School Running(-Around-Like-A-Headless-Chicken)

The school year has begun. The boys have both been doing brilliantly so far, and I’ve been doing pretty well, considering this time three months ago I was terrified of taking my kids to school.

Was I concerned they wouldn’t do so well? Not really. The little one was very confident and excited to don his uniform and go learn some stuff. The big one was excited he got new stationary supplies and a new backpack with hidden pockets. They were both ready. But I was not.

Rewind to just a few months ago, I found it hard to get out of bed until nine-o-clock or later. I couldn’t do mornings. I could hardly do anything. Knowing that school runs were going to be a drastic change of pace, I had to do something to make sure I was awake before the boys were, to make sure they ate breakfast, to make sure they both had clean and ironed uniforms to wear, and to drive the eldest to the school three miles away, in enough time to travel another three-and-a-half miles to the little one’s school, brave the playground, and walk him to the door.

Maybe the above sounds pretty routine or simple to some. It is not simple to me. It’s a big, fat, huge deal.

So, in preparation, I picked up an exercise regime and cleanse-type nutrition program. I needed it for several reasons, but most importantly it would force me to wake up earlier as part of the routine. It worked. I was up at six or six-thirty, exercising bright and early. I lost about ten pounds, and was feeling amazing. I even took up running which is something I’ve only ever done in daydreams. I made a very big effort (considering this is me I’m talking about) to make friends with some mums from my little one’s school, which is something I’ve never managed to do before a school year has started (or at any point, really). I was, shall we say, “on fiyaa!”

The school year started in two separate stages: my eldest son’s first, then the little one’s. And it was both harder and easier than I’d thought. Traffic is nuts around there. The big one’s school is huge. So many cars, roundabouts making things ridiculous… but I was doing it! I was up every morning, they both had breakfast and ironed uniforms, and the playground was not an awkward hell for me. What an accomplishment!

But just as I was rejoicing that I was successfully ‘adulting,’ I accidentally got my eldest to school late. In turn, they gave him a detention. I was confused about the time he was supposed to be there anyway, thought I’d left early, went the worst possible way I could have gone, and bam, he was tardy. Good gracious they were harsh about it! Talk about knocking the wind out of my sails, this really kicked me down. And it probably wasn’t even a big deal. But to me, it was huge. Why did he get the detention? It wasn’t his fault! I felt severely discouraged.

Fast forward to today, he had an appointment. I was concerned about what the school would say because last time they gave me a scary absence slip to sign and threatened him with detention even though it was to get stitches out of his foot for an injury that happened at the school!

So I called today, having missed the voicemail that said to send a note with him yesterday. I was going to send a note today, but my mood is slipping and I’m starting to feel like I’m drowning again, so it was a struggle just to get out of bed.

The woman on the other end of the phone knows none of this. She knows I’m a parent, and that’s basically it. She tells me to try and remember to tell him next time, because they have so many students that they need people to be as self-reliant as possible (or something like that). Instead of this, which seems simple written down, I hear a tone in her voice that says I’m being a pain and I need to get my act together, and to stop thinking I deserve any kind of special treatment or understanding. (I don’t even know if I imagined it.)

I try to explain that I really did mean to, but I’m doing this on my own, I’ve got the two kids in two different schools, and just getting them out the door and to where they need to be on time is overwhelming in itself. She tells me she knows how I feel because she has three kids but it’s just one of those things you have to remember to do.

But I don’t think you do, lady. You’ve got a job. That means you’re fit to work. I am not fit to work.

If only you knew, lady, how much I wanted to remember. How much I tried. How much my head was so full of “I don’t want to do this today” and “Come on, self, you really need to get dressed, why are you crying?” that I honestly spaced writing the note and telling my son to make sure he’s at the front of the school at the time I need to pick him up.

If you knew, lady, how difficult it was to drag myself out of bed today, how much work I have put into clawing my way out of the depression hole to get to the point where I can even take my kids to school in the first place, would you soften your tone?

Of course, I said none of these things. I just remembered how mental health issues are invisible and the general public has no way of knowing what you’re struggling with unless you tell them. And today, I didn’t feel like giving her my list of diagnoses just so she wouldn’t think of me as a failure, negligent mother, or lazy person. If, in fact, she thought any of those things at all. (My anxiety says she thinks the worst.)

