When you know you are falling

There’s a stretch of sweet terrain between anxiety and depression that feels almost like bliss. Because when I find myself there, the tumult of anxiety falls quiet.

Drawing of a girl looking worried, with negative words swirling around her.Drawing of a girl cupping her hand to her ear, with the words "Everything is shhhhh" above her.

Whenever I stumble into this quiet territory, I feel relieved. Every time. Without fail. Even though I know what I’m in for next.

I let myself savour the stillness for a while before I take stock of my surroundings.

Drawing of a girl lying on her back, amiling and thinking, "Sure is quiet here."

It’s not that the relentless noise is part of my everyday existence – it normally ebbs and flows. But sometimes it crescendos over weeks or months until I am overwhelmed by a constant dialogue of self-doubt, and I struggle to wrest back control.

In the aftermath of this, the quiet place seems like somewhere I might like to stay forever. I feel so calm and detached.

But I never arrive there under ideal conditions.
Drawing of a car swerving out of control and crashing off a cliff onto a ledge below.And there are some subtle signs that it’s not as idyllic as it seems.

Drawing of a girl standing below signs that say "Wrong way, go back", "Caution! Steep drop" and "Badlands below".The thing is, I know from long experience that this place is actually a tipping point, where the anxiety of caring so very very much about everything just burns out. And the lightness I feel is the weight of those very many anxieties suddenly not mattering at all.

In fact, nothing matters at all.

I know that can’t be right; I need to get myself back to a place where something matters. But somehow, I can’t motivate myself to do it.
Drawing of a girl sitting on a ledge, apparently unaware of a monster's clawed hand reaching up for her. She is thinking, "But it's so noisy up there, and I'm too tired to climb."I also know I should tell someone when I reach the quiet strip. I should send up a flare or distress signal of some kind. But I don’t want to alarm anyone or make a big fuss. So instead of saying –

Drawing of a crazy-eyed woman screaming, "I'm a woman on the edge!"I might say –

Drawing of a girl with her arms outstretched, saying in a very small voice, "Umm. Sorry to be a nuisance. It's just that I'm on the edge of a really awful place. I think I might need a hand."This is just enough to make people Quite Uncomfortable, but not enough to really get the message across.

Drawing of a man tugging uncomfortably at his collar and saying, "Err. Don't be silly. You're just having a bad day."In any case, most times I don’t have the energy or will to say anything. So I sit in the quiet place a bit longer.

And then

I start

to think.

If nothing matters, then I don’t matter.

The old self-doubt begins to give way to self-loathing.

Drawing of a woman sitting on a ledge, with two monster-hands grasping for her legs. There are clumps of thoughts around her head: 'You're stupid and worthless', 'you deserve to feel like this', 'You can't tell anyone you're here because you don't have any friends to tell'. I try to shake it off – to remember all the unsaid things that made so much noise in my head in the first place.

They were small. Important, but very small. That’s why I waited to say them. When there was a space. An opportunity. A right time. And while I waited, they accumulated and tangled in my head.

But if I can think of some of them now, I can talk about them. I can understand or resolve some of the things that were gnawing at me, and that will be a way to grasp hold of some purpose.

I will talk in a calm and sensible way. Because really, none of this is a Big Deal. I won’t let it be. I just need to grab hold of one ordinary, meaningful conversation and make myself understood.

That will restore order.

So I force a time, a space, an opportunity – I can’t wait any longer for the right one – then I open my mouth and speak –

Drawing of a girl curled up in the foetal position and saying, "Help me. It hurts. It hurts and I can't get up. It hurts and I want it to stop."This must be pretty confusing for the person on the receiving end, because as far as they know, things were going along fine up until that point.

Drawing of a man looking confused and saying, "All I said was 'Could you put a coaster under your mug?'"And sometimes their confusion turns into anger, frustration, helplessness.

Drawing of a man with a cranky face and his arms folded across his chest, saying, "This is ridiculous! You always overreact!"Drawing of a man throwing his arms up in the air and saying, "I don't know what more I can do!"All of this makes sense when you consider it from their point of view:

Picture of a huge monster with one eye and sharp tusks, holding a woman upside down in its paw. A man about a third of its height is looking up at it and saying, "Holy crap! That is one huge, scary-looking thing! I can't fix that!"Essentially, they are saying: What’s the matter? How do I fit into this? What am I supposed to do?

These are very reasonable questions to ask of someone who has just handed you the snarled mess of their heartstrings and headstrings, and now seems to expect you to vanquish their greedy, grappling despair.

But I don’t. Expect anyone else to solve it.

And I really can’t articulate what is wrong.

I feel stupid. Worthless. Wounded. So far beyond normal that I can’t imagine what anyone could possibly do to help. Or why anyone would want to.

Yet sometimes, on instinct and out of the blue, someone will offer up something so unexpected and beautiful, that for a while, everything goes quiet again.

Drawing of a wonderful big hug, loving text message, and a child's handmade card.It’s not the disengaged silence of the quiet territory, but a moment of perfect peace. A pocket of calm, where I feel safe.

It isn’t enough to make everything better. If only it were so simple –
Drawing of the same huge monster saying "Uh-oh", as the man holds up a sword and shouts at him, "I smite you, demon, with cups of tea and cuddles! I strike at your very core with my abiding friendship. Leave this place and never come back!"But it can be enough to help me get started on the long upward climb. Or strengthen my foothold when I’m partway there.

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