When I tell people that I have anxiety and panic attacks I often get this response:
“Oh I get panicky too, couldn’t find my Oyster card last night!”
“Anxiety? Yeah I get that watching Making A Murderer, not nice is it?”
They don’t mean to belittle my situation, but what they associate with the words doesn’t even come close to how it feels.
Terror Attacks, Brain Meltdown, Mind Collapse are more accurate. Yes I know they sound like horror films, but actually that’s not that far from the truth.
At its worst Anxiety for me is like being in a horror film, with the woozy score from Vertigo. Every phone bleep, every door knock, every sound of footsteps outside could be the dark grey monster that will tip me over the edge and breakdown.
You can spend hours, days, doing things that used to take seconds. A phone call to your boss or the bank become marathons for your mind. Sometimes just leaving the house to put the bins out takes a whole morning of preparation and persuading your brain that the next door neighbour won’t come out and start talking to you.
A trip to the supermarket turns into a bleak version of The Truman Show. Everyone in Sainsbury’s is looking at you, muttering about how you look a mess, waiting for you to stumble or stutter as you say hello to the cashier, the pressure to pick up your change without spilling it on the floor causes your heart to play a drum and bass version of the Countdown theme tune.
Panic attacks are like the spinning room you used to get when you’ve drunk too much Thunderbird wine. Except it doesn’t feel like it will ever end. The spinning gets faster, shapes, sounds and people distort, like the contrast/sound turned up too high on an old TV. Every bleak thought about every aspect of your life plays at once. All competing with each other for the prize of scariest outcome and worst ending.
They do pass, always. But that doesn’t stop you from thinking the next one might never end.
The most important thing I have done, the biggest help, was to talk, honestly about everything. It really is important you don’t try to gloss over any worries, be honest to yourself and to your partner/friends/family. I think and hope that there will be someone in your life that will try and understand, even if initially they don’t know how. It is amazing how just having one person who listens, doesn’t talk over you or tell you what to do, but listens, can make a huge positive difference.
I’m lucky, after a long time I luckily found a good Doctor who understands and have a girlfriend/friends/family who will support me, no matter how dark and gloomy I feel. I think I’m coming through the other side, at last. The optimism and hope that was hidden away in a dusty cupboard has come back.
If you aren’t dealing with these issues, but you are reading this because a friend or partner is suffering, I hope that now when you hear the words ‘panic’ and ‘anxiety’ you don’t try to assume you know what that means. It takes huge strength for some people to be honest and talk about what they are going through, please don’t stop them before they start.