Paranoia

My previous posts in this little series (Depression, Panic, Anxiety, Anorexia and OCD) all contain elements of personal experience. I did a little research along the way, but, for the most part, these are very personal accounts of how these disorders can manifest themselves within an individual.

This post, however, is a little different. I have experienced mild feelings of paranoia as a symptom of anxiety, but I have no personal experience with the disorders most closely linked to paranoia. I’ve done research on http://www.mind.org.uk to try and gain as much of an understanding as I possibly can without experiencing these conditions firsthand. This post is simply a product of curiosity, research and a creative university assignment.


Paranoia is the groping of a dozen hands. They rip my clothes from my body and tear through my skin. They gouge through my flesh with their fingernails, exposing my every thought and desire.

I know they’re watching me. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known. They’re everywhere I go now. I saw one, just this morning. I was waiting in line for my coffee when I saw her. The teenage girl behind the counter, with thick black liner and a nose ring, and dark roots giving away her natural colour. The dark bags under her eyes highlighted the bored look on her face, and her gaze always landed back on the clock on the far wall. She took my order and asked for my name. I couldn’t let her know that I know. I had to ignore my rapid heartbeat; trembling fingers; laboured breaths. If I gave her a fake name would it give me away? They can’t know that I know, so I gave my real name. I walked to the opposite end of the counter and waited for my drink. I looked at every face in the café, trying to work out who I could trust. There was a man, maybe in his early thirties, that kept glancing in my direction. He wore a shirt and tie with the sleeves rolled up. Smart yet casual. We made eye contact, and he smiled. Could I trust this man? He looked away and took his phone from his trouser pocket, his fingers moving quickly across the screen. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The corners of my vision began to blur and all I could focus on was the phone in his hand. Who was he texting? I frantically looked from customer to customer, desperately searching for answers. A young woman sat alone, shredding a napkin with her fingers. Her gaze alternated between her phone, resting on the table next to a mug of coffee, and the door. Her phone screen lit up with an incoming message. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The man was texting her. They were talking about me.

My name was called. It was the teenage girl again. I looked from person to person; from the teenage girl, to the smart yet casual man, to the young woman that sat alone. They were working together. I couldn’t let them know that I know, so I reached out with a quivering hand and accepted the drink. The teenage girl told me to have a good day.

I was back on the street when I realised. The teenage girl told me to have a good day. Did she know something? Was something going to happen today? I glanced at the takeaway cup in my hand. She must have put something in my drink. I didn’t see her make it. It’s the only plausible explanation for the glances, the texting, her asking for my name. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths.

I binned the drink without taking a sip. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Finding My Place On The Shelf

Have you ever walked into a room and felt off? You can’t put your finger on it, but something is different. Maybe something has moved; a vase two centimetres to the left, or the TV remote from the armchair to the mantel. You can’t pinpoint what exactly, but something feels out of place. Even as you sit down to watch the television or read a book, your eye can’t help but flit from corner to corner, endlessly searching for the offending object so you can put it right.

That’s what depression feels like to me. Controlled by medication, but always there in the back of my mind. I manage to carry out daily routines, but at the end of the day the misplaced vase becomes my focus once again. I feel out of place, but I can’t explain why.

I no longer have the crippling sadness that depression brought me before the medication. Before the medication, and for some time after, I struggled to get out of bed. I didn’t want to shower, and I rarely washed my hair. Did anyone care what I looked like? I certainly didn’t.

Now my depression manifests itself through a feeling of emptiness. Instead of feeling sadness, I don’t feel very much at all.

Are those my only options? Crippling sadness or emptiness?

I would love an explanation. I would love to push myself two centimetres to the right, back to my original place on the shelf.


I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced something similar while trying to tackle their depression. Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

Anxiety

Anxiety is nausea. It’s a churning in the pit of my stomach. A tingling sensation seeps across my fingertips and through my toes. They are completely numb. I take slow, deep breaths, in and out, in and out, trying to calm the urge to vomit. My head pounds with the same rapid rhythm as my heartbeat, and I grit my teeth against the pain. Sweat starts to drip from my pores, coating every inch of my skin in moisture.

