Mental Health

The Squashed Snail That Lost It’s Shell

Anxiety tells us a different story about the world around us and it makes everything feel scary and unsafe. A bird is as loud as a truck and the traffic lights are as bright as the sun. It’s daunting and exhausting and it feels like there is no space to escape. 

Anxiety can hit you anywhere. Anxiety is cool like that. It creeps up on you like a jerk in a dark alleyway, jumping on your back and taking control of your life. It’s violating and unpleasant and very hard to kick in the balls. It follows you everywhere and you feel paranoid that you’re the only one that’s worried about it.

You hide in a waiting room full of tiny trees and old magazines and perfectly aligned Ikea chairs and it makes you feel trapped. You want to throw one of those stupid chairs out the window and then lie down in a puddle of tears. And then flee. And run and run and run and hide. Anxiety can be a bit melodramatic like that.

And then there’s social anxiety, an upgrade of sorts, if one was inclined to be so positive. It is completely incompatible with normal human existence. The thought of leaving your apartment has you so tormented that you basically give in to the idea you will be a hermit for the rest of your life. IT’S OK, you reassure yourself, WE HAVE DELIVEROO NOW. But then you get scared of random people turning up to your house and everything turns into a giant, circular, maddening mess and you retreat as far as possible into your shell until you can see nothing but darkness.

Soothing, quiet darkness.

Lonely, terrifying darkness.

Nobody there but you and your thoughts.

Just where you wanted to be…

Until you realise you are entirely alone with your asshole inner critic.

You want to stare that bastard down but you are so tired of fighting him that you just don’t have the energy. And you are so god damned scared that if you look right at him, he will look right back. He’ll stare straight into your soul and use his laser vision to drop your facade and show the world how much of a shit person you really are.

He leaves you feeling too open, too exposed. You panic. You feel so vulnerable that even if if you walked around in a sleeping bag with a paper bag over your head you would still feel more naked than Kim K.

While you fret about your bared soul, the voice of your inner critic becomes overpowering. Like too much coriander or pineapple on a pizza, he spoils everything. You’re too scared to run back out into the open so you shrink like a snail back into it’s shell after a nasty child has been poking at your eyes. Blinded and afraid, anxiety crushes you carelessly into the pavement with the loud, incomprehensible words of a passer by asking you if you are OK.

When you open your little eyes, you realise you’re squashed flat as a flounder and you’ve lost you’re shell. The brightness strikes you as if you’ve been living in that shell for 20 years and the world feels different, unfamiliar. You feel insecure and out of place, like a mushroom in an ocean of gummy bears. Normal life is an island that you have drifted away from and you have no freaking clue how to get back there.

The sound of laughing and playing and being normal drift through the wind and taunt you mercilessly. You’re a squashed snail that lost it’s shell and you’re tapping your figurative feet together furiously chanting…

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Until a purple pelican appears, scoops you up and delivers you right back into the eye of that tornado. The one you just escaped while wishing desperately to be a part of it again. And you try to do the normal things and do A+ humaning, but you’re just a squashed snail that lost it’s shell and been rescued from a gummy bear ocean by a purple pelican.

Surely, you think, there is only so much one can take. AM I LOSING MY FREAKING MIND??

Suddenly, like a fog lifting, you start to notice that there are other squashed snails that lost their shells, whirling around in the storm with you. You reach out your hand to catch one and notice that when other squashed snails that lost their shells look at you, they don’t quite see right into your soul. They see you with your shell on because you were wearing it the whole damn time. And instead of speaking pounding words that crush you into the pavement, the other squashed snails that lost their shells just hold your hand and ride out the storm.

After the storm settles, the purple pelican stops circling to land on the pavement beside you. As the pelican disappears, you suddenly feel whole again, because the purple pelican was the nice thoughts. The ones that you lost on your way to the dark side, when you were too busy following your inner critic to hear the words of your greatest friend.

