‘Did you see his man bag? You don’t get many of them in Omagh. Fabulous taste in clothes.’ – my mum on my psychiatrist
I’d mainly encountered psychiatrists in a professional capacity until this Summer when I got one of my very own, after the proverbial wheels came a bit off and primary care services stepped aside to make way for the big dogs of statutory mental health.
My job at a homeless charity and via my late brother, who battled the dreaded demons for most of his life: these were previously the ways I came to encounter the medical mans and womans characterised so deftly by The Avalanches in their choon Frontier Psychiatrist. A song Niall always described as ‘about him’.
‘Lie down on the couch! What does that mean? You’re a nut! You’re crazy in the coconut!’
In this blog I’ve documented something of my own encounters with heart-pumping anxiety over the last year or so; the encounters and the kind of things I’ve tried to do to tackle them.
I’ve known deep down during this time what my counsellor, a wise fella from Derry called Conor who wears lovely boots, told me in July when I met with him for the first time: that the anxiety and resultant insomnia have been something inside of myself trying to get my attention.
Because I’m a bit Buddhist like that, choosing to receive every emotion and feeling as a wee knock on the door of my consciousness: ‘Hi there, look at me please. Can you just feel me for a minute please, maybe a few minutes actually but the point is I’ll pass. I promise I’ll pass, but only if you give me your time and don’t ignore me. Because I’ll stay until you do give me your time, and by then I’ll probably be bigger and uglier and a bit more of a dick to you since you ignored me all that time.’
I was referred to Zest, the invaluable service Conor and his team provide, after I had a dodgy encounter with a few too many pills in the wee hours of a morning when the nighttime insomnia, daytime abyss and incessant negative thoughts completely took me over. I just wanted to sleep. Sleep for a very long time. And I didn’t care if I died; on some level I obviously welcomed it (story for another time).
Conor reckoned from the off that one of my big issues is unprocessed grief, and not even specifically about my older brother’s death, just the general grief of being human.
In our first session he instructed me to look up a guy called Gabor Maté, who’s shit-hot on trauma and mind-body health, then stated matter of factly that we’re all discouraged from expressing our emotions as children and that’s basically why we’re all fucked.
But that’s not to say there’s no hope. There is, and I’ve come to realise that we probably all reach the point at some stage where that’s all we might have, and whether we hold on to it or not might mean the difference between life and death.
What came home to roost for me in recent weeks was the rather substantial Depression lurking underneath my Anxiety. The dirty, sly bastard disguised itself with the racing mind and wide-awake nights so I’d be distracted from the underlying sense of nothingness and self-hatred I thought I’d put to bed years ago when I left home and first set out to really get to know myself. (‘I do yoga and voodoo breathing exercises every morning! How can this be happening to me??’)
I’ve learnt that by definition, as humans, we have a crisis every so often when it’s time to have a look at ourselves and most likely tweak a thing or two. Maybe a job, or a relationship, or a habit. What’s going on for one person might be what you dealt with eons ago, or it might be something lurking on the horizon that you as yet know nothing about.
An important aspect of evolution I feel I now appreciate very well is that the gooder the good road is that we’re on, the badder the bad stuff may well appear. Because we can take it. (It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo…)
‘I am lost. I am empty. I am nothing. I’ve fucked up my life, I need to go back and start again. I’m going where my brother went, it’s just a matter of time but why is it taking so long, why am I being tortured?’
Those are some of the energy-sapping thoughts that have swirled round my mind like a shitty carousel these past weeks, shutting me down because there are no words when you can’t tell people what they want to hear and therefore you say not a lot.
What floored me particularly this time around were the physical symptoms: the foggy head, the weak limbs, the bats in my chest, the dizziness of the absolute, all-encompassing, simultaneous sense of terror and pointlessness.
And these are some of the tastier sentiments from people in my life that have helped:
‘This will pass. This will pass. Everything passes.’
‘I’m here. Don’t forget I’m here. Call me if you need to.’
‘When you say you’re empty and have no purpose, that’s the Depression and Anxiety talking, not you.’
‘Do not let yourself be beaten by this. There is always a way back.’
‘I know you can come out of this and see things differently. You just need time, rest and to accept help from everyone who cares about you.’
‘Thanks for replying to my message, I know it’s not an easy thing to do when you feel how you feel.’
‘Come for a walk with me if you’re up to it.’
‘Come for a swim with me if you’re up to it.’
‘Let’s go for a drive.’
‘Drink this smoothie.’
‘Thank you for being able to say that to me. I wouldn’t like to think you couldn’t say something for fear of how I might take it.’
‘You are a beautiful being of light.’
‘I’ve a song I really want to play for you when I see you.’
‘You are a really important person in my life and in the world.’
‘You are in my prayers. Every night before I go to sleep I send you strength.’
‘Find your tools.’
‘I’m not going to ask you how you are anymore, just gonna send you random messages about unimportant/possibly amusing things to touch base and let you know I’m here.’
‘You’re in a process of significant transformation. Hang in the process of movement until I see you next week.’
‘You are lost now but I’m confident this is temporary and we will look back at this time in a few years as the time that you figured things out – who you are and how you want to spend your life.’
‘Stay in your body. Try to witness your thoughts, Buddha-style. Surrender to your mind that wants you so bad to just watch how it works – like a child wanting attention. Give in.’
‘All this will make you stronger in ways you don’t even realise.’
‘There might be no words. But, there is always love. You, Joanne McCabe, are loved fiercely.’
Doris. Doris helped:
Other helpful things:
- Drugs from my friend the psychiatrist, then other drugs when my mind stopped the first ones from working cos it put up a fiercer resistance than that army from the future in Terminator
- Practising gratitude, trying as hard as I can to say ‘thank you’ for what I *do* have
- Trying to be patient, to make friends with time. Every fucking day (and night), over and over again
- Porridge with voodoo seeds in it
- Vitamin B3
- Being in contact with nature
- Being around children (not in a paedo way)
- Drawing/colouring in like we do when we’re wee
- Energy healing
‘Be insecure in peace. Allow yourself lowness. Know that it is only a country on the way to who you are.’ Nayyirah Waheed
This is the number of Lifeline, a helpful service in Northern Ireland to speak to if you feel triggered by anything you have just read and/or need immediate help: 0808 808 8000 Further resources can be found by clicking here x