Once my son eventually got to his appointment (five minutes late because he’d started walking instead of going to the office) I had a few meltdown moments in the car. I wish I had the privilege of an ‘excused absence’ on days like this, but I don’t get any.

Truth is, I don’t want sympathy or special treatment, I actually want to just be able to do these simple things, no problem. I want the molehills to stay molehills. I want to run for fun and exercise with my new friends in my bright pink tights instead of running around like a headless chicken in the mornings.

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But I do wish I could have telepathically conveyed a little perspective when I was (I’m pretty sure) getting told off this morning. It would have spared me a few tears in public places.

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Success, Excellence, Money, Happiness and Reality

Today I’m not feeling so great. If you can imagine a panic attack like in Being Grounded where it’s the hyperventilating and heart-racing stuff, I’d call that kind the “hot and heavy” variety. What I’ve been experiencing for a few days now, I would describe as the “low and slow” variety. Like cooking a roast for several hours at a low heat as opposed to a high one. Both cook the thing, just depends on how tender you want it. Through it all I’m trying to get through the things I want to accomplish one at a time, and also trying to make sense of everything as I go along. The Hurricane is a pretty good description of the inside of my head right now.

I’d like to share with you one of the essays I wrote, the way I intended it to be read (meaning, minus the last line someone put on there that was not part of my original writing), for the A.C.E. Award competition in 2006. I share it because it shows another little bit of who I am, specifically who I was at age eighteen. A.C.E. stands for Accepting the Challenge of Excellence. My first high school motto was “Committed to Excellence.” I have always wanted to be not average, or mediocre, but excellent.

But first I’d like to tell you, I came from virtually nothing. I grew up in the oldest, most beaten down house on the block. Prior to that was government housing. Prior to that was the battered women’s shelter. Like my short intro to Being Poor and the content in the reblogged post it contains (most of which is a pretty accurate depiction of the structure of my childhood), lack of money has been a constant issue in my life. And it still is. This blog may look fancy and I may have wi-fi but does that mean I’ve finally made it? No.

In fact, a man came out to the house about two weeks ago, from the Office of National Statistics. I tried to opt out but he really wanted to come in and fill out his little forms. I had to explain to him why I didn’t want him in my house. Because you’re a man and I don’t know you and you’ve shown up unannounced to come and interrogate my finances which I feel embarrassed about and the kids have their toys everywhere and I was about to start dinner and I don’t like your slithery personality! I told him something about how the statistics would be skewed because they want data on what people spend and I’ve been so skint I had literally spent nothing in the previous two weeks, which is atypical of a month for me.

Eventually he wormed his way into garnering an appointment for another day, trying to flatter me so I could be another number on his list. I’m sure he gets paid per interview. Like most Brits do, he asked me where my accent’s from. Why am I here. Do I plan on staying for a long time. Then it got a little uncomfortable, because then he asked if I have a lot of friends. Do I get out much. What do I do for a living. I sound educated, he said. Surely I must have a degree.

I’m from Montana, I guess. I wasn’t born there but I suppose that’s where my accent’s from. It’s now muddled with British English and Brits still think I sound very American and Americans are starting to tell me I sound British. Why am I here? Basically, it was because of a misunderstanding during a phone call and subsequent panic. I married a British guy. We’re still married, but separated. Do I plan on staying a long time? Well, honestly, that totally depends on circumstances. That’s all a big fat catch twenty-two. Right now I’m a bit stuck but thanks for the reminder. Do I have a lot of friends? Oh, dear.

You readers will probably see from my Letter that friendship is difficult for me. I’ve met a modest amount of people. How many can I call friends? I don’t know. You have to work at friendship, which is something I can only do when I’m feeling good. Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD ruin a lot of things like that for me.

Not really a lot of friends, no. Do I get out much? Not really, I’ve got two kids and when I was working sixty-seventy hours a week I was barely making ends meet and had no time. In the time I haven’t been working I haven’t had money to go do anything. Educated? I graduated high school. I attended a semester of “uni.” No degree. Of course I’d like one, but again that all comes right back down to money.

