Anxiety is a part of me, but not all of me.

I have been terribly ill, bed ridden for the most part of the last week. Illness brought on by the sudden change of seasons here in Sydney. And a night out drinking in the cold and rainy weather… Not terribly smart!

Things slowly settled and I became somewhat functional at least, able to get out of bed and move around – and to be heard! Yes, my voice returned finally as well. Things were looking up.

After four days off I decided it was time to return to work. I was still tired but I was surviving. And whilst people could tell I was ill, I soldiered on.

But then something strange happened…

Whilst I was stood, waiting for our next flight to arrive (I work in passenger services at the airport), something inside changed. In an instant.

As the plane pulled up, I felt a tremendous sense of panic overwhelm me. I felt adrenaline surge through my veins and a cold chill come over my body. My heart rate began to pick up. I became unable to stand still. Simple interactions with others, let alone conversations, now seemed impossibly hard. I wondered if they could sense my panic? But soon concluded this was invisible to everyone accept me.

It became harder to breathe. The bottom of every exhale seemed to begin the process of what felt like my first ever breath. It was like I hadn’t taken a breath in years! This process repeated over and over.

My heart rate and the cold flushes continued. I held my hand up to eye level and noticed the tremor. I threw it down and pretended I didn’t notice. I suddenly felt like I was no longer present in my body. I felt like all of the world’s sounds had been dulled down and the colours drained away from my surrounds. Things seemed to be moving in slow motion, except for my heart. Things were no longer moving in crisp motion. Instead they became blurred and lagged behind the present moment.

It was all very weird. It almost felt dream-like. But this was no dream. If only. Life suddenly felt like a rather pointless endeavour. I felt flooded with regret and a feeling of worthlessness. My aspirational endeavours suddenly felt like they were all in vain. My talent and ability to execute them? What talents and abilities! I began to question everything about myself.

I paused, realising what was happening. I continued in my attempts to fill my lungs with oxygen. I continued to speak and act normally, as normally as I could, with those around me. This was all I could do. I knew what was happening. This was an anxiety attack. I have had many before. There was no trigger. Not this time. Sometimes there isn’t anything specific that sets it off. It just happens.

I finished up work an hour later, still feeling an overwhelming sense of uneasiness. I got in my car and drove home. All I desired at this point was to curl up in bed and fall asleep. I just needed some me time. Some time to recharge. Some time to refocus. I knew this feeling would pass soon enough.

I arrived home and bumped into my housemate. A conversation ensued. We spoke for thirty minutes or more. I can’t remember what we spoke about. But before I knew it, my feeling of anxiety had passed. My heart rate had settled. The adrenaline release had ceased and I began to see value in life and in my dreams once more. Things were back to normal.

As it quickly as it had all begun, it had wound down to a close. The world was a richly colourful and beautiful affair once more.

Anxiety is scary sometimes. It is irrational. It is overwhelming. And it can come and go at any point. It is something with which I have learned to live. And yet it does not define me. And I do not need to be lured into the belief that the thoughts and feelings I have in these attacks are true and accurate. They are not. They are what they are. And as meditation has taught me, I do not need to attach myself to any one of them.

Instead, I am defined by the beliefs and attitudes I decide to be true for myself. These can be anything. And anything that comes and contradicts these deeply woven beliefs is politely – sometimes forcibly – shown the door.

In this I find my power.

Anxiety will likely always play its part in my life. But that’s okay. It has taught me a lot over the years and has equipped me with many skills and perspectives for which I am very grateful.

We all have our struggles. And this is just one of mine.

PJ.

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What motivates me to keep going?

Around this time two years ago I stood up in 41 degree heat and delivered my story of anxiety and depression to an audience of ~100 at a Lions Club District Convention. It was a special event and I could see the impact I was having in the eyes of the audience. Or rather the little wells beneath them.

Every event that I’ve spoken at over the last two and a bit years holds a special significance. I remember talking to the principal of one school before a presentation on the Gold Coast last year and learning of girls as young as eleven already self-harming. Or another occasion at a Men’s Shed event where I listened to stories of elderly retired men so lost and lonely that they were now just ‘waiting until the day they died’.

