For a long time my mental illness was undiagnosed. It was locking myself in the bathroom and praying God would make me less hungry, or that he would save me from the thing I was doing that didn’t have a name. It was lying to my friends and teachers about the scars on my arms, scraped into my skin with broken protractors, dirty compasses from the maths drawer at school, shards of old photo frames and oh, so many other things. It was furious tears in the middle of the night, it was feeling like I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stand, couldn’t get air into my lungs or my brain. It was crouching, motionless, telling my legs to move, my muscles to contract, and feeling nothing. Nothing at all.
So I developed my own mother tongue for this strange land I had come to live in. ‘Problems with food’ covered everything from binge eating and getting up early to sneak chocolate bars into my bed to being unable to put anything in my mouth for days on end. ‘Crashing’ was when the world went dark, when my body shook hard in the night and I couldn’t breathe. Later I would know they were panic attacks, but all I knew was that I felt like the universe crashed into my mind, throwing me back. A full system lock down.
People at camp would tell me it was demon possession, they would pray for my soul. They would sit by me in the watches of the night, and speak comforting words to parts of me and words of condemnation to others. I was unclean with it, dirty from the inside. Even when I grew a faith community strong enough to teach me that this wasn’t the truth, I still called it ‘crashing.’ I hadn’t seen a doctor yet. I didn’t know what a panic attack was, or that I was having them. I thought panic attacks were serious. What I had was a crash.
Later, even after diagnosis, ‘running’ was the terminology I kept. Running was what I felt when it all got too much, when I paced around my bedroom at university, unable to think of anything except getting out, getting away. I would call my boyfriend and hop on the first bus, I would call my best friend and go and sleep on her floor, I would crawl into my room-mates bed and refuse to come out. This blog came out of that instinct and my desire to turn ‘Running’ away from everything into ‘Running’ into something. Running into this. Running into my illness.
It never goes away, it seems. Today I am locked up in my house with dirty hair unable to get up, get out. I’m not running any more, I’ve been through therapy, and I know how to deal with a panic attack, and yet still there may never be the right words for all of this.
I am sitting on the edge of my terminology, balancing on the tightrope between suffering and recovering. Are there terms for this, after all the treatment is done and it’s fifteen years later, and you still find yourself fighting to find the words?
I’m trying to find the right words.