I see that homeless woman walking the streets near my home. She’s forever clutching her purse close to her breast, like it is the last semblance of who she once was.
Her jeans, dirtied by months -- probably years -- of wear with no washing, hang from her skin-and-bones body. Her hair, gray, frizzy and snarled, is in stark contrast of the past I envision… someone who never missed that appointment for touch-ups. Someone who left the salon feeling beautiful and refreshed.
She talks to herself, too. Not that we all don’t do that from time to time. But hers is a concerted conversation with who knows who. Maybe her previous self?
I have wondered how she got to this place. How she was a woman who had a full life, perhaps a family, possibly a career, and now she is just… this.
I think I might now know. Not necessarily her story, but stories of countless others who suffer from debilitating anxiety.
It starts with something simple. You experience “symptoms” but have no explainable trigger. Your throat closes up; you can’t swallow without feeling that gag impulse. You feel light-headed. Your eyes dilate.
You, after the fact, don’t remember that conversation or that drive home from Woodland Hills. The drive where YOU drove, amongst hundreds of others on a six-lane interstate.
One day, in your happy place where you feel safe and calm and liberated (the gym), you nearly pass out from the angst. An ambulance? Hell no. “I’m fine,” you say to everyone. Your trainer jokes that she finally got to you after nine years of training… but you can sense the fear in her.
You start to wonder what you can handle, and what you can’t. Can you be “out” socially with others? Can you take meetings with a potential employer? Can you attend an event and know that you’ll be able to survive through to the end? Can you even complete an appointment with a massage therapist; something you previously thought to be the most relaxing thing in the world?
Eventually, it becomes this: can you make it through a trip to the grocery store without having to abandon your cart mid-aisle and return to the safety of the non-public?
Your friends desperately want to understand. They DO. They ask you, “What can I do?” Or, “What does it feel like?” They want to know. They want, over everything else, to help.
Your husband is at a loss. “Can’t the doctors at least do something?”
No one. Not anyone in the Universe can help.
Or, so it feels.
It’s likely that a psychotherapist can help explain why this is happening and what you can do to manage the symptoms. A doc can prescribe you some sort of anti-anxiety medication that will probably put you in zombie mode and make you gain weight (only adding to the dread you feel).
But, that’s at a price. The going rate for “sign me up” therapy is about $150/hour. Correct that; for 50 minutes, or, as I recently learned, 45 minutes. You can go to a community clinic for much less, but the intake process is torture and they might never call you back. Well, “never” unless you call them again first. When picking up the phone to make a call is equivalent to learning brain surgery, that’s a tall order.
It’s frustrating. It’s nothing less than offensive. You’re calling out for help; the help of professionals for god’s sake. But your insurance doesn’t cover it and with a tight budget, you just let it go. That’s the easiest option, given the circumstances.
Soon, your friends stop calling. They stop coming by. They stop asking how they can help. They’re as frustrated as you, but they don’t know how to express it.
You stop venturing out. You can’t think, much less work. Grocery delivery comes at a premium price, so you stop eating. The rent or mortgage comes due, and you can’t pay it. You’re evicted. You put your stuff in storage, but soon you cannot afford that bill either so you’re also evicted from “storage.”
Longing to look in a mirror, you’re far too scared. What will you see? What have you become? Why is it SO out of your control?
There’s no sufficient explanation. Twenty-four months ago, you were a full-functioning, perfectly able individual. Now, you’re the prisoner of your own thoughts… your own actions. Which, become non-actions. Actions become stagnant. And stagnant becomes non-existent.
You try to remember what it was like before all of this. If you close your eyes really tight, can you go back and fix it? Make it all a dream?
It’s not a dream; it’s a nightmare. One from which you may never wake. One where you’ve become that homeless woman, walking the streets and conversing with her previous self… the self with clean jeans, fresh hair, designer bag, make-up perfection.
Wake up… wake up… please, for the love of god… wake up.