Mental Health Awareness Month pt 2: The Cacophony

Just under the wire, here’s another post for Mental Health Awareness Month. I wrote something similar to it over a year ago in a now-defunct blog called “That time I stopped drinking” which was supposed to chronicle my journey into sobriety, but honestly just made me think about drinking too much. For some mental health resources check out http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may

As painfully cliche as it sounds, my journey with alcohol started as a way to fit in. Everyone else was doing it, so why not me, right? I’ve never done anything in moderation, so it quickly escalated to day drinking and failing out of college.

“But that’s everyone in college!” you might be thinking. Maybe. But it never really went away even when I got older. Every time I stopped, and I thought I had it under control, it would ramp right back up again. I’d be at five or six drinks on a normal night and not think anything of it. I never knew why I could’t make moderation stick, until I quit the latest time.

 

I honestly forget where addiction lies on the mental health spectrum. I know the cravings. I know the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night because you dreamed that you gave in and partook. Addiction and recovery is a serious thing. But for me, recovery came from understanding another of my own mental issues.

Like I said in the last post, I have PTSD from living an interesting childhood. I didn’t realize it for most of my life, as I thought PTSD was one of those “soldier in combat, seen some shit” kind of things, but apparently what happens for the first five years of your life can have a huge impact on you.

I recently found out one of the symptoms of PTSD is Hypervigilance. That basically means that all of my senses are pumped up to 11. As a teen I thought it was awesome. I could hear someone’s shoes scuff three rooms over. There was no such thing as a private conversation. Hell, I was half convinced I had superpowers and would be shipped off to the Xavier Institute. (Nothing was all that terrible about my teenage years, I really just wanted to be an X-Man)

Hypervigilance, while kinda cool as a teenager, led to a lot of suck as an adult. I’m honestly not sure if it changed as I got older, or if I just got into different situations in my twenties, but even though I could still hear every conversation for three rooms over, I lost the ability to separate them. I’ve taken to calling it the cacophony.

It isn’t something I’m constantly experiencing, but when I’m in the middle of it, every voice, no, every little sound, holds equal importance. When you’re in a room with two or three conversations going on, it can be frustrating. When you’re in a venue with thirty? It can be crippling. At best, you lose the ability to communicate with anyone. At worst? Full blown panic attack.

So like a dumbed down Great Detective, I imbibed to dull my senses. I didn’t even realize it, but I desperately needed the world turned down to something reasonable, like a 7. But that kind of self medication is super unhealthy, so I eventually had to stop before I seriously hurt myself or someone I loved.

But guess what? The cacophony didn’t care why I had to quit. It bombarded me. I thankfully avoided most of the physical symptoms of withdrawal, but my mind felt like little more than a million raw nerves for months. But I persevered, and eventually, it got better. (opening and closing with clichés? how novel!)

Seriously though, it did get better. I learned coping mechanisms like proactively overloading the senses (in case you’re wondering why I wear headphones most of the time in public spaces) and meditation. I avoid most bars, and I have to really love a band to take the risk of going to a venue to see their show. The Alamo Drafthouse is great, because if someone is talking, their ass gets kicked out.

With a lot of work, I’ve relearned how to live my life. If you’re going through some of the same things, you better believe that you can make it too.

So yeah. This is what mental illness feels like. To me, at least. If you’re going through something, I hope this helps you. If you’re not (go you!) then I hope this at least helps you understand someone in your life, because damn it all if this world can’t use a little more understanding.

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