food detox, and I’d be right as rain.
I wasn’t right as rain.
I was freaking tired.
It all became worse in August, if that’s even possible, because during that month I wrote the final book in my Akarnae series. That was not only a mental battle, it was also an emotional one. AND a physical one, since my unhealthy sleep hours leading up to that ending became even worse since, when I write, if I’m on a role, I just keep going. The final two weeks of August had me averaging about 3 hours of sleep – each night. Then I’d nap for 2-ish hours in the afternoon if I was lucky, but it’s not the same as interrupted night-time sleep. Indeed, my final writing day of that final book had me writing from 8:30am one morning right up until 6:30am THE NEXT MORNING, stopping only for an hour of walking up a mountain (which is something I do every day, rain, hail or shine, for mental health purposes as well as physical health)… So pretty much 20 hours of solid writing.
And I. Was. Shattered.
… But not straight away, because my brain was also stimulated. Therefore, I was not just awake, I was AWAKE. But I was also TIRED, despite being AWAKE. And that time, the fatigue didn’t go away after a few days of R&R. It lingered. And the worry that had been underlying my whole life for over a year was suddenly not so easy to dismiss. (I should admit here that throughout the entire year, even though I’d “convinced” myself that I just needed more sleep, I never believed it fully. I was always still “certain” that something was wrong.)
Fast forward until this week. On Monday I finally summoned the courage to use the pathology printout my doctor gave me six months ago. It covered everything – a general blood count and health check, plus random things like kidneys, liver, thyroid, iron levels, vitamin B – the whole shebang of things related to fatigue.
I don’t want to skip over what happened next too quickly since, while I know this is already epic in length just to talk about how tired I’ve been, I believe this is important – or it might be to someone who happens to be reading…
I made the decision to go and finally get my blood tested last Friday, and I booked an appointment for first thing Monday morning. But it must be said, I was sick to my stomach all weekend. All. Weekend. And all weekend I tried to talk myself out of it. I was just so freaking scared because I truly believed that I would learn something awful, that one of the terrifying scenarios that I’d already convinced myself as being true would actually be proved true.
Somehow I managed to get myself to the doctor’s surgery on Monday morning. I remember sitting in the pathology room while the woman got all her gear ready, and I was actually visibly trembling. Enough that she asked if I’d never had a blood test before and if I was worried about the needle. I actually laughed and said that was the least of my worries – needles don’t make me anxious, results do.
But one way or another, it was done. My blood was in the vials, the bruise was on my elbow, and there was nothing I could do but wait and see what would eventuate. My fears spiralled a lot over those two days of waiting – again considering horrible scenarios and even wondering how I would fare with potential future treatments for various illness possibilities, while also fearing that if I did have something wrong, that I’d screwed myself over by not getting tested earlier. One whole freaking year – that is a long time where something that started small could have, hypothetically, turned nasty. Prevention is always better than cure, but early diagnosis saves lives, too.
Suffice it to say, I remained sick to my stomach for the majority of the time spent waiting for the results to come in. From about midday the next day (Tuesday), I was glued to my phone, certain I would receive the dreaded call telling me that I needed to book an urgent appointment – an indication that something was horribly wrong. However, no calls came that day – but then again, my doctor had warned that they were busy and likely wouldn’t be able to make calls until Wednesday (48 hours after the actual test).
Then Wednesday arrived.
The thing is, I also had to go back to my doctor on Wednesday afternoon to have a biopsy of a lump on my chin – the main reason I booked Monday’s appointment, actually, to get it checked. (Killing two birds with one stone by making myself get the blood test at the same time.) A lump sounds serious, right? Well, to give you an idea of just how stupid anxiety can be, I was more worried about the blood test results than I was about the biopsy lump. But the problem is, when still no phone calls came through for me, I became certain that because I already had an appointment booked with the doctor, they weren’t bothering to call since I was already organised to go in.
To jump over everything and fast forward through the biopsy here (because, ouch and ick!)… I want to get to the whole point of this blog post.
I’ve suffered from anxiety for nearly five years now, in various ways and forms. For over a year, I’ve been almost paralysed by fear of getting a blood test done, certain that my life would never be the same.
… And now that I have the results back, I can confirm that to be true.
Over a year. Over an entire year of my life, utterly terrified of my ‘what if’ possibilities.
And all of those possibilities…. were just that. Possibilities. Shadows. What ifs.
Because… there’s nothing wrong with me. Absolutely nothing.
My blood tests came back clear. All of them.
And even while carrying out the biopsy, the doctor discovered that the lump is something non-nasty. So even that is all good.
I’m 100% perfect.
Which means that for over a year of my life, I exhausted myself with fear… Literally.
Upon leaving the surgery on Wednesday, my doctor told me to take a holiday. That’s actually what she said – “Try to get some more sleep, and I think you could use a holiday.”
I didn’t know whether to start laughing or crying. I’m still not sure which to do. Laugh from relief, or cry because I was just So. Damn. Stupid.
Can you imagine if I’d gotten the blood test six months ago? Or even a year ago when I started to feel fatigued? I would have saved myself an entire year of fearing something that was never real.
I have a book kind of about my journey but in a YA fictional way that I’ve been dabbling in writing on the side, just pulling it out every now and then when I have the time (ha!), and one of the lines I’ve written in it is this:
“Rational thinking is an inadequate weapon in the war against shadows.”
To sum that up a little more clearly: anxiety sucks. Like, so freaking much. And no amount of knowing how ridiculous my thoughts are helps me to ignore them. They are un-ignorable.
The specific ones mentioned in this post were clamouring for my attention for over a year of my life. And even now after hearing the all clear, it’s like my mind is scrambling to think of the next thing it can throw at me. The next irrational fear for me to fixate on. Because while I wish it weren’t true, there likely will be something. It’s just up to me to try and not to give power to it. It’s up to me to, hopefully, do the smart thing next time, and not wait a year to do something as simple as take a blood test.
So many people are afflicted by anxiety, in so many different ways. So for anyone who is reading this who might have their own struggle with what ifs and shadow wars, I’m not trying to offer you advice or even encourage you (God knows that my own story shows how little I’d be capable of offering anything helpful!)… But what I do want you to know is that you’re not alone on the journey. It sucks – believe me, I know it sucks. But I’m standing with you. And I’m not the only one – because there are lots of us. And when we share our stories, like I’ve done here, we let a little bit of light shine into those shadows, breaking them apart, one by one.
That’s all. I don’t have an end to this, mostly because my journey isn’t over yet. But I wanted to share what’s been happening with me anyway, if only perhaps for the one person out there reading this who really needed to hear it. I hope that, at least in some small way, it might help, even if just to show that you’re not alone. None of us are.
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