Strolling along a beachfront. Sun shining. Cloudless blue sky. Windsurfers and wave surfers. Children having fun splashing and swimming in a beautiful sea. Grown ups relaxing. Chatting and laughing. Work and the daily grind a long way away. No stress. An idyllic scene. Peaceful. Not a care in the world.
In the midst of all this and for no rhyme or reason, without any warning as always, panic strikes.
Debilitating. Frightening. Nauseating. Uncontrollable. Made all the worse by being far from the security blanket of the familiar. Not that that always helps. Only behind the front door of home is there safety.
How and why has it come to this? I wish I had the answer to that. For all of my life I’ve been in control. Organised, efficient, independent, smart, intelligent, a good manger and problem solver. (Modest too!) A listening ear and words of advice for all sorts of people with all sorts of issues. Always believing that I could achieve whatever I set my mind to and encouraging others to think the same of themselves. No problems only challenges. No barriers that could not be overcome with effort and determination.
Then one day, it all fell apart. With hindsight, the crisis was a long time in the making, I just didn’t see it coming. A series of unfortunate circumstances, personal and professional all finally combined: the unexpected and harrowing death of a dearly beloved friend; 15 months of dealing with the fallout of being horribly and viciously betrayed and abused by a once trusted and respected friend and colleague resulting in an investigation and a hearing, to list but two. The result? Crash and burn! One kind word at the wrong moment (or right moment depending on your viewpoint) and all the control, all the holding it together, deserted me and I wept. Uncontrollably and relentlessly, I wept.
(That’s apparently a unique experience for me. Ask my family and they’d tell you I never cry. Only twice in their memory: the unexpected arrival home of my son and on holding my granddaughter for the first time)
There’s no way of describing adequately how it feels when an attack hits; it’s something you would have to experience for yourself. Nights out with family, close friends, familiar and safe surroundings. Hogmanay spent in the car in a hotel car park when the family is inside partying. So panicked at my son’s wedding I literally tore my dress off to get into a cold, calming shower. Days when I’d actually manage to get dressed and make-up on to go out, reaching the car door and having to come back inside. Made it out to church no more than a couple of times. Didn’t work for four months. Couldn’t even go in with Fitness to Work line. Made no difference the who, the why and the where. No rhyme. No reason.
Four months of very little motivation. So tired but sleeping badly. Anxious about everything and nothing. Anxious about being anxious. Endless jigsaws and reading. Slowly trying to pull myself together. Exercise some willpower. Not easy. Fortunately I have a wonderful GP who has helped me tremendously. Yes, there’s medication too and I’m grateful for it. Most helpful of all was the support of family and friends. Twitter friends who shared what they had gone through. Caring and compassionate. Understanding without judging. Learning I wasn’t alone in my experience. The people who have come forward to share with me. People I thought were “least likely” candidates for mental health issues; just as they thought of me.
The feeling of helplessness, that you’re not the person you thought you were is a salutary experience. I’ve never been, or felt, so helpless before or so hopelessly inadequate. Will I ever have the strength of mind and resilience I had before? Will I ever be free of these unprovoked anxiety attacks? These aren’t questions I can answer yet but I’m making progress and I’m learning coping strategies.
Eventually I’m going to be fixed. I’m determined on it. Whatever broke me will have been resolved or I’ll have come to terms with it. Learned to live with it. In some ways I believe it’s made me a better person. More equipped to ask for help. Not afraid to say I need it. This enables me to understand and accept more readily the shortcomings I once perceived in others.
Fragile and imperfect but getting there.