A panic attack in prose

Last week I had a pretty severe panic attack… One that made me question whether I had a hold on my anxiety or whether it had a hold on me, even though I knew logically and rationally that I’ve been doing awesome with it…

I was at placement… during a staff development/student free day and after pulling on a facade of calm, I sat quietly at the back and wrote…
I intended to share it immediately after, but lacked the courage to be that vulnerable… Now, as I prepare to transcribe it from pen and paper to interwebs, I’m left wondering if it will even seem half as dramatic as it felt at the time…
The point of me sharing it is that while it might not feel like it at the time, panic attacks, anxiety, ocd, depression etc are nothing to be ashamed of. They happen. Sometimes you can calm yourself through symptoms, sometimes you can’t. But they do not define you and they absolutely do not make you a less valuable human.

——

“I’m writing to try to take my mind off a panic attack.

I feel so watched.

This one has been long
3 hours
I’m already exhausted as if I’ve done a 16 hour day… In 3 hours…

Everyone is a familiar stranger.
I know everyone but no-one’s name…

I’m trying to pay attention.
Met with conflicting emotions about a Christian Sermon.

What we think about God shapes everything that we do”

Well that’s not untrue, I guess…

So contrived… A mask… A costume… A gang colour…

I moved my chair to a secluded place but now I’m surrounded.
I can feel everyone’s buzz pushing on me…

I’m just exhausted.

3 hours. “Good work will naturally serve others” 

I’m starting to blank out now.

I spent my drive here not hearing the radio.

I split myself in two but it wasn’t even.
7/8ths silently screaming for help, for peace, for stillness.
1/8th tiredly saying to breathe, to pull over and recite numbers, to recentre heart and mind, to clear chakras.

How far is a 7:1 fight? It’s not.
Never
How am I ever supposed to believe that that is going to end favourably for the calm, rational side? The panic is so powerful. So relentless, so unforgiving. SO convincing.

When you’re in the throes of a panic you start to question whether you’re ever calm, whether you were ever on top of your anxiety or if you were just kidding yourself.
It’s always there.
But it’s always surprising when it hits you again.
And I’m not going to pretend it’s a gentle knock on the door and a polite request to enter your life again…
It’s a tank. Armed. Unstoppable. Unreadable and destructive.
Devastatingly destructive sometimes…

That moment- because it IS a moment, in the scheme of things- it feels like it’s all over, and you’ll never get a grip again…
And it’s tempting to throw hands in the air and give in to the dragon that is my anxiety
But in the calm wreckage that’s left after a panic attack- I realise that I’m ok…
I’m doing good.
They’re fewer and further between. I’m better at acknowledging them
And believe it or not, I’m getting better at managing them…”

——

Elastic-waist pants and too much pizza

My inner critic has always been so quick to berate me for saying the wrong thing in the wrong company at the wrong time with the wrong tone of voice…
Something I’ve been working on a lot in the last 3 years is acknowledging the notification of “that was wrong/dumb/stupid/insensitive/inappropriate” and sending it off for further analysis by the rest of my brain, then to my heart for final approval and response…
Most of the time, my brain can filter out all the rubbish and conclude that what I said or did was fine, nothing to worry about and move on with my life, but sometimes I get stuck on one…

Sometimes I get stuck on something I said that caused an energy shift in the room… The sorts of things where you can’t say “I meant no offence by that comment, by the way”, because saying something like that means that you’ve assumed that they HAVE taken offence by it and that, therefore, you’ve popped them into some box that you’ve created that would see them being offended by the sort of thing you just said and it just gets way too messy and disastrous…
So you sit on it… And because you’re sure you felt a shift in the energy the first time you said it (yeah, that’s right, you said it more than once, goodness knows why), you’re sure you’ve done some damage to someone in the room at some level. And because you’re sure you’ve done some damage, your inner critic rips the reins from your hands and takes the wagon off road and careers through the desert castigating you until you feel so isolated from rational salvation that you begin to believe it. You begin to believe everything your inner critic is raving on about…
Maybe you HAVE ruined that person’s day. Maybe they DID think you were aiming your remarks at them with intent to hurt and manipulate them, maybe you ARE crazy for thinking these things in the first place. Maybe you’re a horrible person for even thinking that that remark would affect the person/people at all in the first place and the fact that you think it would is just as bad as having said it in the first place…

Man, I’m exhausted just WRITING that… Let alone THINKING it ad nauseum!!

