All in my head: Ghost Guilt

I’ve struggled for over a decade with social anxiety. At first it manifested as panic attacks, mostly in public places, and I began to avoid anything and everything in an attempt to control them. When I was panicking, I’d fear that I’d shout something awful out loud. I made my world very small. I still tried to function but my day-to-day life became a white-knuckle ride. Popping to the local shop became something I spent all day building up to, with safety behaviours and coping strategies like having exactly the right change so I could get in and out really quickly, only going in if there was no queue and buying as little as possible. Travelling on the tube, I would get off at every stop to get my breath back. Everything took ages and I was exhausted.

It seemed that overnight I’d gone from being confident and really sociable to a nervous agoraphobic wreck. My anxiety seemed to know what my Achilles heel was and it was attacking what I believed were my best traits.

I tried all kinds of therapy and treatments over the years. I really believed that my brain had become so mis-wired that I was totally broken. Eventually I got CBT and that was a huge turning point for me. I did all the homework my therapist gave me and amazingly the fear started to subside. I began to do more and more until the everyday stuff I was terrified of doing became a normal part of my life again. I still had odd resurges of panic from time to time but I felt more confident that they would just pass and I didn’t allow them to take over.

That is until December of last year. My anxiety was back. But it had taken a slightly different form: for days I was plagued with hideous unwanted thoughts, mostly hurtful stuff that I felt compelled to say out loud to my partner (who I love so much and none of which I meant) but the thought wouldn’t go away until I’d said it to him. I did a bit of reading up online and soon realised that I was struggling with OCD. When I was little I had to do everything four times so bad things wouldn’t happen, and this had continued into my adult life, but it had never been more than little rituals. Telling the hideous thought to my partner was part of the ritual. This was excruciating because my anxiety was through the roof for not confessing to my partner. My anxiety had found a new Achilles heal and it was attacking the thing I loved and relied on most. I felt broken again. It seemed worse because I’d been so well for a long time, and I was devastated at the thought of never being ok again, and on top of it all, I could end up driving Jonny away.

Jonny was amazing and barely flinched at the hurtful stuff I was spewing out. He’d also struggled with anxiety and depression a lot in his life. We’d always tried to support each other.

He was in a band and they used to practice every Tuesday night. This particular Tuesday he was out and I was thinking about my anxiety, trying to distract my mind from unwanted thoughts. I decided to write some stuff down about what I’d been through and hoped he would help me make it into songs. He liked what I’d written and together we wrote more. He’d never played guitar in a band and had mostly stuck to bass. Before we knew it we were writing every night and he was playing guitar.

He encouraged me to go with him to the local rehearsal rooms so we could perform our songs loud. I absolutely no intention of ever performing our music live in front of people! At best we’d put it up online and I’d hide behind the computer.

Then in a bizarre twist of events, an old friend came back into our lives and wanted us to meet her new girlfriend. As we were casually catching up, her new girlfriend mentioned that she played drums. I didn’t say anything at the time, partly due to self-consciousness and partly due to not wanting our band to become ‘real’. I didn’t want to have to sing in front of anyone except Jonny.

It was only a few days later we decided to contact Ellie to see if she fancied practicing with us. We’d been using a drum machine but couldn’t resist the opportunity to have real drums on our music and it seemed too weird that she’d come into our lives just at the right time.

We could still just put it online and I could hide behind the computer, right?

Ghost Guilt was born.

In the last year, our friend Stevo joined us to play bass and we’ve played gigs in our home city of Durham in front of actual people about six times!

At first I was nervous but not as nervous as I thought I would be. There’s something about taking control and screaming down a microphone about the stuff that we’ve been through that makes my fear disappear. I think I’ve needed to scream and shout for a long time.

I’d like to think we might help people struggling with their mental health by singing & talking openly about it.

Cat Black
Image: Sophie Keith
Find Ghost Guilt’s latest EP on Bandcamp here. Follow them on Facebook here

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