My anxieties have anxieties

It’s 23:54 and I’m alone in my mother’s maternity ward room. While she goes through pain I cannot imagine, birthing my new sibling, I’m hunched up in the bright blue pleather rocking chair they have in each room. Literally biting my fist. The past two weeks have drained me, between worrying about my mother’s comfort levels at every step, I’m juggling pressures that many people in my life constantly tell me are back-breaking. My brand of anxiety, of course, continually tells me that I am not enough, don’t do enough, will never be nearly enough.

In that moment I had a painful, almost crushing realisation that I needed someone to hear me. Someone to just rub my back, allow me to wallow, feel as much as I needed to. To simply listen. I can barely remember all I felt, but the struggle of trying to figure out why I felt that way is still overwhelming – because what’s a more fun way to try manage your mental illness but to attempt to diagnose what causes every feeling you’re experiencing? I knew that most of the anxiety was being caused by the birth of my new sibling. I had been with my mom all day, watched as her doctor induced her labour and stayed by her side as her contractions ripped through her body. I had held her hand through most of them, so much so that the nurses joked that I was her doula. And after hours at the hospital my father took my sister and I home – hospital hours had been long over and we were essentially kicked out – the anxiety of leaving her alone kicked in. I had never felt that terrified to leave my mother alone and not being able to return to her for hours after. I was in such a state I could not express it. I couldn’t bear it. After sneaking back into that hospital and trying to calm myself down, I realised how much I need to learn to reach out.

Yup, that long ass intro leads to the simplest (not so much impressive as it is difficult) light bulb moment: that I need to learn to ask for help.

I knew that anxiety had been a part of my life since primary school. I knew that the painful “gunshots”, as I told my mom then, had been tearing through my chest for years. I was painfully aware that it was not normal to run out of breath, feel an impending sense of doom and an abnormal heartbeat when I felt like I was going to run late for something. I went to multiple doctors who tried to diagnose my sore knees, wrists that couldn’t handle weight, and creaking shoulders that would freeze and throb.  I saw it manifest in my sleepwalking into dark roads, in my drinking, in my memory loss and in the way I hurt people and punished myself in ways I still don't understand. I struggled through admitting how anxiety impacted my work. How one typo could cause a day’s plans to go up in smoke, running a couple minutes late for something could end in me sobbing in the cubicle of a public bathroom and how anxious thoughts end in, “yup, death. I’d prefer death” so often that people simply took my comments as jokes. I knew the pain I felt the time I had a panic attack in front of a loved one and had them walk past me while I cried on the floor, and even now, I have no idea how to explain that hurt or how to teach others how to help me through this. It hurt me deeply (and continues to do so) when I went into the darkest parts of anxiety, unable to reach out to people and had streams of communication go dead because I was no longer the one making the effort. I was familiar with exactly what triggered me and was vigilant in my attempts to control situations to make sure I could prevent attacks – a whole lol to that. But even now as I think about this, soon after re-watching Laura Mvula’s documentary Generation Anxiety in tears, I feel as though I’m exaggerating.

Ha. I’m hyper-aware of how all this is viewed by others. As though everyone who hears me speaking about this agrees. That I’m a baby. That asking for help and support is burdening others. Man, my anxieties have anxieties. So I grin, barely bear it and work through it alone. I almost always have at least 5 tabs open that relate directly to anxiety, personal essays of other people’s experiences, googling my own symptoms, remedies, exercises and ways to cope because I can’t afford to see someone about all this, let alone pay for any medication they may prescribe. I’m so conscious of my anxious feelings that I need endless validation that it is indeed anxiety. The irony.

I try calm. I try affirmations. I try to remember. “You are not being a baby. You are not blowing things out of proportion. Right now, this is a big deal. Don’t shrink how you feel. How you feel is real. You’ll get through this. You’ll get through this. You’ll get through this. Repeat. Breathe. Use your meditation app. Relax your jaw. Talk to a friend. Take your vitamins. Try to write. Go to gym. Get out of bed. Get out of bed. Take a painkiller. Respond to that text. Make something to eat. Leave the house. Reach out to someone. Brush your teeth. Drink some water. Call your mom. Just open the damn email. Bath. Eat. Make your bed.” Every day is a negotiation.

