So on the weekend I bawled my eyes out in a cafe.
More specifically, a cafe where I go at least once a week. While sitting with my dad, brother, and little sister. While one of my friend’s brothers was seated two tables on the left.
Seconds earlier, I was giggling and chatting and chowing into my usual order of baked eggs and a regular soy latte. Then, as has happened so many times in the last 12 months, I felt my heart shoot up into my throat and tears spring to my eyes like they were suddenly water pistols, locked and loaded and ready to flood the joint.
I tried to blink them away. ‘Tried’ being the operative word.
Evelyn had just mentioned – uttered perhaps 15 words – about the top story on news.com.au that morning; a horrific story about a premature baby that I won’t go into the details of, because I see no value in it being shared. The graphic, disturbing mental imagery of the story’s headline was enough to make me put out my hands in response and urge ‘stop, stop, stop’ before she said another word.
(If you’re thinking, why the fuck would Evelyn share a graphic medical story over a lovely breakfast then that, dearest reader friend, is because Evelyn is studying to become a doctor and that’s just a thing Medical People do. If my nurse sister was there I’m sure the 15 words would’ve become 1500. If her soon-to-be paramedic boyfriend was too, 15,000)
But once I knew the gory, horrible nature of the story, the damage was done. Hence the bawling/snot bubbles/running mascara/spine-tingling embarrassment.
When I tell people I have anxiety, they probably imagine me hyperventilating and curled up into a ball, too panicky about life and the minutiae of it all. That’s not exactly accurate. My anxiety stems, largely, from the abhorrent. From traumatic events or thoughts. It fixates on incomprehensible violence and imagery of that violence. The darkest corners of life affect me more than the average person.
If something is shocking in its level of gore, my sensitive mind clings to it like velcro. Even after all these psychologist sessions, after all this mindfulness and exercise and time.
In this instance of the premature baby, I couldn’t get the images and thoughts out of my head for more than 24 hours. After feeling repulsed to the point I couldn’t bear another word, later I found myself asking Evelyn for more information and details; my mind needed to rationalise and sort through the intense fear I was experiencing.
Mental illness, folks. Gotta love it.
Having these over-the-top reactions to stuff that other people can just deal with is tricky, not least because I am EMBARRASSED that I sometimes can’t actually cope with the reality of life. It makes me feel weak, like I should be more fortified in my ability to push negative thoughts up and out and away.
When I had that episode in the cafe, I felt humiliated. Like my body and mind and emotions were out of my own control. Thankfully, my dad is the kind of man who gently encouraged me to just cry it out; to feel what I was feeling fully, as a kind of release. He’s really great in moments like that. (And BOY did I follow his instructions.)
My anxiety, though more managed, is so much easier to reckon with when I am in the comfort and privacy of my apartment. But when I am grappling with mental demons in the midst of the 10am Saturday breakfast crowd, it can be a stark realisation: Oh, yeah, this thing I’m dealing with is an illness.