Illness and identity

When I first started having panic attacks, other than being confused by the unwelcome Acid Jazz party going on in my chest I always felt weakened. By weakened I don’t mean that I felt lethargic but that I thought I had let myself down by succumbing to the sensations I’d been feeling. As panic and anxiety started to appear at random, I thought more about how I was letting myself down and this developed into a feeling of ineptitude. After all, panic and anxiety started to hold me back from various things I wanted to do. I cancelled on friends, neglected to self-care, missed the gym/training, couldn’t complete work etc. It just about permeated every part of my life, robbing me of any say over the matter in the process. Because panic especially can come at random, I’ve always had a feeling of trepidation before I do things because I might well have a bad night beforehand and that’ll throw everything in the air. It’s been hard to accept that these things will happen, it’s been even harder to convince myself that panicking isn’t a black streak that runs over my personality. 

At University I tried pretty hard to live by a routine, especially in my final year. At some points I actually did and I found a strange sort of pride in sacrificing drinking to make sure I did my laundry on a Sunday. Wow. I sometimes had a fairly consistent gym routine, and occasionally I ventured to do my degree. However there were plenty of times where these all just didn’t happen, and I felt ashamed of myself every time. This happened a lot but I remember having a panic attack the night before I was supposed to go to the gym with my friend. I woke up the next morning feeling drained, stupid and still a little bit anxious. Whenever these things happened I would religiously compare myself to men who were whatever I wasn’t at the time: consistent, strong, in-control, and although I didn’t realise it at the time I thought these guys were good men and I wasn’t. Social media had a lot to do with this because there’s a stylised version of masculinity that goes around which has a lot to do with strength, control, aesthetics and such-like; I would say I got sucked into it. 

When asked what I want to do with my life, I’ll tell you I want two things: to do something that makes me happy and to be a good man. I’m quite aware of my identity but of course those things can and do change over time. Unfortunately I let myself get sucked into this idea of masculinity that prides a stoic level of control over yourself and your emotions and of being consistent in everything all the time. Just think of the Rock running around in a stringer shouting “HARDEST WORKER IN THE ROOM” and you’ve pretty much arrived at something that looks like the kind of shoes I wanted to fill for a while. Of course men like Dwayne Johnson are highly unique and equally they lead an extremely tight lifestyle. Nonetheless, there’s a definite attractiveness to that kind of lifestyle. I wish I could explain why I was and still am drawn to that lifestyle when I like food, beer and sleep too much to ever attain that level of physical monstrosity. That’s the thing though, there’s been a huge dissonance between the kind of man I wanted to be for a while and the kind of man that I should be considering my actual fucking personality. I don’t wear stringers. 

I do still question myself when I panic or get anxious. Sometimes I still feel ashamed when I have to practice rhythmic breathing to calm myself down, yet four hours later the same broken record is spinning on and on in my head. I still sometimes feel like I’m a bit of a failure when I can’t make it to the gym after a tough night and on those days I’ll look at myself in the mirror and think “my god you do not look good.” I definitely still get worked up after my 10th micro-examination of a text message trying to decipher whether someones had enough of me. However I try now to think along different lines when I put myself under the microscope. I wonder what good I did in the day, for myself or for someone else; I also think about what I have achieved instead of what I haven’t. The big one is that I spend a great deal more time now being aware of what my panic is making me think of myself. Yes it affects my daily life and it probably will for the rest of my life but I try now to not see it as something that takes away from me. Having this disorder made me much more aware of illness and wellbeing, and my experiences with it have helped me to develop my personality in ways that has helped to befriend and grow alongside some truly beautiful people. In turn actually these wonderful people, whether they’re still in my life or not, have helped me to appreciate the good that I do bring to the world in my own unique way. I think I’m still a way off yet but I’m finally starting to recognise that my illness does not make me less of a man.

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