Footsteps rustle, heart races, figures gather, hands sweating. Grasping for air I look around. No escape, no exit. Sounds intensify. Children’s laughter is now like a drill racing inside my head. The smell of freshly baked brownies now turns my stomach. As I try to engage in conversation, the ability to focus loses all meaning.
There is a stampede of elephants inside my brain, consuming every sense. Frantically searching, for what i’m not sure. I’ve lost all sense of reality. With trembling limbs in a spinning world I run.Although now having raced through what feels like the length of the Sahara with an already deoxygenated body. I must stay standing. They can’t know. I won’t let it show. I hear my name, followed by a repeated question, how are you today´? Great I respond.
I am far away now back in the comfort of my car. The black speckles cease, my heart now pumping blood back to my organs. As my left hand finds my right, they hold each other rubbing my fingers as I breathe. The fog has cleared, perception has returned. I am safe for another few hours.
In a world of presumptions and accusations, find what makes you happy and don’t let go. It’s a virus I was told, inner ear problems they concluded. After a year of bloods, doctors, two hospitals and many consultants, the building that was once full of snowball fights in Winter and walks with friends in Spring and the often hilarious student teacher relationship is now a diminished petrifying memory. Every morning, I open the car door moving against every natural instinct to get my bag of rocks that I heave over my left shoulder, rotating me slightly, forcing me to shut my safe place behind and continue on. At the time I never knew two brown doors with a silver rectangle with the black paint ‘Pull’ engraved on it would mean so much. My brain somehow sends a message to my arm to do as described on the entrance. In my head I repeat, today will be better, followed by the classic saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. But somehow my instincts know this is not true.
Now feeling a sense of accomplishment for getting this far i’m walking towards the classroom. My eyes focused firmly on the ground and my hands welded to the shoulder pads holding my rocks inside. My legs carry my body to the top left corner, where I now breathe and look around. Being so early I see on average only three to five fellow school goers, who also see me back. With my books organised subject by subject I sit at a desk in the top left corner and wait for my friends. As weeks pass which feels like months, I fear my instincts were right. It can get worse. I no longer wait at my desk in the top left corner, but now for the high pitched frequency which when heard everyone reluctantly moves. For now class is good, although awkward when my name is called and I am expected to respond.
Instincts continue to prove my head wrong after what at this stage must be a year, but sadly it’s only been two months, three weeks and twenty odd painful days. No longer do I wait for anything but the end of the day, now I wait for the usual racing heart, sweaty hands which have gone dry and sore from the constant rubbing and incredible dizziness. I think of what you're doing. On a walk? Asleep on your bed? Or galloping through a field? Now I can get through the next forty minutes until it begins again. Now walking is even a task in itself. Moving sends the room into a continuous spin. How is this my life now? Will it ever be the same? Eventually the problem is found. Little did I know this was just the beginning of the tall mountain of anxiety.
Anxiety is like living with a voice you don’t understand. It knows all your fears and uses them against you. Soon it’s the loudest voice you hear, soon it’s the only voice you hear.
Weeks I am locked in invisible chains. Unable to enter the world as the repercussions are not worth chancing. It is now I realise all the phrases I use inadequately, as I am at this moment at my wits end. I have lost half of my safe haven. No longer will I feel the freedom of when we used to run on the beach, no longer will you be waiting for us behind the door.
At this stage I am physically unable to enter the building where I once somewhat enjoyed an education and after a much wasted Summer, I make the move to a new building, a new start. Both anxiousness and excitement battle in my head as I swing my books over both shoulders and willingly yet terrifyingly push the entrance.
A week has passed and I soon realise the stampede is still there. Unable to explain why, I grow frustrated. The teachers are helpful, the students friendly but this feeling still torments me. As soon as I wake I long for the evening, my hours of freedom when my concerns are not will I faint on the spot but instead are you tracking up or is that stride correct for the jump.
The next week I am sick and rushed in an ambulance to a place that physically cures you but mentally plagues you. I was kept here for a week. I believe this is where my semi-insomnia began. For hours I stared expressionless into a vacant void. On day four I grew impatient, defiant of how many times I have been poked and prodded. An infection grew, (which I won’t lie I wasn’t entirely sad to see) in one of the many vines coming out of my arms. They were removed and under no circumstances were they being put back in. Although this is my experience I know I am selfish to think this way as many suffer much worse in these places. Eventually I am home feeling defeated and conquered. From this point on things get that bit harder again. The progress I once made is a distant memory.