Anxiety is chaos. I can’t think straight. Every thought I have is quickly replaced with another; quick flashes of colour, sound, dread. So many thoughts try to fight for my attention. Thick black chords of jumbled words, phrases, memories, and predictions weave themselves around me. Friends making plans without me. Stumbling over words. Injections. Waiting in the airport. Driving too fast along the motorway. Public speaking. Being late for work. Being too early. Forced into awkward conversation with a stranger. Phone calls. Bad things will happen. Self-doubt. Embarrassment. Loathing.

Chaotic thoughts swirl around my brain, and I’m helpless to stop them. I brace myself against the wall in front of me, trying to place enough pressure on my palms to distract me from the onslaught of thoughts. I focus on the pain, and let it ground me in the present.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Panic

Panic is hands in my hair, gripping so tightly my roots ache. It’s the sound of sirens; a sharp pain in my ear that I can’t escape. It’s clutching my head in my hands as everything around me heightens; sharpens. Lights are brighter, clearer, and yet black spots corrupt my vision. I can feel the blade above me, dangling precariously by a thread. Waiting. Anticipating. The knife will drop, and all I can do is wait for the sharp blade to pierce my skin.

Panic is out of my control. Someone else holds the scissors that will cut the thread and release the knife. I beg and plead, over and over, please don’t cut the string. The response is manic laughter, an insane cackle, and the threatening snip, snip, snip of the scissors.

Panic is fight or flight. My lungs burn with need. I need more oxygen, more air, or I have no chance of escaping the blade that threatens to end me. Survival mode is triggered, and every part of my mind, body and soul is fixated on escape.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

I’m So OCD: The Reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I’m an incredibly messy person. I rarely put my clothes away – most items have found a nice home on my bedroom floor. My makeup is regularly strewn all over the house, and my cream carpet is covered in black kohl pencil. I always drop food and drink down the front of my dressing gown (I can’t drink coffee without supervision). I don’t clean out my hairbrush very often. I drop towels on the floor instead of hanging them up. Mess follows me everywhere.

And yet, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Many people think that having OCD means you have to be an obsessive cleaner. Some people say, “I’m so OCD!” just because they like things clean, not realizing that they are using a mental disorder as an adjective, and actually saying, “I’m so obsessive-compulsive disorder!” instead.

My experience, like it is for many people, is all about compulsions; to check locks, close doors, and turn off switches. When I’m about to leave the house, my compulsions kick in full force.

I scan my room to make sure no plugs have been left on, then I go into the bathroom and make sure my taps are off. I focus on the one I haven’t used – obviously – because that’s the one on the left, and I need to focus on the left side of everything to feel balanced. I usually sing or hum and tighten the tap to whatever tune I have in my head at the time. My taps are completely ruined; they are barely attached to the basin.

Once that part of my routine is over and done with, I check the main source of my panic – the sockets under my makeshift dressing table. I rarely use my hair straighteners anymore (in fact, I haven’t even plugged them in for nearing on six months), but this is where I would plug them in if I did use them. I spend minutes staring at the empty sockets until the part of my brain that controls my compulsions accepts that I haven’t left anything plugged in, and that I didn’t have anything plugged in in the first place, and that the house isn’t going to burn down.

I do a final scan of my bedroom, checking everything is just right, then I turn off the light and shut my bedroom door. Most of the time I don’t make it to the top of the stairs before I have to go back and check again. I get such a strong feeling – I feel sick, my stomach sinks and I feel like an invisible force is pushing me back into my bedroom.

Then it’s time to tackle downstairs.

I go into the kitchen to check that I haven’t left the back door unlocked (I probably haven’t unlocked the door that day, but you can never be too careful). I push repeatedly on the fridge and freezer doors, once again waiting for the green light that tells me the doors are firmly shut (using my eyes to see that the doors are shut is simply not enough). I’ll probably check the back door one more time, just in case.

