This is the one I’ve been putting off for a while. I know for a fact that putting this out is going to make me feel so vulnerable and exposed, but it needs to be done. I’ve been sat here staring at a blank screen for the past 20 minutes not knowing quite how to start this, and I guess that’s actually the most appropriate way as I’ve no idea how it all started, in all honesty. I can tell you when and where, but I can’t tell you why. I’ve always been quite an anxious little creature, as far back as I can remember I’ve always felt weird in social situations and felt the overwhelming need to retreat to my bedroom where I felt safe. Please know that I use sarcasm as a coping and defence mechanism, so there will probably be quite a lot in this post.
The first one happened in Pizza Hut. I know right? Pizza Hut. I can’t believe the beginning of my downfall took place in the wonderful house of all things carbs and cheese. I was around 18/19 and had been visiting my boyfriend (at the time) in Cardiff where he went to university and we went out for dinner with a large group of his uni friends. I’d met them before, but being the awkward person I am, I struggled to become friends with any of them because I felt that we were worlds apart. I’d never been one for going out clubbing or for nights out, and it seemed like that was all he and his friends wanted to do each weekend. Nothing wrong with that at all, but I’m not the type of person who enjoys that or feels at ease in that kind of situation. I purposefully sat in the corner so I only had to interact with my boyfriend and the people next to us, rather than the whole table. Then, the minute our food came I had this overwhelming urge out of nowhere that I needed to be sick. And as genius here had cornered herself in, I had to get everyone to get up so I could shimmy out and try not to throw up on my way to the bathroom. Even though I knew in my head it wasn’t from anything I’d eaten, I wasn’t feeling ill prior to that, I knew it was just nerves, I tried to persuade myself that once I’d had a nervous puke once, I’d be fine. I spent the entire evening just trying to breathe and not be sick again, wondering what the hell was wrong with me, just waiting for the night to be over.
After that, the same thing would occur every few weeks. I wouldn’t really call them panic attacks at this point because I only felt sick, not any of the other symptoms that came with it. For the first few there didn’t seem to be anything in particular that would trigger it – sometimes when I was just sat at home doing nothing it would happen. After about a month or so that was when the anxiety side of it started to grow. “I can’t go out, I’ll be sick again”, “I don’t want to be sick in public again, I’ll just tell them I’m not feeling well and need to stay in”. At the time, I was at a college in Bristol which involved an hour by train, then 20 minutes by bus. I started getting sick on the train every now and again, spending the entire journey hiding in the toilet so no one would see me in this weird state I was in for no reason whatsoever. After a while I started to dread the journeys to and from college because I knew I was going to be sick again and I wouldn’t be able to escape. This then led to a panic in the mornings, thinking I can’t possibly go in to college that day because I knew I’d be sick on the train, so it’s definitely best to stay at home. Some days when I even felt ok in the mornings I’d still end up having a panic attack the second I saw the train approaching. In the second year of college I had to attend on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays, and for at least an entire term there was not one single week where I completed all three days because my own mind and anxiety defeated me. For added irony, I was doing a ‘Performing Musician’ course – great idea to do something that involves people staring at you and judging you. Fab choice babe.
By that time the panic attacks were in full swing. This is when I’d refer to it as the Panic Bitch. Because it wasn’t me, it was someone who had taken over my mind and body and was making me feel these things. She was a bitch. Every morning at the train station like clockwork. I can’t explain what it felt like. It was like an out of body experience. Sweaty palms, breathlessness, crying, trembling, racing heart,* there was nothing I could do, I just had to accept it at this point. This was my life now. But why? Why me? It even started happening when I went out with my family and friends. It had already taken over the parts of my life I was already anxious about and didn’t particularly want to do, fair enough, but what reason could it have for trying to creep it’s way into the things I actually enjoyed doing? It was like my own mind was trying to punish me for finding joy in things. My school friends had moved away, my boyfriend lived 2 hours away, I was completely on my own. I had no one to turn to when my brain was turning on me. When I did see my boyfriend, his helpful advice began and ended with: “Just get a drink down you and you’ll be fine”…… Let me say that again just in case you missed it – when I would have a full on panic attack at the thought of going out in the evening, where I couldn’t control my own body or mind, the person who was supposed to support me and understand would say to me “Just get a drink down you and you’ll be fine”. Wow, why didn’t I think of that!? Thanks!
*Trying so hard not to make a “mom’s spaghetti” joke here…
There are a few particular attacks that stick in my head, kind of like a greatest hits, if you will. Lunchtime in the park at college I threw up on the pavement when walking back to class (in front of a barbershop), my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary dinner, hanging with my friends in wetherspoons having the bright blue Blue Lagoon cocktail pitcher (never been able to have that since), queueing up and paying a fiver to get into a club then needing to throw up and leave about two minutes after we’d gotten in, shall I go on?
I dont actually think it was that long before I went to a doctor about it. Once I’d done a few pregnancy tests to rule that out I had to try and actually talk to someone and communicate how I was feeling and what was happening to me. Let’s just hear a big round of applause for Dr Sherlock who proudly proclaimed “You have panic disorder” as if I hadn’t already figured that one out for myself. WOW RLY THANKS. I think over the course of the whole thing I basically saw every single GP at my local practice, and I was prescribed pretty much every kind of medication under the sun and nothing worked. They referred me to a counsellor after nothing else had any effect, and I absolutely hate talking about my feelings. I often struggle to verbalise my thoughts, so I get very frustrated when I can’t get my point across properly. But I figured I’d give it a go, and after the therapist was 45 minutes late, I found that during the appointment I was lying to her and myself about how I was feeling. The one thing that sticks in my mind from that appointment was when I told her I started feeling sick and nervous at the thought of going clubbing with my boyfriend and his friends. She asked if I actually wanted to do that kind of thing, and I lied and said yes. I think that was the turning point for me, because after that I realised that I didn’t. And that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with that.
It lasted for about a year and a half. Looking back, I suppose the silver lining of the whole thing was that where I was being sick so often I lost a tonne of weight. The Panic Bitch Diet probably isn’t the healthiest but it was very effective, I’ll give it that. I’m not really sure how it stopped if I’m being honest with you – I guess they just kinda filtered out. That’s why I’m finding it hard to give out any pearls of wisdom if you’re reading this and going through the same thing. Because in a way, I feel like I didn’t actually beat it. I guess it got what it wanted with me, then packed up its things and went elsewhere. I still do get nervous and anxious from time to time, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it once was.
I’ve come a long way in the past 8 years, despite the fact I still don’t answer the phone if I don’t know who’s calling, and the thought of having a lot of people’s attention on me is still terrifying. There was a point where I genuinely thought I would become completely house-bound and even though sometimes I do still relate to her, I feel like a completely different person now. I have the best friends I could possibly ask for and an amazing husband who always comes through for me. So I guess I’m living proof that no matter how low and helpless you’re feeling, in a few years time you might just surprise yourself.