In October I had been feeling horrible for a while, waking up and going to sleep feeling the same way. Like Bruce Springsteen but anxiety instead of dancing.
Medication was making me feel more like I was dying. I started to resent taking any, I hated feeling like I had no freedom to drive or drink etc. and somewhere along the way after that first bad panic attack, I got this huge phobia of taking medication and feeling it kick in.
I would sit holding whatever pill in front of my lips, nodding along to the people in front of me trying to convince me it would help but still unable to actually open my mouth.
It was like a pharmaceutical rope swing, ‘one, two, three, go!’ and feeling like something really bad was going to happen on go.
My best friend at the time had moved away to another country and I couldn’t tell if the panic attacks were being exacerbated by that or were the result of that. I felt like it wasn’t enough to plague me with panic attacks but it was happening, so I guessed it was.
I booked a flight a year in advance to go to Disneyland, which I’ve been talking about for about ten years. I hate everyone who’s been to Disneyland.
All the ways I had pictured it coming, I’d never seen a version where I was sitting in the doctors office a few days before my flight, with people discussing how much diazepam to take and gently suggesting that I don’t go.
My heart was permanently beating so fast that any sort of small change in my body made it feel unbearable. I couldn’t fall asleep with the badoom-badoom-badoom pounding so hard I could feel my pulse shifting the pillow around my neck.
I bought a fitbit so I could see just how fast my heart was beating. I was staying up all night sometimes, avoiding going to bed because that’s usually where I’d get the worst panic attacks.
I didn’t even want to laugh any more in case that set it off. I felt wrong all the time and I was trying not to imagine being in foreign country in a few days when I could barely handle being in my mum’s house.
I was fed up of all the meditation and mindfulness and breathing exercises all day long to keep the panic at bay, and still feeling like I had an umbrella in the wind that was going to turn inside out at any moment.
Instead of going on holiday I stayed home and all my friends scrambled to throw me a last minute birthday party. I was so wrapped up in how lovely and great my friends are that I didn’t even realise the party might be overwhelming until I was knee deep in shenanigans and thoroughly overwhelmed.
I had become like a skittish deer, running away and mumbling I was having a heart attack every ten minutes.
I spent a good chunk of the night with my best friend since I was 7, hidden away in a bedroom with her acting as a bouncer to the rest of my drunk well-meaning friends.
They streamed in and out, in ones and twos like cheery shifts of visiting hours, bringing the party to me even if it was just sitting on a bed with me for half an hour at a time and trying to make me laugh.
It killed me how much I would have enjoyed that night, how much more fun I could have had if I hadn’t been fighting Goliath in my brain. A house full of my favourite people, an endless supply of funny hats and fairy lights. I even got two birthday cakes but my tummy was in too many knots to eat them.
I took all that comfort I used to have in my own skin for granted. I took it for granted that my brain used to just do what I wanted. I was in a very different place than I expected to be that year.
Sometime between deciding not to go on holiday and going to the party, I booked a one way ticket somewhere else. By now I knew I wasn’t going to have a heart attack and that it’s pretty normal to feel that way when you’re having a panic attack.
A friend of mine messaged me something about their IUD one day, which made me think of my IUD. The hormonal one I’d gotten about a month before. I sat down on my bed and stared up at the ceiling, wondering if there was any connection.
I googled ‘hormonal IUD chest pain heart palpitations panic attacks’ and I was worried enough by what I saw to pay to have it removed ASAP, a few weeks away. Of course the NHS point blank refuse to remove it after one month, even if you’re having bad side effects. Of course.
So I figured why not go travel a little in the mean time, the worst that can happen is I have a panic attack, it peaks, it stops, I don’t die and I get on with it.
I feel like I spend a lot of time wondering whether I’m the fall apart and have a bath girl or the put some lipstick on and get it together girl. The two polar opposite girls you read about exclusively in internet quotes. Who makes these?
If there’s a woman out there who’s ever had a bad time, stopped crying, went to her dresser, put on lipstick and got on with her life, please be my friend. I want to study you.
Being on a plane myself feeling that way wasn’t the most fun. I will admit that. I had one particularly bad panic attack and started eyeing up the hand of the old woman next to me, wondering if she would be freaked out if I asked to hold it.
Instead I put the Headspace app on a loop, tried to breathe and miraculously fell asleep. Panic attack who??!!?!?!!!?!???!?
When I got to my hostel I spent the first few days meeting at least ten new people each day and I was soon feeling less sad. There are so, so many people in the world. So many.
I drank on the beach and played cards on the rooftop watching the sun go down, ate copious amounts of pizza and grilled cheeses, tired myself out in the sun and slept like a baby.
I don’t know if it was the sunshine, all the exercise walking around or the constant change in dynamics at the hostel but it became easy to shrug the panic attacks off when I had so many endorphins at my disposal.
Plus I wasn’t going to blurt out to a group of people I’d just met that I was having a panic attack, not because they would judge me or anything but to avoid the onslaught of omigodareyouok’s, doyouneedaglassofwater’s and the worst one of all – did something bring it on/what were you thinking about.
Being in that situation repeatedly kind of forced me to learn how to mask and ignore the fact I was sure I was having a heart attack multiple times a day. And the more times you get through it, the more you can be sure you’re not actually having a heart attack when it happens again.
Happy birthday to me.