I am a certified Mentalist. As in, my brain does not know how to work properly and therefore tries to fuck me over on a pretty much daily basis.
Most of my friends are Mentalists too, because Mentalism loves company. ‘Normal’ people have no idea what to do with us, see – they read all the ‘How To Talk to a Mentalist’ memes that go around and they try their best, but they never quite get it right, bless their non-freakish cotton socks. Me, I like talking to people who understand. The evidence, m’lud – a conversation I had yesterday with a friend who has been struggling recently:
Me: “So, just how far up the Mental scale are you today, love?”
Friend, with a distinct tone of frantic hysteria: “Does this scale go up to FUCKING BATSHIT?”
Me: “Let me just put the kettle on…”
There are many varieties of Mentalist. In my immediate social circle you will find depressives, anxious blithering wrecks and those for whom focussing on anything at all for more than about three minutes is as likely as seeing Dave ‘Spambot’ Cameron doing the hokey pokey with Russell Brand down the local working men’s club.
I tick all three of those boxes. Just call me Funtime Violet. Don’t misunderstand (and many people do, which is worrying in itself) – I am perfectly capable of presenting myself as a functioning adult. In fact I really am a Proper Grown Up – I have healthy well adjusted kids, I work and I get by just fine. So long as you don’t have an x-ray view into the workings of my head, things are just dandy. It’s the struggle to keep that Grown Up shit going that’s the problem.
I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which basically translates as ‘worry worry ooh what if that goes wrong worry MENTAL SOUP aargh fuckitall’. The problem with GAD is that those on the outside have trouble understanding it. “Oh, it’s just generalised worry,” they witter brightly, “at least it’s just a general thing and nothing specific! You can just work around it, yes?”
No. NO SHUT UP. There is no such thing as ‘working around’ GAD. It’s like a fucking great big gloomy cloud of marshmallow dripping over you all the time. I sit at my desk and the Marshmallow of Anxious Doom (let’s call him Mad, cos that what he makes me) settles himself comfortably around my neck, easing his miserable self into the daily grind.
Me: “I have this article to write, I could get that done by lunchtime. This afternoon I’ll catch up with the housework then I can have some quality time with the kids and maybe get some of my own writing done later tonight.”
Mad: “But that article’s quite big. You should probably do some more research first. Why are you writing it, anyway? No one thinks you actually know anything about that subject, stupid. The editor probably just felt sorry for you and wanted to give you some work.”
Me: “That is Mad talking, and I know to ignore Mad. The editor doesn’t know me and commissioned the article blind, therefore he must think I can do it. And I can do it, because I’ve done articles like this a dozen times before. Shut up, Mad.”
Mad: “Ahahahaaa! You dickhead. Let me just crush your windpipe a tiny bit more and tell you about how it’s all pointless because even if you write the article and the editor likes it, even then, it is only a tiny drop in the ocean of work you need to get done this week and you will never do it all. Ooh look, isn’t that a peregrine falcon outside the window? Oh no, it’s actually a sparrow. Never mind, you go look up all the varieties of birds found in British back gardens whilst I stare at this piece-of-shit article for you, Tosswomble.”
Mad is a bona fide twat, and Mad goes with me everywhere. Anyway, I digress. The point of this article is to list the things Not To Say to someone with an anxiety disorder. A gift from us* to you.
*Mad is glaring over my shoulder, demanding to be included. The utter bellend.
‘Why don’t you get a hobby to keep your mind off things?”
Ha. Hahahahaaaaaa. So much of my time is taken up with worrying that I do not have any spare for luxuries such as hobbies. Pretty much all my waking hours are spent either fretting about what I need to do or frantically trying to get done the things I didn’t do whilst I was fretting. The only way to stop someone with GAD thinking about worrisome things is to dart them with a horse tranq.
“Stop drinking coffee. Coffee keeps you awake and makes you jittery.”
Not when you have an attention deficiency disorder on top of the anxiety, it doesn’t. Coffee levels out my head and enables me to focus more clearly on things like worrying and focussing. Also, coffee actually helps people like me get to sleep. Aha! Up yours.
“Try getting out of the house more. Exercise will tire your brain out and help it rest.”
Are you fucking kidding me? Listen up, bud – I look after a stable yard three days a week and ride at least one horse each time I’m there. Sometimes two. I have a dog that gets walked. I walk Smallest to school (knackering in itself because he is autistic and never stops fucking talking jesus christ won’t somebody make it stop). I TAKE ENOUGH EXERCISE.
However weary I am, however much Radox I put into a hot bath and try to drown Mad, he will be there floating on the surface – “hey baby I’m still here how about we have a chat, yeah? About that time in nineteen eighty seven when you made a tit of yourself in the newsagents asking for the wrong newspaper and the bloke laughed, why don’t we talk about that, hey? Everyone thinks you’re a dick anyway and did I tell you that article is shit? You should probably rewrite it, it’s only a thousand words after all, just delete that crap you’ve already done and start again, yeah? You’ll get it done by morning, sleep is for the weak, remember?”
“Have you tried mindfulness?”
Get out. Right now. GET OUT OF MY EYEBALL SPACE BEFORE I GODDAMN CUT YOU. This is about the most patronising thing anyone could say to a person with anxiety issues. Mindfulness relies on being able to settle the mind, to have the ability to just sit still and calm those silly excitable neurons that are bouncing around inside your head shrieking ‘WAKE UP WAKE UP THINGS TO DO STUFF TO WORRY ABOUT WAKE UP!’ The only way that mindfulness might work for me would be if they allowed you to drink half a bottle of gin as a warm up exercise.
“Just stop. You are in control of your own mind, just cut that silly old worrying off at the pass.”
I’m in about as much control of the anxious part my mind as you are of the space shuttle. However much you think about stopping those engines they plough on to the nearest planetary disaster without so much as a by your leave. I can sit for hours playing mind numbing word games, knitting Mental Squares (I’m crap at knitting so just do row after row until I get sick of the sight of it and rip it back to start again), or staring at Question Time wondering how all these people who are even less sane than me get to run the country, but it doesn’t stop my brain dissolving into a puddle of churning anxiety whilst Mad curls himself round my shoulders like some kind of psychotic protector, scheming up his next attack. His low whispering into my waiting ears is a potent broth of irrational thought in the Sally Army night kitchen of my mind.
But no one likes mental soup.
If anxiety is affecting your life, it might be worth having a look at Anxiety UK‘s factsheets. For further information on anxiety in general try No Panic. And if you have any suggestions for how to suffocate a large grey invisible marshmallow, I’m all ears.