Then the man said, “You know what they say, ‘money doesn’t buy happiness.’” And this is where I just smiled politely and mumbled something about how ‘they’ obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. I was really thinking:

Really? are you sure about that? Because I’m pretty sure that money could buy me an awful lot of happiness right about now. And I’m pretty sure that, had money been as abundant in my childhood as it had been for my peers, and almost certainly for you, man, there would have been a whole different base on which I could’ve stood to attain my own personal successes without the interference of at least a half of my lifetime full of depression.

I can look back on so many instances beginning very early on, wherein a tragedy occurred, directly linked to my current state of mental health, that could have been prevented or severely altered had there been even a modest amount of more money. But the ones who are strangers to poverty don’t see that. They want to stand from afar and put their labels on you. They want to ask about your career assuming you have one. They repeat these nonsensical idioms which are only true for people on their side of the struggle. They ask their questions to make small talk, while assessing you as something along the lines of: Success? Failure? Nobody? Somebody?

Success is subjective. Failure is subjective. When I was eighteen and about to enter higher education, I had big plans for my life. This following essay is the one I wrote back then about “How can we, as citizens, make a better tomorrow?”

Success, by definition, is a favorable outcome, an accomplishment with direction, or a person or thing that turned out well. As young adults, we hear from our parents and mentors that they hope we will become successful individuals as we grow up. But how may we become a success without someone there guide, teach, and support us?
Things happen in life that cannot be prevented or changed. Unfortunately, these events can be quite crippling. Though you might not expect it, your life could change in a split second and direct you into a completely different path, one that you never would have imagined.

So many young adults or teenagers have been thrown into a new struggle by no fault of their own. They are told by ignorant people that they are failures. Without money or resources or a supportive role model, they will have no choice but to join the vicious cycle of poverty.

It is my hope to become a caring figure in the life of even one person in need, to lend support or to offer advice or resources that will help others succeed in their individual aspirations. I feel compelled to help others, struggling in a cycle that seems to have no end, so in turn, they can become productive citizens.

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. If we help them to succeed, our community will prosper and flourish. Then we, in turn, can look back at our world and say that it has become a “thing that has turned out well.”
A success.

Like the people I spoke of in this essay, I was told by a lot of ignorant people just how big of a failure I was going to be. One teacher I thought the world of, came up to me when I was pregnant at fifteen and said, “It’s such a shame that now us taxpayers will have to be paying for this.” As if he immediately assumed I’d be on welfare forever after. Since then I’ve done a whole lot of trying to prove him wrong. I don’t want to be considered a failure.

Would I call myself a success right now? I’m not sure. That’s hard for me to judge. I’m doing a lot of coping. I’m trying to fill my time with worthwhile endeavours and not feel like a total waste of space. When I read this essay I wrote back when I had a lot less emotional baggage, I can see that despite no degree, and virtually no money, I have done a lot of what I said I wanted to do. I have certainly done my best to help anyone and everyone I could, no matter the cost to me. And I’ve paid the price for it, believe me.

Despite a lot of really bad circumstances, I’m still alive. I’m still breathing. And so are my kids. They have clothes, shoes, and toys. So according to some definitions, I’d say I haven’t exactly failed. I hear I’m a good mom. I definitely try very hard to do my best at the motherhood thing.

Am I ‘excellent’ though? Well you know, I’m not where I’d hoped to be by now. I just turned twenty-seven. It’s strange to think I’m in the latter half of my twenties and there is so much I don’t know and so much I haven’t yet accomplished. I don’t feel excellent. If I were excellent, you’d think I’d be out of this poverty malarkey by now. But I’m not. I am living day to day, week to week. And if I’m honest, I’m exhausted from it all. I want to scream, “WHEN DOES THIS GET EASIER?” I happen to make some excellent stuff, and that’s cool or whatever, but to excel, to me, would be breaking out of this damned cage and starting to fly.

Am I happy? …No. I’m not happy. Some days, no matter how funny the comedian is, or how silly the kids are being, I can’t even laugh. This is the low and slow I spoke about before. The background heat, ever-so-gently breaking me to pieces.

I went camping this weekend and it should have been fun. But it felt like an out-of-body experience and like I wasn’t in my own head. I took the beta-blockers the doc gave me for extra-anxious days and I don’t know what difference they made exactly but the panic was still there, in the background, low and slow. I don’t think I know what fun is anymore.

