I was going to post today about going into my new school tomorrow and how, in the last year, plans had migrated surprisingly in a positive way. However, I woke up this morning and my body decided, instead of feeling the full joie de vivre I expected from being on the cusp of a new chapter of my life, instead I was going to have panic attacks. Initially I felt tired, really tired, physically and mentally. Waking up took several attempts and I just about managed to shuffle to the kitchen for breakfast. After breakfast I managed to shuffle back to bed. This was the first sign things weren’t quite right. The second sign was the waves of sadness that came over me. After that I experienced palpitations, shakes and breathing problems. When my parents tried to talk to me I found myself rubbing my face and mumbling responses, a definite nervous gesture, but why?
I’ve not had a panic attack in a very long while and certainly not an out of the blue one like this. Whenever I feel my brain trying to sabotage my mood, I run what I think of as internal diagnostics. Picture your brain like a computer running a virus scanning programme, that’s what I imagine I’m doing. I check through the things that have happened over the last few days to see if there’s anything there which might have set me off, then I go further back, did I ignore something recently which has then festered in my subconscious? If nothing comes to mind, then I check my environment, I test my reactions to various scenarios to see what the trigger is. When I was really badly depressed I’d often experience panic attacks caused by the thought of getting out of bed. It was like my bed was some kind of raft upon which I was safe, stepping off meant ‘drowning’ in the crap I was desperately trying to cope with/avoid.
After running through ‘internal diagnostics’ it turned out getting out of bed and going back to my house were the triggers. Odd, I love my house and certainly have no reason to get anxious about going home. I’ve been at my parents since Thursday so, in normal circumstances, I’d be desperate to get back to my own space. Not today. But why?
Dad dealt with this unusual episode by generally taking the piss – this might seem a very unsympathetic approach but actually works very well, sympathy makes me cry and chivvying me along induces guilt and anger. Making me laugh at myself helps me more than anything. – and bringing me another coffee before leaving me alone to deal with myself. The coffee seemed a good move as my brain seemed to engage and the decision to make the most of my self-induced confinement was made. Although I’d had a super exciting day of coursework marking ahead of me, that would now have to wait as I sat in bed and began reworking several passages I want to include in book two. Eventually I reached a point where I needed the word document, on my laptop, in the lounge.
Nothing for it but to get up, get dressed and move loungewards. And here I sit, feeling a little better so long as I don’t think about leaving the sofa. I know I have to go home later but I’m happy making small steps – not home, it’s a 40 minute drive, small steps would take me days – knowing that I’ll get there. I’m also happy because I’m writing which I wouldn’t have done if I’d gone home. Perhaps today’s panic wasn’t based on something that had happened but because subconsciously I knew, if I only did marking and housework today, I’d feel I hadn’t really achieved something and that could devolve into feelings of worthlessness and self-reproach.
The lesson, I think, in all of this is knowing yourself well enough to listen when your brain sends out its distress signals. Years ago I’d push on, force myself to do the things I thought I should be doing and ignore the physical and mental signs telling me to stop a minute. Mostly I’d tell myself not pushing on was a sign of weakness and then I’d guilt myself for the way I was feeling. Now I understand it’s not about weakness, in fact stopping and listening takes great strength. Admitting you’re not ok is a big deal, not something to shy away from. So, when I can I listen, and generally what might have become an unmanageable breakdown turns into something less, sometimes, like today, something positive.