Make Life Worth Living #MLWL is a campaign whose is goal is to explore and spark conversation about issues concerning mental health, through art.
I knew my problem was way bigger than I had previously made it out to be when my then boyfriend told me that I constantly had panic attacks during my sleep. An unconscious Thoko would frantically search for and hold on to my boyfriend’s limbs as though I was holding on for dear life, and my calming down after he’d hugged me and told me everything would be okay had perhaps been a soothing reminder that “it was all in my head”. A couple of deep breaths and a conscious happy thought selection session would calm my body down, but my mind was still working overtime, and this time for the fact that my body could have panic attacks without my knowledge, and that the possibility of sharing a bed with another human being could be a near-devastating event for them. God forbid I have sleep paralysis the same night after having a panic attack episode. No really, God should forbid that.
I have what is defined as high-functioning anxiety. In the simplest and most practical terms, what this means is that I can have what others would describe as a perfect day while having the worst mental breakdowns in my head without it showing outwardly. Yes, people with high-functioning anxiety are the kings and queens of masking their emotions and using the literal high-functioning (i.e over-analyzing, over thinking, detail-oriented) part of their anxiety as a drive for making things happen. Their anxiety is the very thing that pushes them to do things because “what if I don’t succeed at this and I end up a failure for the rest of my life” and the anxiety attack begins. With that in mind, a lot of people with this condition tend to be perfectionists, hard workers (who tend to overwork themselves into burnout), insomniacs, borderline OCD, worriers, indecisive and the list goes on. On the flip side, they are people who seem to be above average insofar as societal rules and expectations are concerned – good grades, amazing job, great family life – you name it.
On the not-so-sunny side of life, high functioning anxiety is not a recognized mental health diagnosis but is rather used as a general/ encompassing term for people living with anxiety but are able to function or get on pretty well with their lives. In extreme cases where a person’s high-functioning anxiety is recognized by a doctor as an actual chronic problem or issue, it has morphed into toxic behaviors such as substance and alcohol abuse, or into other (related) mental illnesses such as depression and other anxiety disorders such as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) or phobias, to name a few.
As is the case with many anxiety disorders, the difficulty to diagnose high-functioning anxiety as an illness stems from most of its symptoms or manifestations easily passing off as behavioral characteristics such as controlling, procrastination, irritability, short-temperdness, impatience, indecisiveness, introvertedness, hypersensitivity, paranoia, or even plain old nervousness.
A day for me consists of a thousand wars where I try to keep my thoughts in check. I sometimes wish it were so, but my life hasn’t been made better by the myriads of people that think it’s that. Having to think about almost every action is exhausting and my brain has the worst end of the stick. If I had a choice, I’d switch off that voice (or whatever the hell it is) that tells me that I’m not walking right, chewing right, that I’m talking too loud or too off-tonish, my pants are torn which is why the guy stared at my butt, my hair bun is 5 centimeters off the middle and falling to the left and that the world probably just stands me and wouldn’t notice if I disappeared. I do not fancy the fact that my thoughts tend to deviate to what could go wrong than what could go right, and that I cancel plans and stay in more often than I’d like to because the comfort of being in my own company grants me the peace of mind and care free space that I desperately wish I’d carry with me everywhere. I lose my mind when I find myself in situations where I can not control things and I have a problem disassociating myself with other people’s actions because “what if so and so did this because of that thing I said?”
Anxiety is not a “white people problem”, “nervousness” or “overthinking”. It is something that I and many other people out there live with on a daily basis, with some days better than others, knowing full well that we can never be completely healed from this. I need to heal parts of me that eat at my sanity every chance I get.
I am a flower. Well, not literally, duh. But those pretty little things make me realize that nothing in nature blooms all year through and that I shouldn’t expect myself to either. The downs, like the ups, are part of what make life what it is – and it is a beautiful red rose that smells amazing and looks it too, but when you smell it for too long it..just..isn’t..it anymore. No really, roses stink sometimes, but I’d still have them for my birthday that is coming later on this month.
Love and peace.
Author: Thoko Kadewere is a Creative Professional who’s bent towards Freelance Writing. Her rates are amazing, but not half as good as her talent. You can email her for enquiries at email@example.com