My idea of where I would be by now and the reality of where I am are so drastically different. I’m looking for that light at the end of this tunnel, that says someday the struggle will end and I’ll begin to thrive, not just survive. I’m trying to look back and take stock of what I have done, not what I haven’t, and find that solid ground where getting back up to the top of the hill isn’t fraught with mudslides back down to the bottom, like some evil chutes and ladders game.

In reality, there are days when I have to work really hard to be optimistic, where I have to work really hard to keep calm. My definition of success right now is getting through a day without hyperventilating and crying. There is very little happiness. Striving for excellence seems like a goal to reach for later, because right now just doing anything is enough of a battle in itself. It would be a lot easier without the criticisms of everyone else, who lack perspective on the situation, and whose words add to the negative dialogue.

I say these things for me, to remind myself that I’m not just another statistic for someone’s data collection. My definition of success and failure have been adjusted from what they once were, and are probably very different from the next person’s. My reality has been very real and quite difficult, but both my kids tell me I’m excellent. Most days I’d say they’re happy. And I can start with that, stand on that, take the next step up the hill.

And money, while it wouldn’t be able to fix everything at this point, is directly correlated to happiness in a lot of ways, in my experience. Money would eliminate about half or more of my reasons for panic attacks, straight away. And I say that, to highlight that ‘what they say’ sometimes doesn’t mean a thing. Money can sometimes be all the difference. The reality is that it can mean solutions, freedom, happiness. But success and excellence work on a sliding scale. Happiness sometimes does too, but only on days when my perspective can afford it.

My Name is Brad

I didn’t come from a poor family. I didn’t come from a rich family. I came from the perfect family, in my eyes. While some may say I was a little spoiled, I personally thought life was just right growing up. I am 25 years old and still living with my two happily married parents and three Chihuahuas. The reason? Panic disorder and depression have taken my life away.

I was diagnosed with mild panic disorder when I was 20 years old. 5 years of my life I have been battling this “disease.” It all began when one night I was driving my parents’ Jeep Grand Cherokee home from the cottage. In a drunken stupor, I decided to take it upon myself to attempt to drive the Jeep home. Making almost all the way home 2 hours away, I crashed into a ditch, took out a road sign, and hit a tree. The Jeep at this point was upside down and totalled. I would like to think that an angel was watching over me that day, because I climbed out of that car without even a scratch on me. Luckily, I miraculously avoided all repercussions of drunk driving as well. Long story short, this is the big thing that began triggering my chronic anxiety and panic disorder. The next day, I woke up, and realized I was not happy with my life.

The thing that made me notice this was a combination of bad choices and that in the same week, my boyfriend at the time had broken up with me. I also lost my job in the same week. I was at an all time low. That is when it was time to head back to the head doctor and get on some anti depressants. Counselling and psychiatry with a combination of medication have begun my transformation into what I hope will be a better person. I would say the combination of all three of those things is the point in my life where I realize that I’m not happy.

When I explain to people why I don’t drive, they just don’t get it. I am scared to even ride in a vehicle. My hands get clammy, sweaty, and I usually carry a water bottle and my sweater with me just for security. My hoodie makes me feel secure. When I get too nerved up, I simply recline the vehicle chair and cover my face with my security blanket, while breathing in the fresh air from outside. My friends don’t understand it. My best friend Hali is constantly asking me what is wrong whenever I ride with her. The only time I feel completely comfortable in a vehicle, sadly, is when I have alcohol in my system (which since the crash, isn’t very often that I drink). I am not happy because I cannot be independent without feeling like I’m about to die.

I just wish every person could understand and experience the feeling of anxiety. Why? Because when I talk to people about it, they look at me like I should be locked up. Because I get the looks toward me like I’m crazy. I think if you actually experienced that nerve-wracking feeling that I get – palms sweaty, can’t breathe, knees weak, light headed, feeling of nausea – then maybe I would feel more comfortable. However, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It has been a 5 year struggle since the crash, but I am starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin. If it weren’t for that ONE mistake, I probably would still be on the road. So of course, I sit here and kick myself in the ass every single day over it.

Now let’s take a second to think about where I’m gonna go from here and what I personally want in life. I want to be happy. I want a family. I want two children, a couple dogs, and a nice house. However, it’s a struggle to see this as a reality due to the fact of anxiety and panic. I’m currently a college dropout with a 3 day a week job. It’s hard to look at the future in a positive light, but I just keep trudging through the deep, deep snow.

