Provocation triple distilled
28 May 2017 22:28 (South Africa)
Opinionista Antoinette Muller

Sometimes the injuries no one can see are harder to handle

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

Sarah Taylor’s return from injury for an anxiety disorder is significant, but it has also struck a personal nerve.

Sarah Taylor, the prodigy English cricketer, made a comeback from injury over the weekend after being out of the game for more than a year. But her injury is not one you can always see, even if its symptoms manifests themselves physically sometimes.

Taylor suffers from severe anxiety and she has been receiving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to address her issues. Her comeback, although only in a minor match, is something she described as a “proud” moment – more so than the day she made her international debut.

It’s a great win – not just for Taylor, but for mental health issues in the sport. Cricket, in England at least, seems to be streets ahead in players being willing to open up about their mental injuries. The significance of this should not be underestimated. Having relatable figures talk about their struggles can be a tremendous help and Taylor’s story has struck a nerve with me personally.

I have always felt some sort of anxiety. I used to dull it with drugs, drink and self-harm. But I am sober now and the symptoms of extreme anxiety have become amplified at times. On Tuesday, we published the story about Frantisek Rajtoral and the elephant nobody talks about. This is my elephant.

Explaining crippling anxiety is not easy. “We all feel anxious sometimes” is probably the most common response. It is also the least helpful. I know “you all do”. But “you all” seem to cope with it perfectly fine. Some days, I can’t cope. This only makes me more anxious.

On some days, leaving the house to do anything outside of a moderate routine is extremely difficult. New and unfamiliar spaces, large, loud crowds are suffocating. Everyone’s smiling, happy socialising is impossible to digest. I resent them all for being so happy in their oblivion. But it’s the days where even something routine is a fight when this elephant will trample everything in its path.

Going to the supermarket, a mundane, utterly routine task can become the most agonising thing in the world. What am I anxious about? Nothing exactly and everything entirely.

The bargaining to get to the point of being able to step out the front door can take hours. And for a few seconds, sometimes minutes, I am paralysed. Rendered incapable of even thinking about something as normal as buying milk. Hours of being distracted and pre-occupied with something most people can do with their eyes closed.

It will all be fine, you’ve done this before,” I’ll tell myself.

But there is always the utterly silly “what if”.

What if I run into somebody I know but had not plan to see? What will we say to each other? What if I say something stupid? What if I run into somebody I sort of know, maybe from Twitter? Do we have to greet each other? I hate small talk. I’ve never understood it. I don’t have time to waste on these polite interactions.

Did I remember my wallet? My SmartShopper card? What if there was something else I should be doing. Why can’t I find the cucumber on its normal shelf? Why did I miss the cucumber right there on its normal shelf and now I have to bother the shop assistant about it? And now that they told me, they must think I’m a fool.

Get to the till and I can’t find my wallet.

Told you that you’d fuck this up,” the nagging, taunting annoying voice in the back of my head laughs.

Impatience. From me. From the cashier. The person waiting in line. I’m sorry. Throw everything on to the counter. Find the card in my pocket. Pay. More panic because the next person is at the till and I’ve made a mess. They’re waiting. Looking. Judging my mess. Once in a while, somebody will see me. Recognise it and say: “it’s okay, just relax, we have time.”

Seconds feel like minutes. Minutes are hours and I am ruining everyone’s day by wasting their time because I am incapable of doing the most stupendously simple task without getting into a tizz.

This utterly ordinary daily activity, is such an utterly extraordinary struggle. And I feel utterly fucking ridiculous for feeling this way.

There is a foot on my chest and a hand around my throat. Everyone around me is standing too close. Moving too fast, too slow, not moving at all. I am drowning in my own sweat, even if it’s below 10 degrees. I can’t hear myself breathe. Stop. Stand still. Scream without uttering a single sound. Get angry because everyone just keeps moving like nothing is wrong and I am completely invisible. Not that I’d want to be visible. That would mean engaging with somebody I didn’t plan to. There’s a pool of bile, constantly swirling in my stomach. Agonising over every minute detail of things said and not said. Done and not done. It’s a cacophony of constant self-doubt that manifests as nausea on days when it feels like earth is spinning off its axis.

I am sorry. Sorry that you might think I am aloof, when all I am trying to do is hold it together. Sorry that you mistake my being mortified for avoiding conversation. Sorry that I can’t just get over it. Sorry I snapped. Sorry that I just don’t want to smile right now.

And then there is the guilt. I’m so lucky. So blessed. So privileged. So brutally aware of how I have absolutely nothing to be anxious about. So happy that I’ve never been so anxious that I end up in hospital. Irrational? Sure. I’m so sorry.

And so, I go. A deep breath. A count to 10. A long run. And exhale. We go again. Tomorrow might not be as bad as today. Tomorrow might be worse than the day after. But this is my elephant. And we just have to learn to get on. DM

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles






Do Not Miss