And when you hear the words of your greatest friend, they sound comforting and familiar and a lot like your own.

 

Unladylaura

 

A terminal trip around the sun

The last six months of my life, like always, has been pockmarked by many things. But it seems most significantly that the last six months of my life has been powerfully defined by the death of three people. Three pins pulled out of the map of my life, leaving behind little black holes, swirling precariously like an obstacle course on the road to my future. The edges of which nip at my heels as I pass by and I have to avoid getting caught and pulled into the darkness with them.

These are the kinds of phenomena that make me feel like my life has come to a sudden stop and give me vertigo at the halt. They make me feel motion sickness as the world spins too quickly and I desperately try to pull the pace of everyone else’s existence back to my own. I want everyone to put their lives on hold and wait for me to catch up. I’m not ready to move on. I’m not ready for past tense.

They made me think a lot about the fragility of everything around me. Not in the way that anxiety usually has me fretting with the ever persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen at any given moment. But in a way that has me feeling curious about how much more my life has yet to evolve.

One day sooner than I want to think about, my grandparents won’t be around anymore, and the childhood memories I cherish of them will be just that, memories. There will come a time in my life that I won’t be able to turn to my parents and ask them for advice, and will have to relish every piece that they have given to me already.

I might lose a partner or child, a sibling or friend, and I will have to make space to deal with that loss. I will have to face these tragedies with unwilling compassion and understanding. I will have to acknowledge that I can’t control everything.

I will be reminded that there are only certain things I can control, like the way we behave in the here and now. It seems that we never say the things we need to while people are alive. We forget to tell people how much we love and admire and appreciate them, that we value them and they are important to us. We get too busy to make a phone call. Sometimes we’re embarrassed to say so, ashamed of our true feelings.

I think we are also so afraid of death that we can’t accept we need to say these things now, lest they force us to accept that one day we might not have the chance.

Last year I saw my Dad cry for the first time I remember and struggle to tell my brothers and I how proud he was of us. I watched him hurt for the loss of a child and the pain he tried to hold for his wife. I watched my family bottom out and I learned more about my step-sister at her funeral than I ever got to learn in the 21 years that I knew her.

I learned true pain in that experience, but I also watched my family come together and show their love and support, sharing their raw and honest emotions about their loss. I have never felt more connected to them and I am grateful for this but I don’t want to leaves things so unsaid anymore. I want to make time, I want to prioritise love over work and ambitions and moments that aren’t now.

Retrospect is always a bittersweet slice of pie but we can use it to shape the rest of our lives, to make more of an effort to voice our feelings and strengthen our connections while we are still present in this piece of time and space. Sometimes we are not afforded the opportunity to say goodbye, and in that place we have to remember to tell people what they mean to us while we can.

Anxiety and depression tell me that bad things are going to happen and thus there is no point in doing anything good. That I am an intrinsically bad person. That I am worthless and pointless and so buried in the enormity of the universe that nothing I do will matter anyway. But through the raw and painful feelings of grief, I have come to understand that no matter how short or fragile or seemingly pointless life seems sometimes, it is still worthy to appreciate the things that matter to us, no matter who or what they are.

All we have is the here and now, and we have to live in this space because we have no surety in anything else.

Every day, every week, every month, every year, pushes us down different a path. Time forces our hand and makes us face decisions we never thought we would. We can never trick ourselves into thinking, this is it, this is my life now, because we will never know the course that our life will end up taking.

Some people will call this fate but it is just the result of millions of people existing together, with every person in every second causing a butterfly effect on one another.

There isn’t much to be done when people we love leave life as we know it, except try to wear their lives like badges of experience. We can take on the lessons they would have wanted us to learn and give them a little place in our own lives, to foster the values they held the closest and live our lives a little better than before.

Life is complex and dark and beautifully tragic. Every second is a loss of one thing, but it is also the birth of something else. We are all on a terminal trail around the sun and we can do nothing more than grasp every moment we have and make the most of it.

Laura