Here’s what it looks like in my head now:
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Here’s what I wish it would look like:
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My name is Brad, and I deserve better than this.
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The Hurricane

It’s all hitting at once.

Storm crashing, like tides against the beach

I’m okay, I will be okay, I have to be okay.

Everything I want, barely outside my reach

Everything I had, slipped through my fingers like sand.

Leaning on a rock, rushing toward a hard place.

Casting a net, the catch is a double deuce.

Buried to the neck amidst the sandcastles

I can, I will, I am! I was… I think.

Hurricane swept, swallowed me whole.

Staring blankly at the placid dangerous calm

Bracing for the second act.

Wind blowing, flattening shelters.

Whistling tunes of destruction and riot

Giving cause to rebuild, renew, re-live.

Rework. Rewind. Rethink.

It’s haunted in the sunshine.

Ready for exorcism.

-Kirsten Young

A Letter of Regret From Your Anxious and Depressed Friend

Dear Friend,

I was not always this way.

I did not always hide away from the general public for months or weeks at a time. Once I was quite confident. I occasionally felt happy. I had a full time job and I could face customers with no concern. I would chat to people over the phone, make an effort to see friends, be interested in daily life. I could cope with negativity. Overcome it, even. I wouldn’t let anything bring me down because I had something inside me that made me keep going out there, into the world, facing it all.

But sometimes, Friend, things happen. Sometimes just one thing. Sometimes many things. The courage to face these things is strong at first, at least stronger than now. But depending on luck, or coincidence, or fate, or opportunity, eventually the voice of that courage for some people is quieter. Weaker. And sometimes, silenced completely.

It is not your fault these things happened. And if you hear the tales of what they were, you will likely hold an opinion in your head of what could have been done or said as a result to resolve the issue. But your experience in this life is not the same as mine, Friend. No matter what we have in common, we can never share the exact same perception. Please make sure not to confuse your perception with mine. We are different.

Sometimes I need a break from people. Usually the people who I don’t yet know completely, but like, and with whom I want to hold some kind of friendship. I’m already tired of feeling anxious and sad and don’t want you to grow tired of me feeling anxious and sad. I’m sure you care and would be happy for me to confide in you, but I’ve confided in friends before and been burned and heartbroken in return. I can’t bring myself to take that kind of risk again.

I’m afraid I won’t be good company. I’m afraid I’ll burden you with my emotions which I don’t feel would be fair on you. I have heard of your struggles too, Friend, and would like to help you, but I can’t. I take all struggles as if they were my own and my load is already far too heavy. Sometimes my whole world is devoid of any good news, and any conversation we could have would be very quiet on my behalf. All I can really do is listen, because if I speak I might burst into tears. But I don’t feel strong enough to pretend to be holding myself together right now, so I’d just rather not.

I’m sorry you feel I’ve been avoiding you. You see me comment on social media but I ignore your messages. This is because commenting on social media is usually not personal. It’s a distraction. It’s a way to have adult conversation without the spotlight being on me. I can do it in my pyjamas without having done my face to look like I’m prettier than I feel on the inside. I don’t run much risk of having to answer the question “How are you?”

…because I don’t want to lie to you. That would make me feel anxious when I’m already feeling anxious. I don’t believe in lying to people, especially people I care about. I don’t want to fake a smile, tell you I’m fine, and divert your questions while screaming inside how I’m anything but fine.

You may see me posting an update about a group I went to, or am going to go to. Maybe inviting someone along. But I still haven’t answered your messages. This does not mean I’m feeling better and have purposely skipped you. This doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. My doctor told me to do things in the community so I don’t completely shut myself off. This is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get myself back into the habit of being seen in public for something other than to run a quick errand. I’m trying to quell the self-talk in my head that tells me everyone hates me and thinks I’m weird. Sometimes when I meet new people and they smile at me, I think that perhaps I’m not all that strange. “I can do this… I can do this…” I say to myself.

You see, Friend, with a head full of thoughts like mine, there is no invisible ticket machine. In a perfect world I would answer all messages and requests in order, and you’d be able to know when I’m going to call your number. But that’s not how this works. There is no ticket, no number, and if I can’t shut off the feelings inside me, I might never get to you. Or I could respond to you tomorrow. I really have no way of knowing.

