Journal: Anxiety and Listening

(TW: Anxiety and discussion of suicidal ideation, as well as ableism.)

Ableism is something I’m irritatingly used to. To a certain extent, it’s why I’m getting into academia – a career choice where I’m highly unlikely to ever need to be put in a situation where my epilepsy will make me a risk or insurance factor? Bliss.

But ableism is, alas, annoyingly common, from bars that think strobe lights are the height of decorative genius (it’s not and it makes me feel nauseous) to people playing ‘The Harlem Shake’ without thinking (urgh).

But last night I had an interesting experience.

See, most of my experiences revolving around albeism are related to my epilepsy in some way.

This one was related to a less serious part of my identity – my anxiety.

It’s only barely been diagnosed, but it’s definitely there, and it’s pretty much untreatable – not only does my family have a history of reacting badly to anti-anxiety medications, most anti-anxiety medications interact badly with AEDs I’m on, something I only realized when a friend told me the drug I’m on to treat my myoclonic jerks was an anti-anxiety med and I then had a doctor tell me the same day that it interacted with my other medications. Charming.

So, I deal with anxiety bog-standard route: grounding, fresh air, changing up routines when necessary and trying to note what it is that’s causing the anxiety spirals.

What led to the ableism last night was a new friend asking after it and my telling her about it, rather frankly (as I do) including the fact that, when I’m at my worst, my anxiety also leads to suicidal ideation.

This was not a wise move.

From there I couldn’t finish a single sentence for her telling me not to kill myself, that I was a strong, beautiful person, that I should see a therapist, that this was terrible, that I needed medication immediately and ignore, you know, the actual realities of my situation.

Eventually, I got tired and simply said “Am I allowed to finish a goddamn sentence?”

She shut up long enough for me to explain what I mean by suicidal ideation, then clearly got uncomfortable by my lack of discomfort and irritation, and changed the topic to my shoes.

Okay, real talk here:

Look, I get it, it’s scary when people mention that they want to kill themselves, but suicidal ideation takes a lot of flavors. I’ve had drug-induced suicidal ideation (the weirdest version, since it was basically my brain telling me to kill myself while feeling totally normal and relaxed), anxiety-induced suicidal ideation, panic-induced suicidal ideation (the two are basically identical, for me, anyway) and depression-induced suicidal ideation (when I had situational depression following my mother’s stroke). I never followed through on any of them.

(Sidenote: Look, I don’t want to complicate this post by going into “now, these are the mental illnesses that will kill themselves” because frankly, you can look that shit up yourselves. I don’t want this post to move outside my own experience, but more than that, I also don’t want to move into stereotypes.)

Suicidal ideation occurs for a number of reasons. Staying in my own experience – because it’s all I have – I tend to dive highest and hardest into suicidal ideation when I’m having an anxiety attack because of all the stimulus going on. My stomach is rolling, my chest is tight, my brain is screaming, I’m panicking and all I can think is I want all of these emotions and feelings to stop. So my brain comes up with the first, quickest options to stop feeling this awful way – to kill myself. Sometimes it combines with a depressive mood and I get really into it, but more often than not, I manage to ground myself, take a few deep breaths, and call someone who can talk me down.

So when I say “I sometimes suffer from suicidal ideation” and reacting like I said “Oh yeah, I’ve tried to kill myself multiple times” is not helpful. It’s irritating at best and patronizing at worst.

In New Zealand and other countries, there is a huge mental illness problem. We’re trying hard to lose the stigma, make it acceptable to talk about and have and deal with, and make mental health services easier to access, but treatment like this, where you feel you know what the person talking needs better than the person asking? Is bullshit.

I get the impulse. I get the fear. But when you’re talking over me? You are being part of the problem.

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