Am I going mad? It’s a question I ask myself way too often. A couple of weeks ago I spent a whole afternoon sitting on the floor of my sisters’ bedroom convinced that I was going mad. The only things I was capable of doing was sitting on the floor and turning the radio up so loud to try and drown out my own head, then turning it back down again when it got too loud; over and over again. I wouldn’t say this is a regular occurrence, but it happens often enough that I’m sort of used to it… doesn’t make it any more fun though! Eventually you calm down and your thoughts slow down enough to realise that no, you’re not going mad. The phrase ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ has never been more appropriate than when describing anxiety. Any slight problem becomes Everest. So when my brain has an odd thought (which it very often does, a main symptom of generalised anxiety disorder is strange, often upsetting and seemingly uncontrollable thoughts) I sometimes latch on to it and that’s that. If I can’t catch myself before it sets off, I’m basically getting onto a brain rollercoaster and it could be hours before I can get back off. The rollercoaster thing is such a cliché but it’s so accurate. You can’t get off, it twists and turns and sometimes plunges you from a great height into a big dark hole. Sometimes I can catch my thoughts and get a handle on them before they escalate; I know enough about my anxiety to see through most thoughts, but you can’t catch every single one. I don’t know what it was that set me off that day, it might have been a thought, or it might have been a feeling, or something I saw or read… Who knows, not me.
As I was writing this I remembered that I’d tried to write down what it felt like on that afternoon on the bedroom floor. I found this in the notes on my phone…
“I feel like I’m going mad. I woke up and I didn’t know what was going on. Everything’s going slow. I can’t see properly, things look hazy or blurred and moving. My head is swimming. My limbs won’t move properly. My thoughts feel like someone put my brain in a blender. Nothing makes sense, everything’s confused. I feel like I need to be ironed out. To lie face down and have everything unravelled until it makes sense again. A mess of tangled stuff. Like a drawer full of tangled jewellery. I don’t know what to do with myself. My heart is hammering and all I was doing was lying down, so I get up and walk around and things feel weird so I sit down and still feel weird. I can’t hear properly. My head hurts. The dog is starting at me. Maybe he can sense that I’ve gone mad. The ‘what ifs’ start – what if I’m like this forever? What if I never feel normal again? What if I really am mad? What if what if what if. The part of my brain that knows this is ridiculous is trying to make some logical arguments – you won’t feel like this forever. It’s just adrenaline, a panic attack, something like that. It’ll pass soon. Do something to take your mind off it. It’s probably because you just woke up and everyone wakes up from a nap confused. Maybe I should have a bath tonight, would that work? I’ve spent a couple of days writing blogs, on the computer, reading books and articles about mental health – I probably just need to step away from it and get back into reality, that’s all. That’s all. As though it’s that simple.” (and then I put a little sad face emoji)
I sound desperate. It doesn’t make much sense but that’s not surprising, I was having a crisis! I haven’t edited it, apart from spelling mistakes, so that’s exactly what I rambled at the time; in different tenses and with some questionable analogies! I’d gone to sleep after dinner because usually I’ll wake up and feel better but it obviously didn’t work this time. Poor me, I do sound a bit mad. I haven’t really written down what I was thinking exactly but I know that my thoughts will have been coming at 100mph and feeling like an unstoppable tide. It feels like standing in the middle of the motorway trying to direct traffic. Everything blaring and rushing past you and you may as well be an empty crisp packet on the hard shoulder for all the good you’re doing at directing that traffic. Eventually they’ll calm down, it might take a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days, but they sort themselves out. They’re just thoughts that’s what you have to remember; a thought is not a fact. You don’t have to take them seriously. It’s like when you’re on a bridge and you think you should jump off, or you’re next to something hot and you think you should touch it, just to check it’s hot… or when my cousin had an overwhelming urge to eat her rubber that happened to be shaped like a piece of fruit. They’re just thoughts and they come and they go, and if you paid attention to every single one then you really would go mad, or at least be known for eating stationery.
Obviously I hadn’t gone mad. I’m not even sure what ‘mad’ is, because I’m hardly ‘sane’ or ‘normal’ at the best of times anyway! I’ve just googled ‘madness’ and the definition is actually “the state of having a serious mental illness” in which case I should delete all this and just declare myself mad. A synonym of madness is ‘mental illness’, so there we go, I am (apparently) mad anyway. What I think I’m really afraid of is losing a grasp on reality. And also of ‘going mad’ but not knowing it, and having everyone else know that I’m mad but I’m adamant that I’m not. Like Nancy that one time in Hollyoaks, or that odd British Film I watched once about World War Two where they convince a girl she’s mad and make her put all her cats to sleep (Glorious 39, I don’t recommend it, I love Juno Temple and Bill Nighy but they really creeped me out in this film). Like the Truman Show but no fake world, just my own head. The conclusion I’ve come to is that if I do ‘go mad’, then I won’t be the first person to have done that, and I won’t be the last. I’ve also decided that everyone is a little bit mad anyway, in their own way, and if some days I feel a little bit closer to the looking glass than others, then that’s okay.
As Alice reassures the Mad Hatter…
and now let’s all listen to this classic, because it’s all I can think about.
(And on the mad theme, shout out to Claire and her awesome blog ‘We’re all mad here‘, because I think we are)