I’m finding it very hard to write this blog. It’s a Wednesday morning and I’m struggling to get out of bed. Yesterday my wife and I came home from a long weekend away in Liverpool. I organised it all as a surprise for my wife’s birthday. It’s been seven weeks since I left hospital and several months since we’d left London. I thought I was ready.
I was wrong.
Trips away are nothing new for us, in fact they became something of a regular occurrence shortly after we got together. We both love to travel. Between us we’d racked up quite a few air miles even before we met and many more since. Our computers are laden with thousands of pictures of exotic locations. I have pages and pages of travel blogs detailing my many adventures all over the world. We always like to have a couple of big trips planned so we have something to look forward to.
After my recent breakdown, and subsequent recovery, holidays and travel have taken a backseat. My world has become a very small place. The thought of even just leaving my flat now can terrify me. But I’m a very stubborn man. I refuse to let my depression and anxiety define my life, so I’m constantly pushing myself. Forcing myself into situations that I know will make me uncomfortable in an attempt to overcome my illness. Ultimately I think I’m trying to prove to myself and to everyone else that I’m still ‘normal’.
I’m my own worst enemy. I want to run before I can walk and as a result I sometimes end up doing myself more harm than good. Our weekend away in Liverpool is a prime example.
I was desperate to do something nice for my wife. The last few months have been so tough for her. She’s been my rock. Dealing with everything that’s been thrown at her without a single complaint. I wanted to treat her.
When I was planning it I honestly thought it wouldn’t be a problem. It was only three nights away and it was in the UK, just two hours outside of London. I’d also planned a couple of surprises for my wife while we were there. I was actually looking forward to it. What could go wrong?
For me it was a complicated experience. Part of me loved every minute of it. I was exploring a new city with the woman I love. We did all the usual touristy things. As city breaks go it was probably one of my favourites.
But, as much as part of me was enjoying it there was another part of me that was slowly falling apart. From the moment we left our flat on the Saturday morning my anxiety levels started to slowly creep up. By the time we boarded the train to Liverpool and the realisation that we were going to be miles from the safety of home, it finally hit me and I was a wreck. When we got to the city all I wanted to do was get to our hotel and hide away from the world. But like I say, I’m a stubborn man so I pushed myself into tourist mode.
I find it so hard to put into words how it was that I felt during those three days. Being in such a heightened, sustained level of anxiety does horrible things to you, both physically and mentally. You’re constantly in a state of high alert for threats that don’t even exist. You become hyper alert, taking in every little detail around you. But it becomes too much information for you to handle so, ironically, you end up confused and distracted. Your body is always in ‘fight or flight’ mode so it gets flooded with stress hormones. Your heart rate increases, you get tightness in your chest, your breath becomes shorter. You can feel an almost visceral reaction in your stomach. A feeling of dread you just can’t shake. Your body is primed for action. But nothing ever happens. And so you carry on in this state until you no longer feel threatened, which can sometimes take hours. It’s incredibly tiring.
For me, even sleep doesn’t offer an escape. As well as your body being stuck on high alert your mind also goes into overdrive. You can spend hours catastrophising over the simplest decisions or ruminating about all your perceived mistakes over the years. And when sleep does eventually come I’m plagued with nightmares and anxiety dreams. I often wake up feeling exhausted and achey all over. it’s what I would call an anxiety hangover.
It doesn’t matter that intellectually you know what you’re feeling doesn’t make any sense. In someways, I think that actually makes it’s worse.
And so, here I am. Safely home again, sitting in bed working through my most recent anxiety hangover. I have a therapy session later on today and I don’t think the timing could be any better.
I pushed myself beyond my current limits. But I don’t for one minute regret my weekend away. Four months ago I was sitting in this very same bed planning on taking my own life because I couldn’t handle living anymore.
I’ve come a long way since then, even if sometimes I can’t see it or believe it. Luckily for me I have an amazing wife by my side to remind me of my progress.
Today I’m happy with my trip to Liverpool. Tomorrow the world?