Anxiety, Guest Posts

Black and High Functioning

December 17, 2016
panic

TW: This essay discusses anxiety and depression

By Shannon Barber

I wake up in a dead panic at 8:29 A.M. I can’t move, my heart is pounding in my ears and I want to reach out to my partner and ask for cuddles and bum rubs but I can’t. If he’s awake I don’t move, I make myself close my eyes and regulate my breathing. If he’s asleep I don’t move, I lay there with my eyes wide open. I don’t give a shit about my breathing.

This is high functioning. This is when the noise and the commentary in my head. The voice is every voice. My own voice parroting everything I’ve heard and thought. Every stupid fear. Every piece of shit moment, every microaggression, everything repeats in my memory like it happened today. The voice reinforces what I learned when I was young. I’m wrong. I don’t matter. These are the demons I wrestle with. From the time I was a child until this very moment. This is what I thought made me broken and negated any value my life had.

Prior to adulthood, anxiety was not something I knew about. I had no idea that other people struggled with depression outside of famous artists who’d committed suicide or wrote poetry about their suffering. I thought what I was going through was nothing. I believed that every suicidal thought, every time I self-harmed, all of it was attention seeking behavior and I was just being dramatic.

I did not anticipate how hard this would be. I don’t know how to write about this. I don’t know how to not sit and shake and almost shit my pants because I’m what?

Terrified?

Anxious?

Everything.

It feels like everything.

It feels like I’m dying and choking and like I’m going to piss my pants because I’m terrified and ashamed because I’m not supposed to feel this way. I’m not supposed to tell anyone. I’m not supposed to want to cry. I’m not supposed to have White people problems. I am supposed to be made of better stock. I am supposed to be thankful things aren’t worse.  I am supposed to be tough. I am supposed to be strong.

I am not supposed to pretend like my suffering is actual suffering. I am not supposed to be doing any of this. I was raised better. I was raised to be harder. I am a disappointment.

This is why I am unlovable.

I should stop talking.

This is why I’m a failure.

This is why no one gives a shit about me.

This is why-

This is why.

This is what’s inside me. This is what I hear on repeat. This is what I never say to anyone else. This is what happens in my stress dreams. This is what wakes me up in a dead panic. This is what happens when I wake up paralyzed and hearing nothing but hate and the clear message that whatever I’ve done or thought of doesn’t matter because I am nothing to no one. I know intellectually that this is anxiety and depression. I know. I try to remember and wind up forgetting.

I know but-I am responsible for everything.

Everything is my fault. But I don’t matter.

This is what I obsess over. This is what I keep a secret because I am not supposed to be this person.

When I open my mouth I want to say “I’m scared.” Or “I’m not okay.” And what comes out is I’m fine because I am supposed to be fine. I have no right to claim pain or fear or anxiety. I have no justification for this. I know this is all just in my head; it is a weakness and an indulgence.

When I’ve been on medication for this, I’ve felt like a fraud because I did not present myself correctly. The doctor asked me questions and concluded that I was drug seeking. The medications I’ve bene on, haven’t been appropriate for my symptoms but I can never really show up properly. Obviously, anxiety is not a Black people issue. Obviously, my history of having done speed and my apparent lies about my mental health and inability to sleep indicated more that I was wasting their time and mine.

I believed them. I went to church(es), I gave it to Gods I did not believe in. I worked harder, I tried harder, I smiled more, and I forced sunshine and positivity down my own throat as thick as a fist. It didn’t help.

Sometimes, I still believe them. I know that I in particular am not entitled to feel these things or discuss them ever.

I’m a faker.

I’m a liar.

I think my body knows the truth.

The tension in my gut, the knot on the back of my neck, the dry scrape when I make myself blink are all the language my body has to let me know I’m not okay.  I know my posture, that when I don’t know what to do or how to speak to make the fear damp itself down I am suddenly a frightened prey animal, my eyes are on the sides of my head and I don’t know if I want to run, shit where I stand or mewl until I’m eaten or released.

This is supposedly “high functioning”. If you look at me while it is all happening in my body, you’d never know. I smile, and wear eyeliner and walk and talk but inside I’m dying. High functioning looks cold, high functioning is a pretty face and guts that are so liquid I might smile and shit on my own shoes.

High functioning makes me a liar.

There is no end. There is no pretty writerly wrap up here. Coping means, I have to mitigate the fear because I have to live life. I have to go to work. I have to take care of my little family. I can’t call out of life terrified or panicked. Survival means I remain high functioning.

I don’t fall apart where I can be seen or heard. I smile while clenching my asshole closed against the panicked shitting of a cornered prey animal. I internalize.

I listen to the voice in my head that tells me, fuck you, you’re faking. Smile. Walk. Move.  Act like a human being for two minutes.

I do what I’m supposed to do because that is how I survive.

I wake up in a dead panic at 8:29 A.M. I can’t move, my heart is pounding in my ears and I want to reach out to my partner and ask for cuddles and bum rubs but I can’t. If he’s awake I don’t move, I make myself close my eyes and regulate my breathing. If he’s asleep I don’t move, I lay there with my eyes wide open. I don’t give a shit about my breathing.

This is a step. This is confession and outing myself. This is the real me, behind the unblinking eyes and frozen expression. This is the truth and I want to believe, I need to believe that truth will set me free. As much as I need to believe, I still hate this. I hate saying these things and I hate that it is my life.  I struggle with my own strength, both the way it is perceived by others and how I perceive it in myself.

In learning how to cope with my anxiety and depression, I realize that yes I have to say goodbye to the person I thought I was. The bad ass that could put their head down and rush the problems and panic like a linebacker, I thought it was great that I could be full of broken glass on the inside and still seem human and normal to other folks.  I have had to accept that the ways I taught myself to cope, the pushing it inside, the forcing myself not to cry, the smiling, the terse “I’m fine” or the voluble “I’m SO GREAT’ can’t work forever because they are lies.  I have to realize that high functioning doesn’t mean okay.

My path to learning new better ways to cope involves a lot of me confessing to myself how bad I might feel at any time. It has meant teaching me a level of honesty that burns me with shame but sets me free. I have a long way to go.

Even on bad days I have hope.

I hope someday I can cry freely when I’m hurt or happy. I hope that I can find the drug cocktail that works for me. I hope that exposing myself this way will help someone. I hope breaking my self-imposed silence will one more step in me helping myself and accepting myself without shame.

Right now, being Black in America is terrifying. Most of the time when I’m walking around, I am tight, controlled, rigid and I spend a lot of time telling myself, not now. Don’t panic, don’t have an anxiety attack, don’t look weird. I don’t want to die because I panicked in public. That is real.

On the other hand, I will not continue to operate under stigma. I won’t suffer silently because I’m Black or because Black people don’t have these problems or any of the reasons I’ve kept quiet for my entire life.  I can stand in this light only because I know I have to in order to survive.

I say all of this, out loud for the whole world to see because I want to live. I want to live.

Shannon Barber is the author of Self Care Like A Boss. They are currently at work on an as yet untitled poetry book, has non-fiction in Issue 3 of Witch Craft Magazine available now. Their work has also appeared in Shotgun Honey, The Big Click and other places in print and online. Feel free to visit their website at www.shannon-writes.net.

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Gina December 20, 2016 at 12:44 am

    Shannon, wow. So moving. I identify and empathize with a lot of your words, but obviously can’t really understand the depths. Sending you love, light and compassion. Keep inspiring us all to become our best selves.

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