Everything comes with a few more breaths, another to do list and more often than not, more worries. Some days I’m able to complete each new line of my growing to do list, I'm able to explore new ideas and feel fierce excitement and inspiration at opportunities while other days are riddled with fear, breathlessness, and exhaustion that only multiplies with each nap. And so I thought I’d share this with you. I’m not only trying to own how I’m feeling but I’m also hoping to connect to other Black women and femmes who struggle with their mental health, those who doubt it, own it, survive and struggle through it. Those who need some form of help and those who are willing to offer an ear, a shoulder, a space of healing and listening. I’m developing something. I’ve been developing something since I tweeted this.

To those who reached out to me, I heard you and I’m sorry it’s taken this long. I've read all you've shared with me and cried through the majority of it. But it is coming. So I’ll be getting in touch with those who got in contact but am also looking forward to speaking to many more of you about this. Women. Femmes. Non-binary. Trans. Agender. (Yes, that means no cis men.) Let’s hold each other through this.

[My mom is happy, healthy and with painful nipples. Baby Tshimega is a joy, barely crying unless you fuss. Thank you for all the love and light sent our way <3 ]

Laura Mvula's documentary Generation Anxiety

AM I a writer?

I’ve been struggling a lot with writing. I write, I discard. I write, I leave pieces unfinished. I write, then wonder why anyone would even bother reading anything I have to say. But eventually something need to go out into the world. I was listening to an episode of Another Round last week. Tracy and Heben were speaking to Ashley Ford about how they go through the same thing a lot. When Ashley was asked about what she learned about herself through therapy, she spoke about being a perfectionist. She says that she never thought she was a perfectionist until she went for therapy. She slowly began to realise that her perfectionism translated into paralysis, in terms of wanting to do something and having such high standards for herself that she couldn't even get started. Girl. When I heard that sentence I swear my soul harmonised a hallelujah chorus. "This is exactly it!", I thought to myself. I haven't been writing because I not only doubted the importance of what I wanted to say but I also didn't believe it was good enough for me! 

I’m published. I wrote an essay about two years ago about being submissive (in terms of kink, not patriarchy) and one amazing woman, Yolisa Qunta,  felt it was good enough to be included in her book of essays, Writing What We Like along with other great writers. I really and truly did not understand why she wanted this but I agreed. I went as far as not editing the piece because every time I read that piece now I can look back at how my writing was when I first began exploring my thoughts more. I love how honest it is. I love the voice I used it. And oh my Beyoncé, I am a published writer.

Even writing that sentence I wanted to say I’m technically a published writer when the word that should be there is literally. I’m about to have my first piece of academic writing published in a Feminist journal. It hasn’t quite hit me yet. Why and how is it that all these writer things are happening at the same time and I’m still struggling to put out my writing because I believe it isn’t good enough? My co-supervisors are pretty excited and proud of my paper but I’m still so damn uncertain of my self. My writing. My voice. Basically, I'm still unsure of the importance of having this voice, as Panashe Chigumadzi spoke about in an episode of Frank. I’ve written for online magazines, hosted incredible women on my blog for the My Feminism Looks Like Series and am learning to trust the importance of my words.

And with all this, I still squirm when people call me a writer.

Do I have a case of Imposter Syndrome I need to overcome or is it what Stacy Mari Ismael refers to as the fact that, “women never praise themselves as often as men do”? I hate that it may be both of these. I hate that they're even a thing. But I am learning to do better. I'm learning to embrace my doubts and my failures to do better. Let's not get too philosophical here. This shit does suck. But I'm going to try power through it - and trust me, sometimes that means allowing myself the tears and working my way through the panic attacks - in order to get these words out. I'm terrified of failing, not only other people but also myself. I'm terrified of putting my words out there. But, once again, I'm trying to do better. I surround myself with Black women, I listen to Black women speak, I read things like this by Black women (in that last case, Melissa Harris-Perry). I'm trying to do better. 

In the episode of Another Round, Tracy shares a quote by Thomas Mann, "a writer is something for whom the act of writing is harder than it is for other people" which is something a writer friend of mine, Dasia has also shared on her blog. That. Shit. Right. There. Talk about writing through your feels, cross-referencing with things other writers have said and finally coming to terms with a noun that makes you anxious. I guess I am a writer. 

I’ll be attempting to follow Jane Smiley's advice and be aware that the magic of the first draft is that it simply exists. I need to allow more of my writing to exist.

P.S. If you are in Joburg and are able to come to the Joburg launch of Writing What We Like tomorrow, please do come through? I have a slight (understatement) fear of public speaking and seeing familiar faces would be amazing.