Any of you that are regular readers will know I’ve got past experience with anxiety. Naively I thought I was done with all that….
On Tuesday I had a panic attack; the first I’ve had in well over 18 months. It came out of nowhere, as these bitching things often do. The familiar feeling of tightness in my chest, struggling to get my breath, shaking hands, that weird sweaty hot feeling you get but you’re also shivering. But not with cold, with fear. Part of your mind is thinking “calm down, count your breathes” the other part of you is thinking “why the fuck is this happening again” and all the while there are a million other overwhelming thoughts rushing through your head that you can’t slow down, take in, deal with.
Anxiety has been described as this:
“More than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.
Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.”
It seems anxiety really can be an underlying cruel and unspoken torment that many of us suffer without A) realising and B) talking about. But I think by talking about my own experience, if it helps just one person, then I’m doing a good thing and it’s totally worth talking about.
Anxiety is a horrible emotion. A feeling that cannot be controlled, and different levels of anxiety lie in different people. People deal with it differently, and whereas some can handle high levels of stress, there are others of us who struggle to handle it at all. It affects people in different ways. There are people like my husband, calm, collected, laidback. I am so jealous of his ability to breeze through life, distance himself from getting stressed. Although I have a hugely optimistic and positive outlook on life, I also suffer with high levels of anxiety
A lot of people probably think I have a near on perfect life. I am a stay at home Mum, I get to do something I love with my writing, and admittedly I have a very lovely lifestyle – I’ve got a beautiful home, a loving husband, and an amazing son. So many people would wonder “what on earth has she got to be anxious about”. But you mustn’t assume just because someone seems to be confident and always positive, they must not have real life problems; that is so wrong. There are a lot more things to people than you might not at first realise. Hand in hand it’s so important not to make the assumption that someone who openly admits they suffer with anxiety, or depression, that they are some unstable headcase or that you don’t know how to speak to them. So many people will suffer with these things without you even knowing it. It doesn’t make them any less of a person.
One of the most frustrating things about panic attacks is there can often be no reason. When mine triggered on Tuesday, I had no idea what I was panicking about. I don’t know what set it off. Imagine that your head is full of hundreds of filing cabinets full of different information; memories, things you’ve learnt, places you’ve been. Well, there is this one filing cabinet that stores every panic attack you have. Where you had it, what happened, who was with you, what you were doing, everything. When you re-enter the same place, doing the same thing, that cabinet unlocks and releases the same adrenaline and emotion. It can be the most minute of things. My brain thinks it’s protecting me by making me enter “fight or flight”. Your body sets itself up to either run away or fight the situation. If your body and mind faces certain types of stress this can trigger. It’s as though you’re the car in the street whose alarm goes off at the smallest gust of wind whereas al the other cars can take a good beating before their alarm sounds; you’re just a bit more sensitive to stress than others.
I’ve always been a worrywart ever since I was a child. I do have a lot of memories as a child where I was on edge. My parents had a very volatile relationship, there was a vast amount of raised voices and banged doors. It was a fiery relationship (oddly enough one that did have a lot of love and 40 years on they are still together by some miracle). But I do think that this is where a lot of my worrying stemmed from. I was always on edge there might be another argument, or that my parents would split up. You can’t choose your family, and I love mine, but I do think this may have been the starting point….
It sounds horrible, as though I am passing the blame. I’m really not. I guess you look for answers, you want to know why you’re programmed to be so anxious. Cause it’s so frustrating. I don’t want to be a worry wart to the point of giving myself these panic attacks. They are so horrible. And that’s not how I want to live my life. I refuse to let them define me. I don’t and won’t let them stop me going out and doing what I want to do. Finding a way to deal with your anxiety is pretty crucial. As you may have guessed, my way of dealing with anxiety is to write every thing down. I don’t just mean my blog, but I write lists; lists of things that are worrying me (literally a worry list – this was hubs idea), lists of things that need doing, lists of things I mustn’t forget. Because seeing things written in black and white can help you to take a step back and realise there are certain things in life that are just not worth worrying about. Who cares if the house is messy today, or if I skip doing the washing for a day! I am terrible for storing up a gazillion minute little things and before you know it those filing cabinets in my head are full to the brim of things “I should be doing”! When really all I should be doing is looking after Josh and myself, and in creating worry in my head I can’t do that to the best of my abilities. I am absolutely terrible for overthinking. Its a flaw I recognise in myself and one I am seriously working on!
Some days it’s easy to kick yourself up the arse; you look at what you’ve got, how beautiful life is and feel really lucky. Other days all feels grey. You lack motivation and it can be so hard getting that mist to lift; you want it to but it’s there fogging your mind and judgement. Speaking up is a must. As I’ve said my husband is very laid back, he’s also very black and white and, without sounding cruel, he’s not very emotional. I think it’s because he generally always tries to see the positives which is a great thing. But he has never had to deal with a mental health issue, nor (to my knowledge) has anyone in his immediate family. I don’t think he quite understood anxiety until he saw me have a panic attack. But thankfully given his laid back personality, he was very good at calming me down. Even though I know he didn’t get it and I think it freaked him out a bit, he knows me better than anyone, he knew what to do and how to soothe me. Thankfully he hasn’t had to deal with me having one in a long time and I was alone (apart from Josh napping) when this one occurred on Tuesday. When I told him what had happened I could feel his fear “is she going to go through a rough patch again”. It’s hard to reassure him that this isn’t the beginning of me spiralling into a depression but just a horrible side effect of living with anxiety. But you can’t let panic and anxiety stop you living your life. You’re never going to have this day, this life again. When you’re in the midst of a panic attack it’s hard to think of this but you have to try and tell yourself “what’s the worst that’s going to happen”. You’re not going to die – even though in that moment you’re so sure you will because your heart is racing so hard you’re scared it’ll explode, or you’re petrified you’re not going to get your breath back. It’s obviously a lot easier to put things into perspective when you aren’t in the middle of an attack.
