Frankly, you’re acting a little crazy – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Frankly, you’re acting a little crazy

Frankly, you’re acting a little crazy

Five days ago, I entered a period of anxiety. I knew it immediately, by the way it crept around the bedroom door and snuggled in next to me. My anxiety. ‘Hello,’ I said. ‘I was wondering when I might see you again.’ and it smiled in its toothy way and I knew we would be spending some time together.

I experience some degree of anxiety all of the time. All of the waking moments, and some of the sleeping moments. Sometimes the degree of anxiety is just lingering fear of death, where other times it is acute madness and confusion.

I have a psychotic type of anxiety, which means I experience breaks in reality. Sometimes the breaks last for so long that I wonder if actually I just experience breaks in unreality. These breaks are horrifying. And like most things about mental illness, they come in lots of different forms. Sometimes I have a second of believing that Homer Simpson is my father. Sometimes I look right into the faces of my children and I don’t know who they are or where they came from. Each of these breaks feeds my anxiety: I will never be well again, this will last forever, my brain matter is literally disintegrating inside my skull.

This morning I woke up at about 6:30 and thought about getting up to work on my new novel. But I was clamped into my bed, pinned down by the anxiety. I read some things on my phone, buried myself way down in the doona, held on to Gaz’s pyjamas in case I flew right out of the room and into space. After a while, I fell asleep again. At 9:30, I woke up again and read parts of Amy Poehler’s new book and looked out the window and pretended to be a plesiosaur plunging deep into the ocean where the fear couldn’t find me, thought about what would happen if I went out for breakfast (floating into the atmosphere), checked my email, hung on to Gaz’s pyjamas again and then, finally, got out of bed and sat in the bathroom for 20 minutes, trying to remember where I lived and who my parents were.

It’s a bit better this afternoon. I got some sushi and a little sunshine and read some more. But I know it’s still there, with its claws and its grimace and its flagrant abuse of sanity.

Two symptoms I often experience in conjunction are derealisation and depersonalisation. The first one means that I sometimes go out into the world and it feels like a movie set, or like a giant Lego kit. People go about their business and I stand in the middle of them and they rush around me and I just think, this is so fucking weird, all these people living on this movie set, and the sky above them is like Under the Dome and I’m afraid to go too far in case I drop right off. The second one means that I feel disconnected from myself. The first time this happened, I watched myself from about 30 centimetres to my right, and I was hysterical and screaming in the most terrible high-pitched way, except that I was also calmly assessing the danger to myself from a short distance away. I experience all kinds of identity issues: who is this person? why is she complaining so much? god, she is a terrible nuisance. But it’s not like a personality disorder in the sense that both of these people are me, it’s just that the thread holding them together is kind of frayed. Like the person I am sometimes exists outside of the confines of my body.

One time I had to go to the hospital because I kept driving up Hawthorn Road in Caulfield South and thinking I was in Adelaide. I knew I wasn’t, but that brings little comfort when the world is confusing. I imagine, from reading about and meeting people with dementia, that this is something like what they experience, at least in the beginning. A collision of rational thought and gut feeling that doesn’t intersect. I know your face, but I don’t know who you are. Except I do know who you are, I just don’t know what your relationship is to me. But I do know your relationship to me, I just think it’s imaginary.

I told that doctor about how I thought Homer Simpson was my dad for a second, and he tried to put me on anti-psychotic medication. But I’ve been on it before, and all it did was make me lactate.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe I think that if I (or the person who is me, but whose body I am not currently occupying) write this down, I will draw some logical conclusion. I will identify the root cause of this current round of anxiety, and I will suddenly recognise the street I live on, and be able to go to the supermarket without being afraid of the fact that we are hurtling through space, and stand in the bookshop and feel calm and easy. Maybe I think that someone else might read this and go me too! your anxiety is not the most insane anxiety! and I can put my socks on and we can go for a walk in the park and no one will turn into an antelope.

Last week, at my regular counselling session, I told my psychologist I was beginning to feel like A Girl Who Is Separate From But Also Experiences Anxiety. It was wonderful. I was thinking about all the things I could do with my life if I didn’t have anxiety, and I could suddenly see each thing discretely. I could see that I might go on a book tour and feel anxious, but that they were not the same thing. I could imagine being a person who had anxiety, but wasn’t an anxious person. I felt newly purposeful, motivated, insightful but pragmatic.

And now this week I feel like a turnip.

  • John James

    November 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm Reply

    This is a real insight into mental illness, and I’m proud of you for being so honest. Sharing stories like this will, hopefully, make people understand that mental illness is just like any other illness… something you cope with, something you medicate when needed — and if it’s chronic — something you learn to live with…

    It’s not something you just buck-up and get over by thinking happy thoughts…

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm Reply

      Thanks JJ. Knowing that it’s sometimes helpful to other people with similar experiences is a great motivator. Being anxious when you’re alone in the dark is torture. At least this way we are together in the dark.

  • Fiona

    November 4, 2014 at 4:23 pm Reply

    Fortunately my breaks are few and far between xxx Love this post, though, it does explain it well.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm Reply

      Thanks Fiona. I’m glad you have long periods of peace and quiet :) x

  • Liz

    November 4, 2014 at 6:07 pm Reply

    Interesting – did not realise that kind of thing was called a psychotic break. I normally just put it down to tiredness. For me they only last a few seconds though.

