It’s 2004, and I awake in a student college in Melbourne, Australia. This comes as no surprise, because, at the time, I lived there.
I groggily stagger to the shared bathroom on my floor, to perform my morning washing routine. There’s nothing unusual about my lavatory procedure, so I’ll omit the details, for all of our benefits.
So far, so good. Already I’m full of optimism for today.
As I wash my hands, I glimpse myself in the mirror and notice my majestic, messy bed-head.
I often sport a disturbing, motley “I’ve just fallen out of bed” look for entire days, as I forget to check in the morning that I look sufficiently acceptable to go outside.
I usually see myself in a mirror just before I go to bed, and invariably feel retrospectively ashamed that I’ve had tufts of hair beaming in assorted directions since I woke up.
On this day, however, I notice my unconventional tufty hair and take immediate, drastic action, slapping the top of my head with my wet hands to encourage my mane into an acceptable shape. I stride out of the bathroom, feeling satisfied.
Universe 0, Neil 1. One triumph already: not appearing for the entire day as if I have just fallen out of bed. What an excellent start to the day…
Sadly, I only take a few steps before the soapy water I unthinkingly applied to my head pours into my eyes, burning them immediately with painful chemicals.
Still, no need to panic. I’m an adult, I can handle a little soapy water. I am aware of the process for fixing a foamy intrusion into the eyes. As per the plan, I don’t even break stride, simply rubbing my eyes to remove the water.
Unfortunately, this only makes things worse. It feels like I dislodged my contact lenses and got the soap in behind them. Now everything really burns.
Okay. There’s no need for alarm. I simply need a new plan. I’m already most of the way to my bedroom, so I can slip in there, find the sink, wash my eyes out, replace my contacts with chemical-free fresh lenses, and then we’re all sorted. I’m still destined for victory today.
I take another step toward my bedroom door, eyes screwed tightly shut.
I fumble for my keys and pull them hurriedly out of my trouser pocket. Sadly, in my haste they slip out of my hand and fly somewhere into the dark void in front of me.
I squint my eyes open slightly and shut them immediately. I can’t see a thing through the caustic chemical tears. What the hell is in this soap, I probably would wonder if I weren’t so distracted by the agony behind my eyelids.
Right. Time for a new “new plan.” The corridor is small, so it can’t take long to locate my keys, get into my room, find the sink, wash the soap out of my eyes, replace the contacts, and then—finally—victory!
No need to cancel the celebratory parade for how awesome today will be. Yet.
I scrabble on the floor for a moment, then another moment, and then another slightly longer moment.
I seriously can’t find my keys. In making the “new new plan” I significantly underestimated how much I rely on the ability to see.
The discomfort of squatting and bungling around is adding to the stinging in my eyes, and I realize my new highest priority needs to be getting rid of this infernal soap.
(With hindsight, this should probably have been the priority from the beginning.)
Taking stock again, I come up with a new “new new plan.”
I’ll go back to the original shared bathroom and wash my eyes out there. Then, using my regained power of vision, it will be trivial to find my keys. After that, I can let myself into my room, replace my lenses, and finally I can leave for breakfast. Still victorious. Definitely.
I stand up, face toward the bathroom, and charge ahead at maximum eagerness.
I run face first into the wall, having apparently completely lost track of which way I was facing.
I crumple to the floor, like a sack of idiotic potatoes.
At this point, I finally admit that I am defeated.
I have no new plans. No “new new plans.” No plans of any kind whatsoever. My face hurts from hitting the wall with it. My eyes hurt from the chemicals I foolishly rubbed into them. I cannot solve either problem.
As I lie there, blankly failing to handle the situation, I hear the voice of the pretty girl from down the corridor:
“Do you… do you need any help?”
Yes. Yes, I need help.
And not just with simple things like a morning routine.
I’ve suffered from anxiety all my life. And the main lesson I’ve learned is that keeping it to myself only makes it worse.
Yet I’m less willing to ask for help when I need it most because I don’t want to look weak. I’m scared of the judgment it might bring.
But I’ve found that, in reality, people judge us far less harshly than we do ourselves. Being honest about needing help makes us seem strong, not weak.
Whether it’s a major problem like daily anxiety, or a silly thing like getting soap in my eyes, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to just be honest about it with someone I trust.
Whatever you may be suffering through, there are those who would happily suffer through it with you, if only you’d let them. Maybe you know them, maybe you haven’t met them yet.
But, trust me, you’re better off seeking help than trying to do it all alone.
I actually WAS harmed for the production of this blogpost.
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Read the whole series on Anxiety here.