One of the things I’ve started to do to try and reduce my stress levels is eliminate putting time limits on myself. I am awful for being hard on myself; if I’m spending time playing with Josh I feel guilty for not blogging. If I’m blogging, I feel guilty that I’m not paying 100% attention to Josh. I am really bad for listing in my head all the things I should be doing and I have to have it done right there and then. If I decide to write a blog post in my head, I have to get it done that day; written; published and put on social media. But then I let things slide such as washing or tidying. But I wish I could say to myself WHO CARES. Who cares if the washing waits a day, who cares if Josh’s toys are all over the floor for a day. Is it really that big a deal?! No, not really! I need to stop telling myself I MUST get stuff done by a certain time or day, and just get done what I can. I know for a fact this will eliminate a lot of my stress. If you’re an anxious person don’t set yourself time limits on anything; timed schedules just maximises stress. Just do things the way you feel you can at your own pace.
People don’t chose to go through anxiety, stress, depression or any other form of mental illness. The words mental illness are so strongly judged; people are made to feel shamed or stupid or as if they are making a bigger deal than necessary. It’s no wonder so few people speak up about these things. I really wish I could do something, anything, to help educate people about anxiety and what the horror of a panic attack entails because those of us that have them and deal with them are fucking heroes in my opinion.
Having said all of this doesn’t change the Fi you’ve all got to know. The positive, happy Fi who loves a glass of fizz and another pair of shoes! The Fi who is a doting Mummy who drives her friends nuts by posting yet another gorgeous picture of Josh on Facebook. I don’t think my character reflects what I’ve written here . It might all come as a surprise to a lot of people, but that’s the things with disorders such as anxiety and depression – more often than not, no one knows. But I don’t think anyone can truly understand what your brain can tell you. The bad angel on my right shoulder tells me constantly ‘you’re going to have a heart attack! you’re going to die!’ whilst the good angel on my left shoulder plays me meditation music and says to me ‘breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth’ like my mum would do to me when I was little girl when I had a funny turn.
For me it’s about balance. I’ve had a rough couple of days and now I’ve had time to look at my life, what my priorities are and how to calm down the million and one thoughts running through my head. I have to speak up; to my husband, my friends, you guys. It really helps. I have to make a conscious effort to stop being tough on myself and trying to do it all. It won’t all get done; get over it. All that is important is that I keep Josh warm, happy, fed, alive and that I look after myself by not overloading myself with pointless tasks that are not the be all and end all. I am going to stick to my list writing but in a positive way; write down every daft thing that’s in my head and look at it and realise just how much I am wasting energy on these things and instead put that energy into having a great day with my son. And I am, somehow (I don’t know how yet) going to do what I can to help others who suffer with anxiety and panic attacks. Because I think it’s important people know what to do if some one they love is going through this.
For those of you who have someone close to them who suffers with anxiety and are unsure of what to do if they were to suffer a panic attack these tips may help:
- Remain calm. There is nothing worse than being with someone who is freaking out whilst they are, they will never calm down if you are flapping about like a headless chicken.
- Do not be forceful. Be patient, and accepting.
- Let them do things at their own pace.
- Don’t make assumptions about what the person needs, ask them.
- Find something positive in every experience. If the affected person is only able to go partway to a particular goal, such as the cinema or out for a coffee, consider that an achievement rather than a failure.
- Remember that they don’t choose to be this way. Do not show any disappointment or annoyance when panic strikes or if they feel they can’t do something.
- In a panic attack, DON’T say:
“Pull yourself together. Relax. Calm down. Don’t be anxious. Let’s see if you can do this (i.e. setting up a test for the affected person). What should we do next? Don’t be ridiculous. You have to stay. Stop being silly, what’s wrong with you”.
Instead, DO SAY:
” I am proud of you. Tell me what you need now. Breathe slow and low. Stay in the present. It’s not the place that’s bothering you, it’s the thought. I know that what you are feeling is painful, but it’s not dangerous. You are courageous. Remember that panic attacks only last a maximum of 20 minutes. You can get through this”.
- Do not try to distract them with stupid questions. We don’t want to say the alphabet backwards or talk about our day, it just highlights the fact that we are having a panic attack, thus creating more panic.
- Be supportive & reassuring. After a panic attack, the person can feel down, depressed, angry, insecure and with very low self esteem. It’s your job to help them to feel better about themselves and simply be there for them.
I can see how difficult it can be for those who don’t know how to deal with a panic attack and how to help someone in that situation. I really hope these tips help in case you’re ever in that situation.
One thing I’ve learnt is that I am not alone. Panic attacks are very common and I’ve had several friends admit to me they’ve also suffered. If you are going through any form of anxiety or depression speak up – speak to someone close to you. Don’t let anxiety ruin your confidence or your self esteem; you’re amazing for even coping with them. Don’t force yourself to do or go to anything that you don’t feel comfortable with. But do seek the support you need and deserve to treat and deal with these situations. Your health and happiness are so important. And if someone close to you is struggling to understand anxiety and panic attacks, please get them to have a read of this. They need to be giving you as much support as they can.
If this post offers some reassurance to just one person I’ll be over the moon. To be a good mother I need to be open and honest about the challenges I face; that’s the whole point of my blog. And suffering with anxiety is a part of me therefore it’s important to talk about it. And to be a good mother I need to be taking care of myself and stop putting unnecessary pressure on myself; giving myself deadlines that don’t need to be there. So from now on I’ll be going on Fi time; taking everything as it comes, day by day, and doing all I can to work on myself and prevent that horrible feeling of anxiety.