To expect that I give you attention specifically is just unrealistic, and I’m sorry. I regret that the nature of this beast is not one where I can gain complete control whenever I want to, and give all the people all the attention they want or deserve. You may be lonely too, and I’m sorry. But I’m training myself to take care of myself and my needs, and to give myself all the attention I deserve, because that’s what is supposed to help me recover, or at least cope.

Part of the reason I got into this mess is because I put everyone else’s needs before mine. And they took, and took, and took some more until there was nothing left, because I was so willing to give. I regret being so naïve. I love to see people happy, but I forget that I need to be happy first. You might not be one of those people of whom I speak, but that’s unfortunately irrelevant. I can’t handle any of it yet.

Maybe we struck a friendship during a time when socialising wasn’t so daunting. Maybe you think it’s totally uncharacteristic of me to be silent and surely you must have caused offense. But Friend, understand that this condition is unpredictable and the best thing you can do is just wait.

There is no forcing a friendship with me. I need time. I’m grieving that part of me that no longer exists and that bright future I thought I was going to have.

As part of my anxious predicament I’m regretting so many things. Things that are long since dead and buried, things that happened yesterday… The way I reacted to something, the person I shouldn’t have trusted but did, the thing I said that surely must’ve made me look like an idiot. The fact that I feel this way in the first place. The fact that I can’t make it stop. The fact that I’m hurting my friends by accident by apparently turning my back on them. The fact that I don’t have the strength to be what my loved ones need any more. The fact that I can’t talk to you about this in person because it’s too hard. The fact that I can’t have friends because I can’t talk to my friends and therefore none of them can begin to understand why it’s hard for me to keep friends. The fact that I am so alone I don’t know when I’ll ever be less alone. The fact that there are people depending on me that deserve better than for me to be so afraid of so many things that I can hardly function.

I’m trying, Friend, and I’m so sorry if you’re hurt by me. If you want to walk away I understand, but please do not convey to me the disappointment that I’m not what you want me to be, because I’ve got enough disappointment in myself for the both of us. Just send me positive thoughts as much as you can spare in the hopes that maybe, one day, I’ll be on the other side of this, and I’ll be so grateful that you were so patient and understanding. When that day comes I will be able to call you a ‘Great Friend.’

Sincerely,

A Nervous Wreck


Read Why I Chose to Speak Out.

For more understanding on anxiety attacks from my own personal story, click here.

Read about The “Mental” Stigma here. 

Read Where I’m Going With This here.

Help end ignorance. Help make this world one of greater understanding and compassion.

Being Grounded

Have you ever found yourself within the grip of a panic attack?

Have you ever wondered what your friend might mean when they say they’ve suffered one, or what to do to stop one when it’s happening?

Let me take you through an example of a panic/anxiety attack from the only experience I know: my own.

So there I was… Land line phone ringing. Looking at the letter in my hand saying my payment’s behind and a bailiff might soon come to my door to recover goods to cover the cost that is owed. Land line still ringing. Head going through my recent incomings and outgoings wondering how the hell am I going to have the money to prevent the bailiffs from showing up. Kids asking me questions. Can they have milk. Wondering if the milk goes if I’ll be able to buy more milk. If I buy more milk the bailiffs would be that much closer to coming to essentially rob me because I don’t have anything to give them to stop them from coming. I’m feeling violated already and they haven’t even been here! Phone still ringing. Who could be on the phone? The school to say my kid’s been in trouble? The bill collector to say they want money? Or THAT WOMAN I told to stop calling me. I told her twenty times, she still calls. She wants to harass me because I’m not doing what she thinks I should be doing and she’s projecting her fears onto me. I can’t talk to her. I want her to leave me alone. Why won’t she leave me alone?

I need to go get the babysitter. I need to go to work. The customers yelled at me last night because the place was packed and the kitchen was handling the party upstairs so their food orders had to wait. I panicked after some time and ended up crying in the cellar. What if that happens again? I can’t go to work and cry. Phone still ringing. Kids want milk. Why can’t I just answer the phone and make her stop calling me? What if the bailiffs come next week? What will they take? What does everyone want from me? Why am I an adult and don’t know what to do? Why am I failing at this? What should I have done instead? If only I’d made that other decision when I was a teenager I’d be in a different place by now, right? I don’t even know.

