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Now I will be honest and say straight off the bat that I actually haven’t been bungee jumping. But then again Im pretty sure every doctor hasn’t had cancer, but they have a pretty good idea of what is going on there. One thing I have had a lot of however, is anxiety.
Anxiety is a general term for a collection of things such as feeling panicked, nervous and frightened. I suppose most people could grasp why life would be difficult under those conditions, especially if they were to feel them constantly. But what does it actually feel like? whilst a lot of people experience mild anxiety regularly, such as before presentations, asking out a boy/girl, job interview etc. These are all in logical situations. You want the presentation to go well, you want the boy/girl to say yes and you want to get the job. Of course you would worry about these things, the flip side to these things not working out are not pleasant. Mild anxiety in these instances can even be helpful, it makes you more alert and more energetic. In fact I remember reading that girls in school who were more anxious had better grades because they were more conscious of the negative consequences of bad grades.
Those are all the benefits of mild anxiety, however that is not an illness. Just in the same that being sad is not depression. Its the extremes which are where the illness comes into play.
I have had feelings of extreme anxiety for around 15 years, however, I would say that for the vast majority of that time I had absolutely no idea what those feelings were. I suspect given the absolutely diabolical level of mental health education most people have no idea either.
Your name is called and you walk forward, you daren’t look down and you can barely hear the guy going through the instructions. You have pretty much figured out the basics already – jump off the edge and cross your fingers.
And you’re up, called forward. Its your turn. Oof. The fear, the panic, the nerves and tension hit you like a train. Your body is buzzing with adrenaline, your mind is clear but racing at the same time. Your brain is so alert and directing its attention in so many areas you barely have the brain power to string a sentence together. You’re consciously trying to remember how to walk and talk. There is no personality anymore, its entirely consumed by the situation. You couldn’t entertain a dinner party or go on a date, you would even find it difficult to function alone in a state like that.
Yet that is the state. That is extreme anxiety. That is an extreme situation, its logical. You’re about to jump off something extremely high with a relative thin rope attached to your feet. Of course your body is screaming, your mind has been wired for billions of years to tell you this is not right.
The reality for people with anxiety based mental illness is that there is no edge to jump from, no rope there is nothing. This is just they feel like every day. Its what I experience almost every day.
It is the reason I cancel at the last minute, the reason I am ‘injured’ or ‘sick’. It is the reason I tend to spend time alone as opposed to around people. Its why you notice me go quiet when we are out and its the reason I push you all away. I cannot function, its all I can do to walk and almost talk. It is an illness and an all consuming one. But I cannot tell anyone because I look absolutely fine, its not socially acceptable yet. People say I just like my own company, or that I am flakey but just like you and the Bungee, everything, and I mean everything, in my body is telling me to walk away. And I do. A lot.
Anyone who hasn’t experienced this will be telling me and others that they didn’t walk away and they could walk forward, and they could do the Bungee Jump. Many people do, in fact almost everyone who tries a bungee succeeds and they’re hit with a moment of euphoria. Endorphins and emotions flood the brain. They want it again. I imagine.
And I can only imagine, because extreme anxiety doesn’t give way to euphoria. You don’t get a sense of accomplishment from being able to chat to a friend or leave the house. These are things billions of people can do every day without even thinking. I don’t feel euphoric, I feel dejected that I cannot do normal things. And that, is why anxiety and depression are so intrinsically linked.