Living with a monster
Living with a monster is what having to control PTSD feels like to me. It’s an endless cycle of oppressing my demon to prevent all hell breaking loose.
The picture shows my silhouette with a rip through my chest. That’s where I feel all my emotions including love and happiness. This means my fear, depression, anxiety and panic is also stored there.
When I picture PTSD I can physically feel the little monster that’s inside me, to keep it in control I must cage it. My chest is the cage. It can lay docile for weeks yet remind me that it’s still there by poking me with one sharp claw. It feels like a nail inside me about to burst my chest, like the moment before a needle pops a balloon. When I feel my anxiety strengthening my fear increases so I feel the claws scratching me feverishly from the inside, frantically trying to break out of it’s cage so my chest tightens and I use a lot of mental energy to keep in control.
“Keep going Anna, do not let hell break free”.
Sometimes I’m lucky and the creature subsides. Other times I fight so desperately for fear of loosing control. I know how it feels to have a panic attack and I am afraid. I know how it feels to loose my mind and I am afraid. I have come so far yet sometimes I come so close to loosing myself again.
The monster knows when you think you’ve won and lies in wait to prove you wrong. (That rhymed, haha!)
Why am I telling you this?
Last week I posted this photo on the blog’s Instagram:
I had truly not had any anxiety for several weeks and having realised it I was happy and wanted to share my success, I was winning. But having a mental illness is not so easy, as they say, what comes up must come down. Since then my demon has taken the opportunity to remind me it’s still there so I’ve been struggling with persistent derealisation for the last week which started off subtle but has gradually grown stronger.
The last few days I’ve been in a national park called Bako in Malaysia. It’s a beautiful wild jungle with lots of wildlife and I really enjoyed being there, I love Malaysian Borneo already! We went trekking which was tiring and the whole time I was feeling a bit off thanks to derealisation, the accommodation was gross as well so I didn’t get much sleep. The following morning I still didn’t feel like myself and whilst we were walking (not strenuously) I started to see things. I kept going and kept myself as mentally strong as I could until all of a sudden the trees around me twisted and turned upside down. I couldn’t walk. I felt so dizzy from the illusion I thought I was going to throw up. I had to sit down to breathe, gain some stability, and use all my strength to keep the monster from breaking free and controlling me.
“Do not loose yourself here Anna. It’s ok, you are safe,
remember you are safe. Do not panic“.
This was an extreme case, in fact this is the first time I’ve experienced objects moving upside down. Normally they move side to side, change shape and sometimes colour yet are flat and two dimensional. Fortunately the girls I was with were very caring and patient, they sat with me until I could stand and walked me back. I seem to have been very lucky on my travels to have met kind people, in fact I’m coming to the conclusion that backpackers in general, especially solo travellers, are all very open minded and understanding. Yay for me!
From this you can see that having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental battle which you feel very physically, where anxiety, panic, depression and fear can all manifest into a monster that plots to control you. I still don’t feel quite right after that experience which was a couple days ago but I’ve had four years of practice so as frightened as I am, I know I’ll be fine.
It’s important for me to show the highs and lows of a mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, just because I’ve had a tough couple of days doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my trip to Bako National Park and I am having the time of my life on my travels. Dealing with the woes of PTSD alone is just part of it.
The monster is a metaphor but it feels very real to me, claws and all, no doubt other mental illness sufferers can relate. I think it’s important to teach those who are lucky enough to have never had a mental illness how difficult it can be to keep in control and how draining it is to fight against something inside you. It does not simply go away if I’m having the time of my life and it does not only appear when I’m feeling sad. After four years of therapy and learning I can recover quicker but I still can’t make it go away quickly, this is going to be a lifelong struggle and it’s an unfair, cruel illness which I would never wish on my worst enemy.
I am still really enjoying myself. I’m actually very pleased that I managed to pull myself through that experience despite being in the jungle. I knew something like this was bound to happen at some point on my travels and the girls I was with told me how impressed they were with my self control and composure.
When I return home next month I will be better, stronger and fiercer for it. The more the monster appears the more practice I get and the more I can kick ass.
Let’s keep fighting the stigma against mental illness! Openness is key even if it is just one blog post at a time. Please share this post and follow me for more.