Short of overcompensating with compliments and niceties, I never really know what to do with this one; but I’m having a red hot go at understanding and dealing with these situations…
I’m trying to look inward and see what I was projecting into the group, what insecurities I was covering up… Or rather laying naked for all to see…
Sometimes it’s easy; I’m feeling a little uneasy about my appearance today, or I’m not feeling intellectually dexterous today, or I’m trying to justify some self-care action that, in the past, has made me feel guilty…

Sometimes it’s not so easy… The inner-critic-declared ‘faux pas’ is hidden, cryptic, confusing… So what do we do with it then?
I have this cartoon image of my brain sometimes, where a situation like this comes into the office and the power-tripping team leader (inner critic) is going ballistic over something that the rest of the team aren’t really seeing as a big deal… They bounce it around to a few departments, receiving analysis and having meetings until finally they shrug and pop it in a basket labelled “misc”…

The misc basket is where a lot of my “not sure what to do with this one” things go at the moment… And while it might seem irresponsible to some; it’s really a great balance of self care and self reflection. Sometimes I’ll revisit a Misc Basket deposit with new information and resolve whatever issue was left in there; sometimes I’ll revisit and realise it’s really an unimportant issue and can probably be binned now that the team leader is on annual leave, and sometimes I just leave it there…

In this great journey that I’m on, trying to work out who I am, who I want to be and what I’m about; reflection is important… but balance is more important… And if my darned inner critic is going to try to take over the controls; then I’m going to take a good solid step back and out of myself so it has less to grab hold of while it’s on its rampage…

You’re gonna say dumb things. But if you keep dwelling on them and replaying the conversation over and over in your head, then no-one benefits, you achieve nothing and you just wear yourself out!

Stop

Over

Thinking.

Fake tan, periods and chocolate slice

What a week.

I embarked on an ever-cliched “health kick” last week. Starting Monday. It’s now Monday again and a week of calorie counting highlighted a severe weakness for me. Sure, I know I snack… lots… but that my snacks each day are ALWAYS more calories than any single meal (Even huge roast dinners) means that something needs to change. I need to be nurturing my body, not abusing it. It has carried me so powerfully through so many good times and bad… It was time to reassess.

Then there was the change rooms…  Change rooms are rarely anyone’s friends really, with the lighting and the stifled space and the contrived atmosphere… But for some reason I struggled more with them last week than I have in years.
Getting undressed and having a panic attack? What was that about? I was loving my body, not hating it… What was happening? Why the sudden self-loathing? That made me panic even more; was I failing at loving myself? Had I been pretending too much and when faced with the “truth” (change rooms are never the truth. NEVER. EVER) about my body?
I worked my way through this one quite quickly, thanks to friends and mum and breathing… and sushi… and several coffees… and Typo retail therapy… and by the evening I was doing fine… Determined to remain focused on improving my health and getting more energy and more life. While in the shopping centre, I opnely admitted to mum that I’d fallen apart in the change room and proceeded to actively seek out something to lift my spirits. I love buying things. I love stationary. I went to Typo. Where it doesn’t matter what I look like; so I could remind myself of that very fact.
When I got home, I tanned myself, I always feel better tanned. Not for anyone else to view me as tanned, but for me to see myself as sunkissed and energetic. Tans to me are childhood (I was quite the olive skinned youth) and summers well spent getting things done and living my life the way it should be lived: Outside.
So a little bit of colour helped, and some wines and dinner with mum, my partner and his best mate helped…
I did the things that I needed… I exercised self-care. I’m getting better at it.

The next day I was tired, I wrote an essay for uni, I had a nap, I got a massage, I had another nap… Why so tired?!

Then I got my period. And suddenly everything from the last few days made sense!
Now, I’ve worked hard to embrace my monthly visitor, we’ve had a turbulent past. Cysts, endometriosis, agonising pain, endless cycles etc. But I read somewhere that we should learn to embrace them as we embrace our femininity and womanhood. We are strong and powerful and can carry on functioning as if our period pain were a tiny scratch from a kitten if need be. Our monthly cycle is an opportunity to start afresh, it’s out with the old and in with the new. Like a full moon, each month it starts again… What’s not to love about that?!

In recent years, my period arriving has often signaled the “ah ha” moment for a whole week of unexplained emotions, self-loathing and extra kilos on the scales (which shouldn’t bother me, because I KNOW that the number on the scale doesn’t define me, but it’s so ingrained by society, that sometimes, nonchalantness eludes me…).

The more this happened and the more regular my periods became (medications for endometriosis meant that I was period free for 5 years, so I had to get back into the swing of it), the more welcome my periods were. I started associating periods with chocolate. When I got my period, I got chocolate. That first chocolate of my period is never added to any calorie counting and is consumed 100% guilt free. It’s simple conditioning; but it works. So now my period says; “HELLO! I’M HERE!”, my brain says; “Oh thank heavens, I thought I was going mad” and my heart says; “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS CHOCOLATE!!”
All this combines to make getting my period a pretty sweet deal.

So, after all that babble; What did I learn through this week? What can we take away from it?

I’m getting far better at loving myself. A brief moment of disillusion does not spell the beginning of a downward spiral for me into self-loathing and disgust. This is a huge leap forward.

I’m still learning about my body. 31 years on and I still fail to confidently recognise period symptoms before the event… And that’s perfectly ok!

My support network is vast, strong and understanding. I would have flailed significantly longer had I not had such powerful and immediate support.

Anxiety might not go away, you just get better at dealing with it.

And finally; Love is a whole bunch of tiny little acceptances and realisations. Not grand gestures and big events. Whether loving yourself or someone else. It’s the little pieces that add up.