Once I’ve gone through my routine (sometimes going back upstairs to check something, or going to the back door once again), it’s time for my confrontation with the front door. I push down firmly on the door handle, over and over again, repeatedly pushing down with all my weight and force. Sometimes a few seconds is enough. Sometimes the neighbours give me a look because I’ve been stood there for so long. Other than the idea of burning down the house, this is my biggest anxiety. Scenario after scenario race through my mind; flashes of every bad thing that could happen if I left the front door unlocked. Some are justified, some are far-fetched, and some (most, actually) are downright idiotic.

If I’m lucky, the routine ends here. I can walk away and forget about my compulsions. Forget about them, that is, until I get home and have to repeat most of the routine before I go to sleep.

More often than not, however, I have to fight the urge to run back to my house as I’m walking away from it. On more than once occasion I have gone back to check my hair straighteners aren’t plugged in, or to see if I’ve left the iron on, or the check the back door, making myself late for the bus, and waking up an entire new layer of my anxiety.

If I’m ever in charge of locking another door – my sister’s front door, or the cellar door at work – then my obsessive behaviour goes into overdrive. The very idea of accidentally leaving my sister’s door unlocked and risking her possessions or leaving the cellar door at work open and risking thousands of pounds of stock almost drives me to a panic attack. In cases like this I use extra force on the handle, pushing to the point of pain and leaving a red mark across my palm. My sister’s door handle has actually come loose; the metal no longer rests solidly on the wood, and it wobbles with every use.

What caused my compulsions? Is there a cause at all? I never used to have such strong urges to turn off taps or compulsions to check door handles. I sometimes wonder if my dad’s carelessness is to blame. Years of hearing drip, drip, drip because my dad left the bathroom tap running, and years of following him around the house to turn them off. It doesn’t make sense to most people. People who can turn the key and be satisfied that they’ve locked the door, or people who flip a switch and don’t have to stare intently at the wall. It’s difficult to explain or give a reason why (if there’s a reason at all). I’ve tried to explain to my boyfriend, who has been witness to my obsessive behaviour more than most, why I repetitively tap my bedside table (which lives on my left-hand side) with my left hand. I need everything to be focused on my left side or I feel off-balance. I get the same feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as when faced with a lock or a running tap. Is it because I’m right-handed? I’ve often wondered if the constant use of my right hand has made my left feel neglected, and my brain is trying to make up for it.

Depression

Depression is drowning. I open my mouth to scream, yet no sound escapes me. Water floods my lungs and burns my chest. Every cell in my body is screaming at me with the instinctive need to take a breath, but there is nothing to inhale but water. Depression is suffocating. I try and escape, but which direction will bring me to safety? I reach for something, anything, that will pull me out from the water and allow me to breathe. I find nothing. I am surrounded by people, all of them blurred and distorted by water. They call to me, voices muted; muffled. I can’t make out the words. I hope and pray that someone will reach into the water and drag me out, but the weight of the water forces me further and further, deeper and deeper.

Depression is numbing. No motivation. No inspiration. No reason. Simple tasks become mountainous chores, and most tasks are ignored completely. Depression is dirty. I have grease in my hair, and oil on my skin. My bedroom floor is littered with clothes. My room is decorated with half empty glasses and half eaten plates. A pizza crust from a pizza that I can’t remember eating is speckled with green. I sort through my memories, trying to remember, but I can’t. Monday blends into Tuesday, then Wednesday, and I’m still in bed. Time escapes me but still each second carries the weight of an hour. Life is filmed in slow motion. Shackles adorn my wrists and ankles, and the weight of them makes minuscule movements feel impossible. I can’t concentrate enough to remember what I’m supposed to concentrate on.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

What If Mental Illness Could Be Seen?

