Wrestling with demons

5 am. I’m awake and my heart is thundering against my ribs. I’m fighting for breath and it feels as though a demon is sitting on my chest. Or maybe an elephant. I’ve gone from deeply asleep to conscious and panic stricken in a space of seconds. Frightened, disorientated, I try to figure out what’s woken me. Where am I? Why am I so afraid?

Next to me, my man sleeps, mercifully untroubled. The canal is quiet, although I can hear a few birds. If I concentrate I’ll hear the occasional, small sounds my child makes in his sleep. The boat is not on fire. There is no marching band going by. It’s all calm, and quiet. Except my heart is still racing, I’m still fighting for breath and my guts are churning. All the things I have to worry about crowd into my head. There are lots of them, and at 5 am there’s not much to blot them out with. All the things I need to be doing. All the things that could go wrong today. All the ghosts of years past, hungry, predatory. The things I want to forget come back in the quiet of the early morning.

I have learned, from cognitive behavioural therapy that it is important not to allow negative thought patterns to continue. I know from experience that if I let this get its teeth into me, my problems will get bigger. Depression will come in the wake of anxiety and I will struggle. Already I know that I cannot face getting up. The idea of trying to put some clothes on and face the world, is overwhelming, terrifying. I can’t do it. I can’t do anything. All the fears about being useless and everything being futile are creeping into my mind.

This is the moment where I choose whether to fight, or to sink. Fighting takes a lot of energy, sinking is easy, but no kind of good. I start by trying to get my breathing under control. Concentrating on the slow, deep breaths I force calm into my distraught body. I sit up, close my eyes, breathe. My man surfaces, realising something is awry. He asks what’s up and I say ‘everything’. He reminds me that we are no longer divided by an ocean, and all I want to do is cry. I cry. I keep breathing. He holds me, and I consciously, deliberately go through the process of pushing back the darkest thoughts and keeping control of myself. I’ve learned to put a fence up inside my head and to refuse to allow certain ideas passed it.

I also step into the sensation of fear. I let myself be aware of what’s happening inside my body. The sharp edges of anxiety, the physical pain of it, the hollowness. I keep breathing, slowly, slowly. The most basic forms of meditation, the most essential kinds of hanging on to the edges of life. My heart slows to something bearable. By this point it’s nearly 7 am. I have been fighting for two hours, I am very tired, and it’s time to get up. Depression makes it hard to do things, and pushing through it is difficult, but I know I have to push. And so the day begins. Thanks to the techniques I have at my disposal, I’m moving, and doing, the teeth have slackened their grip a bit, the panic has receded. I still feel rough. I’m exhausted, and bruised.

This time a year ago, pretty much all of my days started this way. It says a lot that it’s become less frequent. It’s not unusual for me to start the day this way, but it’s not every morning, and it’s not always this bad. I’m looking for things to believe in. I’m questing after hope and inspiration, and reasons not to give up. So long as I refuse to be beaten, I am not beaten.

I could not do this on my own. It is also true that I have not come to this on my own. I’ve had a lot of ‘help’ over the years. Days like this, I question my Druidry, and I depend on it and somehow, I am still here, and still breathing. Slowly.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Wrestling with demons

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