Always with me
Updated: Sep 9
"At the end of the day the thing I am most afraid of is me."
Story by Sarah Margaret.
Most days I don’t even think about it anymore but it’s always with me, always has been and always will be. I’ve gotten used to managing it or rather hiding it. I’ve tried to create a life with the least amount of triggers possible but there are little things that impact me on a day-to-day basis and then there is the way that anxiety, phobias and other mental health issues have impacted the trajectory of my whole life. The way they’ve affected my self-esteem, my relationships, my family, my job choices and my health and the way mental health subtly continues to dictate a lot of my life. It all began with claustrophobia around the age of ten. I suddenly wouldn’t get into lifts afraid that they might stop and I’d get stuck in a metal box with no windows. Then it was underground car parks, large crowds and the underground train into London. It was London itself – a city with lots of people and lots of high-rise buildings that often required getting into a lift. I love escalators. Whoever made escalators is the best person in the world. I quickly realized on a school trip to London aged thirteen that it was not cool or convenient to have claustrophobia and if only I could avoid all scenarios where I might encounter these things then I would be fine and no-one would know. That was the plan and it was working to an extent until at fifteen my dad suddenly died of a heart attack. Already an avoider of scary emotions, I didn’t handle this very well at all, not many people would. I bottled things up and then encountered a new problem, going red in public… or social anxiety. This was a really fun and not at all embarrassing problem to have as a teenager. It stopped me going out, it stopped me going to school, it often stopped me breathing. This is when I discovered alcohol. Having a drink meant I didn’t care about going red, which meant that I didn’t go red. Before I knew it, alcohol had got me over the hump and I no longer needed to drink. I’d successfully self-medicated my way out of it. Life continued and as a family we did the best we could to deal with my fathers passing. I finished school and went to University in the far North of Scotland where I didn’t have to encounter many lifts or underground trains. I drank, I partied, I made life long friends, I could be Sarah again. No-one here knew that my dad had died, no-one looked at me differently – no-one knew my past. Then on a visit home, at nineteen I experienced a crippling panic attack. I was with a friend going into central London on the underground and she wanted to get off at the Covent Garden stop because it was nearer our intended destination but I knew that that stop was one of the only few in London where you have to get in this huge lift to get up to the surface. Everyone crams in to it – maybe 20-30 people. I wanted to get off at the next one, where like most stations, you just have to walk up the stairs to get to the exit. But she kept saying that I needed to get over this fear, that I was with her and I would be fine, and what will I do when I have a child in tow with a pram? As Covent Garden pulled up she stood up to get off… I felt under pressure and I felt like everyone on the train was watching me asking what will she do? I stood up too, I followed my friend to the waiting lift and then I panicked. She looked at my face – did she finally believe me? We found the stairs and then it’s all a blur of walking up and up as the narrow staircase spiraled around and around and I couldn’t breathe and all I wanted was to see the outside.. to breathe the air. After this event happened a lot of things happened. I went into my second year of university and into more drinking and then I discovered cocaine. Things spiraled and I ended up coming home and living in an almost always state of panic. I hyperventilated all of the time. I couldn’t leave the house. I was literally afraid of everything and my poor family did the best they could to entice me out to see people but it was very stressful for them and me. Rather than tell people that the reason I wasn’t coming out was because of crippling fear, I just didn’t go out. I let a lot of people down in those years. It’s crazy to think now that I’d rather let them believe I was a bad friend, than tell them the truth. I was so ashamed and embarrassed and I think afraid that they would try to help me… because quite often people think they can cure me or that I will be ok if I am with them. I didn’t trust people – perhaps due to my friend and the underground trip. I’ve lost a lot of friends this way I think. I saw counselors – too many to name but I never went onto medication, instead I still used alcohol as my way take the edge off. I ended up back at University despite my debilitating anxiety. I remember sweating as I stood in queues and sitting at the edges of desks, nearest the doors in lectures. I drank, I made friends and I got a boyfriend. Things got better. I told him of my fears, he helped me but then I was always afraid of what would come after university. How would I work in London? I always felt less than because of these things. This story feels long. It feels long and there is still so much further to go and I’ve only touched the surface. I want to skip to the end now. I want to skip over how depressed I would feel that I couldn’t do the normal things that everyone else could do. How it stopped me from going after what I really want in life. How it made me hate myself. How it’s made me hide in the shadows for so long. How it’s affected my family and how I think they view me. How shit I feel that I’ve lost so many friends because at the time they were all bonding in London, I was sitting home alone in my bedroom. I want to skip over how I finally went onto medication. How finally I felt a semblance of normal life and I was able to take my first long haul flight to Canada. How the mood swings calmed down and the thoughts. How for a while, everything was amazing until I started to put on weight and my drinking changed. How suddenly I needed to drink more and more and I lost control. I want to skip over my dark days of cocaine use – my stupid demise. I want to tell you that I live in the mountains now in a small town in Canada. And that I overcame my fears of London and I did my time. That now, my main problems are toilet door locks and not having my bottle of water or not knowing where the exit is. I am back on a small dose of medication and I think I’ve made my peace with that. It takes the edge of the anxiety but it has it’s draw backs. It changes my relationship with alcohol. And so I struggle on, trying not to drink. Trying to take care of myself and manage all of my fears. I think I manage it pretty well now. At the end of the day the thing I am most afraid of is me. There is a quote that says, all mental illness is the avoidance of pain. If that is the case then I am trying to feel it now… finally, in this space that the mountains have provided, away from family, friends, and the past.