    Totally get the disassociation.

    You are entirely separate from your anxiety, but it’s hard to tell your anxiety that <3

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 5, 2014 at 2:01 pm Reply

      It’s been great and terrible to find out how many other people experience these kinds of symptoms. I’ve spent years thinking that I was a truly insane person, certifiable, headed for a straitjacket. Knowing it’s a bit more pedestrian makes it much easier to separate.

      Thanks x

  • Bianca

    November 4, 2014 at 6:22 pm Reply

    I have struggles with derealistion? I just never knew it was called this.
    Depression that has lifted at times but always the anxiety.
    I might try to visualise myself without anxiety and see what I could be doing.
    Thank you

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm Reply

      Thanks for reading, Bianca. Perception is a strange beast. Naming these kinds of symptoms has both helped and hindered my ability to cope with them. Visualisation is always useful, though!

  • Maxabella

    November 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm Reply

    That was so insightful, Anna. Terrifyingly so. I fancy that we all feel fragments of what you feel from time to time, but so fleetingly that it doesn’t frighten us to pieces. The brain plays tricks and reality is fleeting. We are all just passing time. x

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm Reply

      Thanks mate. You are absolutely right. Also, everything frightens me to pieces, however fleeting. It’s just a gift I have ;)

  • Kate

    November 4, 2014 at 8:24 pm Reply

    Wow Anna. Your ability to those experiences and feelings into words is just amazing. I for one cannot wait to see you on that book tour!

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm Reply

      Thanks so much, Kate. You’ll be able to tell which one is me by all the screaming ;)

  • Lana

    November 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm Reply

    Your anxiety is not the most insane anxiety!
    Put on your socks on and we can go for a walk in the park… I can’t promise no antelopes though


    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm Reply

      Maybe what I need to do is learn to love antelopes? Thanks matey xxxx

  • Kerri Sackville

    November 5, 2014 at 8:19 pm Reply

    So odd… I had a plunge into depression/anxiety EXACTLY the same time as you. Starting to come out now.
    I get very short moments of what you describe, particularly derealisation. It must be incredibly frightening to have it for longer periods of time. I am sorry for what you’re going through, and I am so in awe of your ability to articulate it so beautifully. Sending love.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm Reply

      Is this like having synced periods? I’m assuming so. Thank you for being an empathetic and considerate friend, even if you are not kind, as you say.

  • Jodi Gibson (JF Gibson Writer)

    November 7, 2014 at 8:45 pm Reply

    I think you are very self aware actually Anna, to be able to articulate this so well. I’m with Bron, I think many of us feel different aspects of what you experience in different ways and levels. We just probably don’t understand what it is.
    I know when I’m stressed I recoil to the world I’ve made up in my head. I will go to bed early and watch it like a movie. As in that world I am in full control of what is going on. It feels nice. And I actually haven’t told anyone that before, I just think maybe you will get it. At least a bit.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm Reply

      Thanks so much Jodi. I both hate and love that many people experience these things. Sometimes that’s the only thing that makes it seem worthwhile to push through them.

      I do get it. I do that too. Going to bed is my favourite thing to do. One time I had a panic attack that lasted for four hours, and I went to bed and closed my eyes, and every time I opened my eyes the panic was just right there in front of me, so I stayed in bed until it was over. Important to have places of respite, I think.

  • Helen K

    November 7, 2014 at 10:07 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Anna, and hopefully in the midst of the turnip moments, you can remember how you also have times, increasingly so, where you are a girl who has, but isn’t anxiety. Very brave that you write about it – I don’t know that I am ready to be so brave (I’m not so articulate anyway) – but maybe, sometime …

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm Reply

      Thank you Helen. I have felt that girl a little bit more this week, which has been a welcome relief. Thanks as always for reading and sharing your experiences x

  • Lydia C. Lee

    November 8, 2014 at 7:09 am Reply

    Thanks for sharing – I hope that writing it down helped you in someway. Get started on your book…deal with the tour later. You are clearly talented.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 12, 2014 at 2:17 pm Reply

      Thank you very much Lydia :) The book will be out next year, all things being equal. I so appreciate you saying so.

  • Alyson

    November 8, 2014 at 8:57 am Reply

    Thank you for your honesty and your perfect words …I always wonder what other people feel like when they have their moments because somehow it helps me to identify that yes, this is one right now. Once again I’m a firm believer that sharing this stuff is good for us as individuals and as a community. Xx

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 12, 2014 at 2:17 pm Reply

      Thanks so much for reading, Alyson. I agree with you completely. It’s been so helpful for me to share this and realise that these experiences are not unique to me. They’re just things that happen, and they suck at the time, but we all get through one way or another. Or we don’t get through, and that’s just a thing as well.

  • Sarah @She Writes

    November 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm Reply

    A very brave and beautiful post and one that will be understood by many. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us all. Big hugs coming right at you x

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 12, 2014 at 2:16 pm Reply

      Thanks so much Sarah. It’s easier to share when there are so many wonderful and open people with their own hearts.

  • Ella

    December 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm Reply

    Your honesty is refreshing! Thank you so much for sharing. Mental illness is not something that should be taken lightly, and it’s great to hear an honest voice about it.

    P.S. Turnips are awesome!

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