I used to feel embarrassed whenever I had to address my mental illness. I hid it from my friends until it became unavoidable and I had no choice but to tell them; constant days off school and meetings with teachers started to look suspicious. They were supportive – as supportive as people with no prior experience of mental health conditions can be – and, for the most part, didn’t treat me any differently.

Some people, however, failed to offer me any compassion or understanding.

I’ve encountered people who don’t see mental illness as important – or real. Depression isn’t depression, just sadness. You just need to cheer up. What have you got to be depressed about, anyway? Anxious? Everyone gets anxious. Relax. Pull yourself together.

I’ve encountered people who suddenly thought I was crazy. They would walk on eggshells around me, scared to say the wrong thing in case it triggered a mental breakdown. They would tense at the mere mention of anxiety, searching the room for the nearest exit.

I’ve encountered people – and these are the worst – that thought me pathetic for having panic attacks. They reinforced the stigma around mental illness and validated all the hateful thoughts I had towards myself.

If mental illness could be seen, would people treat it with more respect? If my depression was as visible as a cast on a broken leg, would people still tell me to pull myself together? If those things don’t work on physical conditions, why would they work on mental ones? You’ve got a broken leg? Just put some weight on it and you’ll be fine! Pull yourself together. What do you mean you can’t walk? Pathetic.

Don’t treat me as though I’m weak or fragile, just because I have a mental illness. Be there for me, be supportive, but don’t walk on eggshells. Please don’t judge me because I am experiencing something you don’t understand. Trust me, I judge myself enough. Try to be kind, or simply offer a smile. Your actions matter. Mental illness isn’t contagious, and you won’t catch anxiety just because your friend has it. Give me the space I need but be there for me when I’m ready to close the gap. Don’t offer me simple remedies such as ‘cheer up’ or ‘stop worrying’. Depression isn’t a choice. Anxiety isn’t a choice. Try not to ask for a reason why, because to be completely honest, I don’t know the reason why myself.

Hypnosis

My biggest fear is public speaking. Standing in front of a crowd of people – no matter the number – makes my heart pound. I hyperventilate, sweat, shake; completely fall apart.

For obvious reasons, I avoid any form of public speaking at all costs.

At the beginning of the year, however, I realized my usual tactic of avoiding anxiety-inducing situations was no longer an option. One of my modules at university was assessed via presentation and, unfortunately, there was no escaping it. I had to present.

I was completely distraught. I emailed my tutor immediately, desperate for reassurance. Surely they wouldn’t make me present? Not with my history of mental illness and a doctor’s note to confirm it. After emailing back and forth for weeks, it was decided that I had to at least try and present like everybody else. If that failed – and I insisted that it would – then we’d look at other options.

I decided to try everything possible to try and overcome my phobia. Years of therapy and medication were useless to me as soon as public speaking was involved. Any breathing techniques or coping mechanisms I had developed were meaningless. I felt completely hopeless.

There was one route that I hadn’t really allowed myself to consider. Hypnosis. Immediately I picture a person on stage, counting down from three, snapping their fingers, and sending their volunteers to sleep. I’ve always been incredibly skeptical of this process. I mean, surely the volunteers are faking it? Playing a part just to put on a show.

It’s safe to say, therefore, that when I booked a consultation with a hypnotist to discuss my anxiety, I wasn’t expecting much.

I told her that I was completely skeptical, but after years of panic I was willing to give anything a go. She explained the process to me. There would be no magic tricks or tacky productions; she would simply talk to me and play soothing music until I was in a relaxed state. She was also completely honest with me – hypnosis doesn’t work in every case, but she firmly believed she could help me.

I was totally unprepared for my first session. As I sat in her big brown chair, a total cliche, she told me to stare straight ahead and focus on the wall. Simple enough. She played her soothing music and started speaking to me in a gentle voice. Still good. When she had me close my eyes, however, I was in complete shock. I felt like I was falling deeper and deeper, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I became unaware of my surroundings, and all I could focus on was her voice and the music. The unfamiliarity of the situation caused me to panic and, just for a second, there was a battle between mind and body. One wanted to fight this strange sensation, while the other wanted to fall deeper and deeper into relaxation. It felt like mere minutes, but in reality, I spent over an hour in this trance. I was completely still, and my body felt heavy. Movement felt impossible, and the hypnotic spell she had me under made me never want to move again.

