‘Hello, Panic, My Old Friend’
I was in a constant shell-shocked state, short of breath, and felt like another earthquake was going to break me into little pieces. There were plenty of tremors, but I lived in anticipation of THE NEXT BIG ONE. What happened when that hit? What happened to me? I’d been living on an edge of constant anxiety; into what abyss did you fall when you plummeted from this this edge?
I didn’t know any different, nor any better. This is what Dr Victor had programmed into me when I was younger: I was heading for a nervous breakdown; I could be institutionalised; it was worth asking me whether I’d heard voices and, if I did, warned to ignore them. This time was worse than the last time, though. Last time, it had been ongoing anxiety, followed by crippling anxiety, and a day filled with clusters of panic attacks. Now I’d degenerated right into a crippling anxiety that was a heartbeat from being unmanageable, that punched right through medication. It could be only a matter of time before whatever was next hit, and whatever was next had to be what Dr Victor had feared. He’d know. He was a doctor. That’s what the abyss contained.
I was lodging medical certificates with Social Security, citing I was unfit to look for work. After a while, Social Security said I could no longer lodge medical certificates, and that I would have to transfer from unemployment to a pension, but this meant that I would have to be examined by their independent doctor. I saw him at Social Security, where he asked me questions ranging from how I felt, what my symptoms were, to the medication I was on. The way he looked at me, though, he could see I was a wreck. So many people must’ve faked an interview like this, but I sat there, cracked, shaken as pulses of anxiety struck, voice tremulous and breath short. The doctor could only look at me sympathetically.
By now, I also couldn’t hide what was happening from my family. I told my mum that I was going through the same problems that I used to when I went to PANCH. She didn’t really understand, even though she suffered the same stuff. She equated anxiety with responsibility: she had a household to run, kids, bills, all that, so she had every right to be anxious; but me? Nothing. Why would I suffer from it? It couldn’t just happen. That was her belief.
The other thing – possibly a perception of the migrant culture – is that if you’re upright, you’re fine. It wasn’t until I was getting up just to lie down that it got through to my parents how bad I was. I had trouble even doing everyday things like brushing my teeth, making breakfast, or walking down to my back room. Every step was a jolt.
My parents didn’t know what to do. My mum would come into the back room and tell me not to worry. That annoyed me. If I could just not worry, I would. But this wasn’t as easy as flicking a switch. I wish it was.
My dad said nothing to me because he didn’t know how to handle it. Like my writing aspirations, mental problems were an abstract, and he only understood absolutes. As far as health went, he pushed through everything.
I used to do the same. I was equally determined – or stubborn; maybe they amount to the same thing. I had terrible headaches in the side of my head when I was 8 or 9, shearing pains that would bring me to my knees, and then I’d dismiss them as if nothing had happened. When I was fifteen, I was in a bicycle accident, where I tore a large chunk of flesh from my right elbow. I took off my jacket, wrapped it up, and had a friend tie it around my elbow, then picked up my mangled bike and calmly carried it the two kilometres home. When my arm was broken and it suffered complications with nerve damage, I took it in stride. Whilst I’d had a level of hypochondria, I usually marched through everything, often obliviously.
That was the way of the family. You go on regardless.
Now, though, that was impossible.