The last thing I want is to be the centre of a conversation. To observe from the outside is what I prefer although recently it doesn’t seem to be working out this way. A large brick house with a stone paved drive and flowers in an array of colours. A scent of pot pourri sweeps through my nose as I enter the tall dark brown oak doors. I sink into an old green couch observing the small room. Now she is looking for eye contact, so I focus. This was not the normal chit chat you would have with your neighbour. This woman did not hold back on the tough questions. For months I go to this large suburban house and i have grown accustomed to the smell of lavender in the room.
Progression is slow and for every left foot I put forward, my right disagrees soon followed again by my influential left. It is frustrating, not enjoying adventures, trips, simple everyday tasks. It is at this moment I realise progress is not about enhancing what is right now, but advancing what is to be. Will power and a mixture of motivation and stubbornness is needed and definitely tested throughout this journey.
Summer is approaching and I am certainly ready to feel less of an outcast who sits at home to do school work. Confidence grows as the show jumping season begins, as I am more than ready to put this whole experience behind me. Naïve is what I was to think this was true. It’s not all bad however. The gymkhanas have begun and happily I only feel slight panic in the small crowds. On the other hand once the shows start in, the larger crowds are somehow more intimidating. I am far from what I once was but not yet what I aim to be.
Disappointment creeps in as the season is not going completely as planned. Four wheel drive along a dirt track in the middle of a field, we park alongside a similar box and jeep. At this point I have three choices give in, give up, or give it all I’ve got. In a wave that makes me feel as if I’m floating I somehow have entered and returned to the jeep looking back at a blur. Now I can breathe as we tack up and wait. The rubber in my left hand, silver steel beneath my left boot, with the suspension in my right leg I leave the ground and am safe. We move through the crowds again, except now I can start to relax. My heart still trying to break out of my chest starts to come back to reality. In the warm up arena I am concentrated and only partially anxious about our surroundings. Left hind, left front, hind right, front right. As blades of grass fold beneath us, piercing the earth with your studs. Contact is gathered as my leather glove slides down your rubber reins, gliding over each bump. My left boot moves back behind your girth, pressing against your side. We look at the first jump. The crowd no longer matters, I am in a bubble free of all panic.
As per usual though, I always make a mistake. A wrong line, in too deep, chipping in a stride. It is fair to say this is not the best season. Week in week out improvement is limited. If you’re ever at a loss, just remember why you first began.
Many places I go I want nothing more than to enjoy it, I want to say yes without playing twenty questions. From little things such as going into town to bigger things like the Dublin Horse Show or music venues, it is a constant push and pushing myself to go. Sometimes I fail but you have to learn to take the losses as well as the wins. Wanting to shake off the panic but also fearing to let go is one of the most difficult things to do. Outside I smile, jump, laugh and without a doubt this is authentic but in challenging times this is not what is reflecting on the inside. Inside I may be riddled with the fear of an attack, inside I usually want to run away.
It’s great to be surrounded by family and friends whether they are human or pets. Now I am starting to feel a turning point. I see you need to talk even though this took me a while to figure out. After experiencing new buildings, new methods, I have learned a new mind set. The fear of feeling exposed, the thought of being vulnerable, letting people see you're struggling is nothing to fear. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness but strength. Anxiety is a feeling, a thought no different to any other. The more it is talked about, the less we fuel our fears until, it is no longer capable of using our fears against us, it is no longer the only voice we hear. Controlling the stampede is becoming easier. Enjoyment is returning to the simple things and I know and believe in time life does recover even stronger and more improved than before.
Dreams and goals are important but it is more important to turn your dreams into goals. You should not have to hide away and miss opportunities and experiences. Take those steps no matter how small and just don’t give in. I may have lost some battles but I cannot back down or cave in because I want to win the war. If you feel your goals are drifting, if you can no longer remember why you’re training, practicing, striving for your opportunity ask yourself…
How bad do you crave it?
How bad do you need it?
Do you eat, sleep and dream it?
Because if it is all you want, you have to give it all you’ve got.
I find quotes inspiring and motivating. So if you are having a bad day look in the mirror and say these to yourself aloud;
I am far from what I once was, but not yet what I am aiming to be
When I feel I’m at a loss, I remember why I started.
Today I will do what I think I can't so tomorrow I will do what I know I can
If my dreams don’t scare me they're not big enough
It’s not whether I get knocked down, it's whether I get back up
I acknowledge how far I have come, and have faith in how far I have to go