22 May pt. 15 about being attacked by panic.
Today has not been my finest. There have been tears, some shouting, and some fairly poor parenting.
Having survived the day, and just got the youngest to bed, I thought i would write a post… Its been a while.
And I have been meaning to post about this subject for a long while.
Cos that is bound to cheer me up, right?
(This post is the 15th in a series I started writing last Autumn, specifically about mental health. If you want to read the series from the beginning it starts here. )
My most impressive, and by impressive I mean terrifying, panic attack occurred about a year ago.
We were on holiday in Wales, with friends, and all the kids, when suddenly – completely out of nowhere (or so it seemed) I was hurtling at break-neck pace down the rabbit hole. Spiralling into the bleakest of thought patterns, unable to get a grip or find a safe place to hang on to.
My body responded in kind. My breathing became fast and shallow, I was shaking and boiling hot. It wasn’t long before I was sick.
The fight or flight button had been pressed and my body was responding to the danger my mind was telling it was imminent.
When I have experienced panic attacks in the past they have been fairly short lived. Scary and debilitating, but I have known that they would end, and I would return to some kind of calm. This time it didn’t end. It was about 2 hours before I managed to regain any composure. It was far and away the scariest thing I have experienced. In the middle of the attack I found myself thinking that my kids were going to have to be taken off my and I probably needed hospitalisation.
(Obviously these were not ever realities, but that was the severity of it).
Looking back I can see how I ended up in that place… why it happened. A combination of circumstances had made home very, very stressful. Matt was stressed like I have never known him (and hope to never know him again). I found myself in a place where I was the emotional support not only for him (24/7) but also to the kids (and on my own as he just couldn’t handle them as well). There was nothing I could practically do to change the situation we were in but whilst we were in the routine of ‘normal life’ (school runs, packed lunches etc) I held it together. Although i knew I was barely hanging on, I had creating a structure around myself to keep me going. I kept myself super-busy, with the kids and school and chores and I didn’t let my guard down.
But then we went on holiday.
Away from my normal surroundings and structures.
At some point most people have relied on adrenaline to get them through a period of extreme physical busyness but then as soon as that time ends they get the flu, or a cold, or pick up a sickness bug off the kids. It was the same with my mental health.
I had used all my resources to survive, and was right on the edge of coping. As soon as I lowered my defences, and began to dismantle my routine it was as though i allowed myself to melt-down (that’s the technical term).
This panic attack, a year ago, was the last time I had a panic attack. There hasn’t been one since.
I’m not counting my chickens, or resting on my laurels, but I think that there is a distinct possibility that it could have been my last ever.
(Im not remotely superstitious but even typing that scared me.)
It seems amazing to me that I can have this kind of confidence. Certainly a year ago I would not have thought it possible.
But I have changed a lot since then. And we have changed how we live.
A year ago we were clinging on for dear life, at the very edge- tip of our fingernails … holding on. And that was (for me) pretty much all of the time. Anxiety was only ever one-wrong-thought, one-unhelpful-comment, one-news-report away. My body was coping with very trying circumstances, being continually pumped with adrenaline, unable to relax.
Now… yes there are anxious moments. Days (like today) where I feel the edge of low-mood creeping in. But generally, I am experiencing a level of peace and rest. I laugh a lot more. I have learnt Rule Number 6*.
When deciding whether or not to do something the first question I ask myself is
“Do I want to?”
This is BIG progress. From being a people-pleaser, shoulds-musts-and-oughts kind of girl, I now find myself
often usually making decisions based on what is best for me (first… don’t worry I do still think about the kids.)
This isn’t a ‘how to stop having panic attacks’ kind of post. If you suffer from panic attacks the best advice I can give is go to your doctor and get referred for some counselling or therapy, or find a course on how to deal with anxiety, or you could do worse than reading ‘How to Master Anxiety by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell’. It is quite an easy read and has lots of helpful ideas. Also I tweeted this link the other day in mental health week, it is very quick to read and is especially good if you have a friend who is, or you suspect might, suffer from anxiety.
I have also written about anxiety before, if you want to read it you will find it here.
I wanted to write this because if you do suffer with anxiety and panic attacks it is very easy to blame yourself, feel ashamed and feel alone.
Don’t. Please. Try not to. We’re going to be okay.
We need to talk about this stuff more.
*Rule Number 6, as described in ‘The Art of Possibility’: ‘Don’t take yourself so God-damn seriously’.