“Think of your happy place and imagine yourself there.”

Memories of Whitby beach flooded my mind, the place where I spent almost every weekend of my childhood. I pictured the dark sea; the water, murky, almost black, is more appealing to me than the crystal-clear water lapping at the sand in Hawaii. I imagined myself barefoot, shoes and socks forgotten behind me as I buried my toes in the sand. I could feel each grain on my skin. The air around me transformed; from the warm, homey scent of the hypnotist’s office to the salty sea breeze of Whitby, and I could feel the gentle wind blowing my hair around my shoulders.

“Who are you with? Picture them in your happy place.”

A lean figure stood at the water’s edge, a Cocker Spaniel at his feet. The dog’s fur, a sleek ebony gloss, was matted with sand, and he would routinely shake his body to rid himself of the sandy second coat.

“Whenever you feel anxious, I want you to visit your happy place.”

Her words became blurred, muffled, as though her voice was travelling through water. I vaguely remembered her words from the consultation; some people listen attentively, some people fade away into a world of their own, and some people simply fall asleep. While I can recall snippets of her hypnotic speech, my relaxed state made it difficult to cling on to her voice with any traction. Eventually, however, her words became clearer as she started to wind down the session, bringing it to a close by slowly counting to three.

“One. I want you to take notice of your surroundings. What can you hear?”

The rumble of a car engine. A door slamming shut. Soft voices muted by distance.

“Two. You are becoming more alert. You are becoming aware of your body. Feel yourself coming back.”

Head slumped to the left. Cheek rested on shoulder. Parted lips. Arms, soft and limp, lay on each side. Hands settled in lap.

Was movement possible now?

“Three. I want you to slowly open your eyes.”

My eyes opened. The room (or maybe it was my eyes, I couldn’t quite tell) was covered in a blanket of grey. I remember trying to blink away the dark tinge to allow my eyes to adjust to the light. She told me that I should take it easy for the rest of the day. I should avoid talking about the session just yet in order to let the hypnosis ‘settle’ in my subconscious.

I left her office in a daze, barely acknowledging my sister who was there to take me home.

Pale Skin, Green Veins

Pale skin. Green veins. Purple shadows. My face.

Stare at the mirror. Plead for change.

Feel the shame. No escape.

Pale skin. Green veins. Purple shadows. My face.

Feel depression’s cold embrace.

Trapped inside a self-built cage.

Pale skin. Green veins. Purple shadows. My face.

Stare at the mirror. Plead for change.

 

Scattered freckles. Brown eyes. Dark lashes. Red smile.

Stare at the mirror. We share a grin.

Take a deep breath. Feel worthwhile.

Scattered freckles. Brown eyes. Dark lashes. Red smile.

Myself and happiness reconcile.

Finally comfortable in my skin.

Scattered freckles. Brown eyes. Dark lashes. Red smile.

Stare at the mirror. We share a grin.

State of Mind

To struggle to catch a breath

to have a mind that never stops

to spend every night worrying about the next day

to spend every morning worrying about the day ahead

to be lost (inside your own head)

to struggle to get out of bed

to struggle to leave the house

to feel unsafe at your safest

to feel a weight pressing down on your chest (that weight is life)

to feel ashamed of your own mind

to be told to cheer up (depression isn’t real, you’re just upset)

to be told to pull yourself together (anxiety isn’t real, stop worrying)

to hide in a toilet for hours because no one will find you in there

to want help but the doctor makes you anxious

to want help but it’s all in your head

to want help but no one believes you

to feel lonely but want to be alone

to think too much

to think too little

to care too much

to care too little

to be scared.


Inspired by “Some People Know” by Rita Ann Higgins.