Sometimes I stop and wonder what my uncles might have taught me had I known them for longer; had the thought of suicide not been so poisonous to their will to live. When I sat through Uncle Michael’s funeral I must only have been three or four. I don’t know why I could not stop crying that day because, as my older sister reminded me at the time, I barely knew him. Perhaps I somehow foreknew at the time what I would later endure myself and grow to become so passionate about?

Sometimes I also stop to reflect on the days my Dad was battling severe depression and PTSD; the days he no longer lived at home; the days in which we’d wonder where he was sleeping that night – if he was safe. Knowing what we did about his two brothers, sometimes it was far too easy to fear the worst. Thankfully he was able to find the tools to fuel his recovery and is now the man I always hoped he could be. I cannot bear to imagine how things would have been if the opposite were fate’s choosing.

To me, suicide is humanity’s greatest tragedy and indeed our greatest failing.

I guess bullets and bombs and the horror they inflict are easier to understand than the terrorising thoughts that plague those suffering with mental illness. And yet almost one million people kill themselves every year.

It is easy for the actions of a coward strapped with bombs to bring the world together in ‘love’ but let me add this:

What good is our love for the oppressed in countries afar if we continue to ignore our neighbour next door? What good is our professed ‘unity’ in times of global hardship if we still won’t sit next to someone in Starbucks because they dress a little differently?

We are enraged by the atrocities we see abroad and yet the man we avoided eye contact with in the supermarket checkout line today later went home to his house just two blocks from ours to kill himself with the items he picked up from isle nine.

Every day we have opportunities to create the world in which we tell our Facebook feed we so desperately desire. Every day.

Love is not a feeling, it is an action.

In all that we do we must set the example that we want the world to follow. We must resist the urge to condemn the actions of those who stray from the ‘good’ path. For of course, ‘the way of a fool seems right to him’. Only the persistent presentation of a better alternative from we the majority will, slowly but surely, rid the world of the evil we see and despise.

I passionately believe that if we are able to create a culture in which we are so connected, accepting and supportive of one another, so much so that no one ever feels so hopeless and alone that they would even contemplate the mere thought of taking their own life, then all of the other problems we face today will have naturally faded away as a result.

In the coming chapters of Life of PJ I hope that you will share my journey in which we create this culture of which I speak. Of course, I cannot do this alone. I can do nothing alone. Only together will we succeed.

Agape.

PJ.

[Originally published as ‘Is Suicide Humanity’s Greatest Failing‘ on GreatnessViaPassion.wordpress.com.]

When You Pray For A Sign And Get A Billboard

I arrived home last night, frustrated, angry, anxious. I lay in bed, my hands trembling, my body slowly curling up into a ball. My thoughts were racing, none good. I messaged friends though my enthusiasm for conversation flirted with record lows.

There was no reason to be feeling this way. Aside from an afternoon spent running around Sydney’s CBD trying to find a toilet, a PowerPoint to charge my phone and laptop, and a chilled place to sit and study. I failed in my quest and felt myself slipping further and further behind.

There was so much to do.

I really didn’t know what to do. So I started to pray. I asked for calm and clarity. Direction. SOMETHING. Something that made what I should do next in my life that little bit more obvious. I asked only that this revelation would be clear. That I would be able to differentiate it from life’s many ‘coincidences’.

Inevitably, mid-prayer, I got distracted. I started checking Facebook again. Then Instagram. I decided to re-edit some photos from the day. Earlier I had posted a selfie (a rarity), though another similar photo I began to edit. As I flicked through filters, played with the lux, structure and fade, I noticed something…

What was that in the background?

A sign. Literally. A literal sign. A billboard.

‘You Make The Leap.’

Wow.

The sign was clear. It was time for me to believe. It was time for me to make the leap.

Whichever God that is who continues to love me in such amazing ways, he’s a pretty top bloke.

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