My chest gets tight. What if I have a heart attack? I’m too young to have a heart attack! Breathing is getting heavier and faster. I can’t slow it down. I can’t stop it. Why can’t I stop it? My eldest asks me if I’m okay. I’m not okay. I might have a heart attack right before his eyes. I don’t want him to see me so fragile. My vision is getting blurry. I can’t see straight. Am I going to pass out? I try again to slow my breathing but now I’m making strange noises that make me sound like an owl because I’m starting to sob at the same time and the combination of these is making a “hooooo” noise. He’s asking me what’s wrong. I can’t answer you because I’m uncontrollably hooting! Tears come streaming down my face. I just did my makeup in preparation for going to work in front of all those people and now I’ve ruined it. I can’t go to work with streaks down my face, they’ll all ask me what’s wrong! How am I even going to drive when I could start hooting again at any minute?

The panic doesn’t stop. It carries on. My son gets me a bag to breathe into but I seem to recall hearing that’s the wrong thing to do. So which is it? Bag or no bag?

THIS is the moment my counsellor’s talking about. The panic attack. Or anxiety attack, if you prefer. I’d prefer they didn’t exist, if I’m honest, who gives a **** what you call it?

She says imagine it’s like a television with a lot of different channels going at once. Close your eyes. Grab an invisible remote. Press pause. Stop. Loosen every muscle. Become floppy like a rag doll. Open your eyes. Look around the room and start naming things. Shelf. Cupboard. Fish tank. Couch. Shoe. Table. Simultaneously, breathe in and count to five, then breathe out and take it from five to ten. One two three four five, six seven eight nine ten.

This brings you back in the moment and grounds you. Roots you to the present. Keeps the pendulum of the mind in the centre instead of swinging wildly from past to future. Because when your mind is swinging wildly from “what if” to “if only” it can’t focus on what’s actually happening right now. You can’t undo the past. You can’t control the future. In current reality those places aren’t real. They’re memories and projections. They’re essentially just figments of your imagination.

But they can easily grip you right where it hurts. They can have you in their invisible trap and have you feeling like you’re going to die, and like you’re worthless because you can’t stop it.

I have tried to tell people about anxiety and panic attacks. I still have a sense that they’re not quite understanding what I am talking about. I don’t know what they think but I know that their perspective is not what I want it to be. Occasionally I meet someone that might say “Oh yes. I’ve had one of those. Those are the worst.” Now imagine you have scenarios like this playing out nearly every day, suddenly and without warning, just to trip you up. They don’t care if you need to go to work or not, what would you do?

Try to remember that in the midst of that storm that pendulum is swinging, and that naming things in the room and counting to ten while taking deep breaths is a good thing to do.

Pharaoh's Fury

Pharaoh’s Fury

It reminds me of that Pharaoh’s Fury ride as a kid. That big boat that swung from extreme to extreme. When it swung forward I thought I would fall out back first, when it swung backward I would fall out face first. I wasn’t actually going to fall out either way, but try telling that to my churning stomach and crying eyes at the time.

If you have a friend who is telling you they’re having panic attacks, please think of this and try to imagine how that feels. These people are not silly. It really isn’t something they are doing wrong. It is an instinctual response resulting from the “fight or flight” reaction to a crisis. It is still a crisis even though it’s not a bear attacking, because it may as well be, for all the brain cares. In that moment we can neither fight nor flee, so what happens is we suffer from a sort of short circuit where everything goes haywire. It is utterly confusing and soul-destroying.

Be kind. Be kind to yourself if this is describing you, be kind to your friend or loved one if this is describing them. We need support. We need to be told we’re doing all we can do and that we can only cross these bridges when we get to them. There is no sense in revisiting the past, no, but we’ll likely do it anyway because it’s hard to not do that.

Be gentle. If you can’t go to the thing because you’re going to be putting yourself at risk, call and say you’re not going. Give that little bit of understanding to yourself and trust your instincts. Don’t drive after having just had a panic attack. Don’t push yourself over that edge. Consider your needs and start putting them first for once.

Be forgiving. Forgive yourself, forgive your friend. Adding to the “I’m disappointed in you” dialogue is not necessary. Or helpful.

Before panic attacks I would say that being “grounded” would be a bad thing. Now, that’s all I want to be.


Image courtesy of: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Pharaoh%27s_Fury.jpg