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…”

——

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.