This is a little scary if I’m honest – I don’t usually talk about this… but as 1 in 10 people suffer with anxiety or panic disorder, I figure I’m not alone!! Here’s my Friday random blog posting for this week – please comment or share if you’d like.
Put me in a crisis, I am, quite simply, your gal. Curtains on fire? I’m there with a bowl of water before you’ve stopped running around screaming. Throat swelling? Better get to the hospital, do you have an Epipen? I’ll administer and stay with you. Emergency C-Section, give me a moment to scrub down and gown up. Broken arm? Broken leg? Kidney stones? Appendicitis? Unexplained breathing problems/headache/abdomen agony, I’m there for you for the duration, making sure you know I’m entirely in control without making a fuss or annoying anyone. You got a Z-bed? A cot? A comfy chair, I’m fine, I’ll stay. Dying? I’ll do nights at the hospice and I’m there, with you, in your last hours. Call me in a panic with an emergency, I’ll come and I’ll be the calm voice of reason – your ‘safe’ person.
Call me for a coffee more than 20 minutes away from home, I’ll know you don’t know me very well and I’ll politely decline, too embarrassed to explain that I will spend the entire time wondering if there will be a traffic jam on the way home. If you put me in a theatre seat more than 2 from the aisle, I’ll dose myself so much on tranquilisers, I probably won’t remember the performance.
My first panic attack was aged 16 on my daily tube journey to school. I was, undoubtedly hung-over, home life was strained and the night before had been a humdinger of ranting. The train stopped in the tunnel and I almost fainted – only feeling relief once I’d stepped out at the next station. It was the start of a pernicious condition that has ruled my life ever since. Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia developed to a point that all merged into a mere life-curtailing phobophobia. The rules are simple. I make them up. A desperate need to not experience a panic attack has meant that I simply cannot ever be out of control and therefore have to judge every thing that I do by how likely a panic attack is going to occur.
Of course, it is with a certain irony that I cope with quite a number of medical problems.
Notably, I have a very rare condition that can send me to hospital at any time, screaming in agony begging a bed and a drip – the last episode lasted 3 days and another week at home to recover. Now you’d think that this uncertainty, this entire lack of control whilst my body twists in agony would be a typical panic-inducing situation. But there I am, (admittedly miserable) sitting at home at a start of an attack wondering if this one is going to get bad enough for hospital, shrugging nonchalantly, resigned and relatively calm thinking ‘if it happens, it happens, could do with a rest to be honest – I like playing with the bed controls and once you’ve put that cannula in, I’ll cope’.
I’ve done childbirth, I’ve C-Sectioned 15 lbs of twins – one panic attack as I was lying down for the epidural, then with the help of a chatty anaesthetist and an outwardly serene husband, stayed calm until Twin 1 was laid on me and nothing else mattered.
If you meet me, you’ll think me confident, opinionated, and I can talk… if I’m on an up, I can talk until you can’t bear another second of me. But you would never know that when I went to the loo two minutes before, I had to contort my entire body to keep the door closed without locking. If I’m alone when you meet me, you won’t realise that I mapped the whereabouts of my ‘safe’ person in my head. You won’t know that I asked them before they left my side to go to the bar or out for a cigarette that I’ve ensured that their phone is on them and that it’s on loud. You won’t know that my hyperawareness set in the minute I entered the building – that I know where the exits are, how many people are in the room, how many windows there are, how far up we are, if the stairwell doors have handles on them (etc etc). You won’t know that I’ll HAVE to leave with my safe person so that I’m not travelling alone.
It’s embarrassing, if I’m honest. There’s no bandage displayed, no oxygen mask on my face. I politely decline invitations to far-flung places and adventures, sending my husband and children off in my stead. I smile with a ‘I know, it IS silly’ look on my face when pushed by friends to accept their invitations; well meaning, lovely people who see me generally joking and laughing and not a basket case at all offering to ‘knock me on the head’ to get on the plane, but I’m secretly hating every excruciating moment of that conversation knowing that they don’t understand and are simply making me feel worse that I’m trapped and that my children will be holidaying again without me.
I do push the boundaries now and again; I’ve had countless years of therapy, mindfulness training, hypnosis and drugs. I have read all the books and I know exactly what I’m supposed to do and understand the intricacies of brain synapses, fight or flight response and physiological changes whilst over breathing. I’m an expert and I will calm YOU down brilliantly in any crisis that is real or that you’ve imagined.
So, we’ve ascertained that I’m scared, I’m terrified, quite a lot of the time. Ask me the time honoured ‘so what exactly are you frightened of when you panic’, I can only say, ‘the fear, isn’t that enough? The heart thumping, head spinning chaos of blind fear’. If I then point out that I would rather the pain of a broken arm than 15 seconds of panic, perhaps that will put some context in the mix.
And if you push on a closed yet unlocked loo door at your local cinema, theatre, exhibition centre or restaurant and there’s a woman sitting there, desperately pushing the door from the other side, muttering her apologies, give her a warm smile and wait patiently.
P.S. If you’re an eminent psychiatrist with access to Bretazanil and time to monitor, it’s the only drug therapy that has ever worked. Just saying.