So… Hey there internet, it’s been awhile. I want to try to talk about this experience I have with what people call social anxiety, because it has become a kind of mental juggernaut that I have been dealing with a lot lately. But first, an update is due.
Every time I write here I imagine myself unlocking the key to some deep well of creativity and motivation, a constant flow of new writing that will eventually launch my dream career as a novelist. What a fantasy.
I begin to envision various pathways into self-sufficiency, wishing hopefully for a day when I can get out of survival mode and stop worrying about how I’m going to make it in this world. A day when I can just write, create, and live my life without fear.
But the last time I wrote here was over six months ago. The creative well is.. dry? I guess? Honestly I don’t even know where the well is anymore. Inspiration has been hard to come by, to put it mildly.
The truth is, I’m struggling. In my last post I talked about how growing up as a person with anxiety, it almost felt like I had prepared for this pandemic thing all my life. But all that means is that I’m familiar with challenging, distressing, even disturbed and delusional states of mind, and that I was struggling with social isolation, fear and depression (among other things) well before the pandemic started. It’s not like a year of living through a pandemic has been a tonic for all that.
While I have to admit that in some ways this experience of global crisis has been motivating – I left graduate school, started studying horticulture and permaculture again, and I’ve been slowly chipping away at ethical business ideas with the aim of becoming self-employed in meaningful work – I also can’t deny that I’m poor, unemployed, the news about the world outside is taking a huge mental toll, and I’m feeling pretty hopeless about my future most days.
For a while now I’ve wanted to write a book about my psychiatric survival story. The title I have in mind is an oft-repeated line from one of my dearest friends back when I swam in the local poetry circles: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” What was a clever title has now become an ever-present anthem. I wonder if I will ever write that book or if this thing-that-is-wrong will forever stand in my way.
Being unmoored from the academic world that held my dreams and my admiration for so many years, launching into entrepreneurship on a less-than-poverty-line social security net with all the risks that involves, and recognizing more and more how my condition (I told you I don’t like calling it an illness) presents some serious limitations… I’m starting to think that I may be wrestling with something pretty severe, that maybe I’ve been in denial about just how dark a place I’ve been in for quite awhile, and maybe I don’t have what it takes to achieve my goals in life. I’m really scared.
It doesn’t help that the psychiatrist and counselor I was seeing on-and-off for the past ten-or-so years both decided to close their respective practices a couple of months ago. When I learned this was happening I was doing pretty well, and I thought maybe this is a great opportunity to see how well I can cope without clinical care. I thought that embarking on this big new adventure in self-employment on my little homestead would be all the medicine I’d need. That might have been a touch of overconfidence.
Oh yeah, did I mention I moved recently? Moved to the country with my fiancee, a long-held dream! And while it’s beautiful here, the surroundings are extremely conducive to creative work, and the land presents an opportunity for my garden-design and homesteading dreams to take shape, I’m still scared. For one thing, I’m scared I’ll never be able to afford to put my name on the mortgage. Thank the gods I’m engaged to someone with a charitable heart and job security in a rewarding career.
I could cut myself some slack for not writing much while dealing with a big move and a pretty radical career change. But it goes deeper than this situation. I’m still scared I’ll never be able to succeed at anything and be a part of the world in a meaningful or empowering way. I’m scared that as I continue to try to find a way to survive into my thirties I will run out of options, and that my limitations will forever define me as an inferior and inadequate person in society. I’m scared that, whatever is wrong with me, it’s at the center of who I am, and I may never escape or transcend it. I’m scared of a life without dignity or purpose in the public sphere.
So I’m talking to a new psychiatrist. I’m preparing paperwork to apply for disability soon after the tests are done. I haven’t had a proper assessment in twenty years. He thinks I may now be bipolar, or that my disorder might better be described as a borderline personality. Not the way I had hoped to start the new year.
I still don’t expect much from the medical model of madness, and I don’t know whether a new diagnosis is going to help or not – I certainly don’t identify with it any better than “depressed” or “anxious” or any of the others I’ve heard over the years.
I just know that I want a better life, and that I need support to get there. However I posture myself as a mad scholar, a psychiatric survivor, a neurodiversity activist – whatever words I use to project strength and confidence – the reality is that while my experiences have value and I feel I have so much to offer, in terms of surviving and making it in the real world, these same experiences are also extremely debilitating at times. I don’t know how to function in the world of work and social interaction. I’m trying to find a way. It’s hard. My soul hurts.
This isn’t one of those redemptive pieces of writing that trudges through the darkness in order to find the radiant light of hope at the end. I don’t know what’s wrong with me and I don’t have any silver linings to offer here. Maybe that will come later. But not today.