“No one likes getting their nails done more than I do.” ~ Serena...
“Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination.” ~ Christian Nestell Bovee
I’ve realised lately that although I’ve been having them for at least two years now a lot of people still don’t really understand what it is that I mean when I say that I’ve had a panic attack. And since having panic attacks is a considerable proportion of what I’ve been doing lately I thought that I’d explain it here.
I’m not sure that everyone will experience panic attacks in this way. I have a friend who experiences panic attacks about as often as I do, but speaking to her about it hers sound like they feel completely different to mine. But anyway…
My panic attacks usually start off relatively gradually, I start off just feeling generally anxious and a bit jumpy, but, depending on how successful I am at trying to keep control of it this either eventually or quickly escalates and I become increasingly agitated. My startle response to movements and noises in my vicinity become more pronounced and my perception is heightened, so that I’ll eventually react to even the slightest thing.
I basically just get more and more scared. Usually of nothing.
The panic attacks are supposedly part of my CPTSD so you’d expect that they’d usually be triggered by something but they’re seemingly becoming disconnected to anything external to my own brain. Either that or whatever’s triggering me has become so far removed from the things that originally created the trauma that I’m struggling to recognise them anymore.
My breathing gets quicker and quicker and my heart starts to pump faster and faster. The thoughts going through my brain become less and less rational or even coherent.
If at the time I’m pretty much anywhere other than my own living room I become convinced that where ever I am is unsafe and that I need to immediately get away from there to somewhere that is safe. Safe and away from other people.
As my heart and lungs continue to work too quickly while I struggle to get my breath my chest begins to hurt. Like, really, really hurt. This is why people often describe panic attacks as feeling as though they’re going to have a heart attack.
Apparently there’s no real medical explanation for this based on what’s actually happening to you.
After the hyperventilation has been going on for a while, and I’ve eventually stopped being able to actually communicate with anyone because it’s too difficult to get my words out while gasping for air at the same time, parts of my body start to go into spasm. This starts with my hands involuntarily curling up into claws that I then struggle to, and eventually can’t, open up again.
As if I wasn’t freaking out enough already.
The pain along with the inability to speak or use my hands obviously feeds into my panic and fear. So it becomes even harder to breathe properly or think clearly. My mind is usually pretty much a fog by this point anyway.
After my hands have stopped working my arms start to go into spasm and curl in as well; which is also painful.
Next I start feeling all light-headed and woozy. It’s sort of a little bit like being drunk, only not really, but that’s the nearest thing I can think of to describe it to.
And remember, all the while my heart’s still racing along at two hundred miles an hour and I’m hyperventilating like someone who’s just had to run the distance of a marathon while in fear for their life.
And my chest pain is getting worse, and the pain in my hands is getting worse, and then the spasms in my arms start to make those hurt as well. Then my legs go numb so they don’t work either.
My doctor friend tells me that the spasms are caused by there being too much cardon dioxide in my body because I’m not breathing properly.
If this happens to me when I’m on my own I start genuinely believing that I’m going to pass out, or die, or that something else that’s terrible for my physical health is going to happen. Now that I’m not living on my own anymore I at least sometimes have somebody there who knows about medical stuff and so just sits and looks bored; and tells me that nothing is happening to me that I need to worry about because if it was they’d be doing something about it. And trys a bit to straighten out my fingers.
There doesn’t usually seem to be anything that can stop my panic attacks once they’re fully up and running, I just have to wait for them to subside and go away again. Sometimes there’s a chance they might subside more quickly if someone is able to distract me by talking about something else entirely, but this has happened rarely.
There’s almost no rhyme or reason to their duration either. Sometimes they can go away as quickly as they came and be over in as little as twenty minutes, on other occasions they might last for hours. Last month I managed to travel half way across the country without the panic attack that had prompted the journey – I’d had a sudden, desperate need to go home – even beginning to get any better.
Once a panic attack is over I might be fine for the rest of the day – apart from the pain, that usually lasts for at least a couple of days – or I might spend the next week repeating the experience at frequent intervals.
It’s all terribly inconvenient; especially when I’m busy trying to do things like go to the Sainsburys up the road and buy milk, or be at a friend’s wedding, or get ready for my appointment at the Chinese consulate.
The appointment at the Chinese consulate was to pick up my visa for the job that I was supposed to fly out to take up two weeks ago. I didn’t make it to the appointment, and I still haven’t collected my passport because I’m unable to go now. The frequency with which I’ve experienced crippling attacks over the last few weeks has been too great for me to be able to risk starting a new job half way around the world from almost anyone I know in a country that doesn’t really ‘do’ mental health care. Especially a job that would have made me responsible for groups of small children.
And my friend is only going to get married once, and I missed it because I freaked out and ran away. Something I feel terrible about.
This particular aspect of my condition makes me feel ridiculous. Other people manage to get through their day perfectly well without freaking themsleves out and making themselves ill about nothing. I feel like I should be able to as well. Apparently the fact that I tell people about about them ow is at least a sign of progress.
But there you go, anyway, that’s what a panic attack feels like. It just sucks basically.
“Everything changes, everything stays the same.”
I’m still alive.
For those of you who were wondering.
Thank you for wondering. Particularly for those of you sent very sweet wondering messages. They meant a lot to me.
So where have I been? That’s a very long and complicated story that I will endeavour to share with you once I’ve worked out to condense it into something shorter than a novella.
I’m sorry I’ve been away so long; I’ve been very, very busy – I’ve barely touched the internet at all since 21st June.
It seems like everything has changed since the last time I wrote anything here, but at the same time most things are pretty much the same.
I’ve moved house. Three or four weeks ago. But not to London. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan with the moving to London thing. So I’ve only actually moved about a mile and half away from where I was living originally – via a ten-day sleep over with a friend who lives forty miles away – to a place that’s a lot bigger but to which I only brought about half of my stuff. The rest of my stuff is in storage; because my staying here is only temporary. I’m supposed to be moving again by the end of November.
Oh, and Natalie Portman isn’t with me. She’s staying somewhere else. I miss her terribly.
For the time being I’m still doing pretty much the same temping job as I was before; although they’ve moved me into a more technical role and I have minions now. But my job is also meant to be changing by the end of November.
In terms of my mental health I got loads better. Too much better. And then I came crashing back down again – partly because of things that were happening, partly because I’d got so, well, ‘high’, for want of a better word, so quickly that it was probably inevitable.
But I’m over the worst of it, at least for the time being, and while I’m not feeling constantly over the moon any more I think the way I’m feeling is more akin to what’s ‘normal’ and healthy for the situation that I’m in.
I turned thirty. Which was only marginally less anti climactic than turning twenty-one.
Oh, and seemingly half the people I know are no longer speaking to me. Which is quite nice. I mean, actually, unironically nice. I told you it was complicated.
Anyway, that’s the potted version of what’s been happening with me. How are you?
“Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks.” ~ Isaac Watts
WordPress tells me that today is my blogging anniversary. I created this site one year ago today. So what I logged in to say seems quite fitting.
When I first decided to start writing about being crazy and then put what I wrote on the internet I had this sort of vague idea that if I could become comfortable with telling this stuff to a bunch of strangers on the internet and in leaving it to just sit here, then maybe I could eventually learn to be comfortable with telling it to myself. And then with telling other people, because I figured it was probably healthier to just be able to do that as a matter of course instead of waiting until my life depended on it until I plucked up the courage to ask for help.
And it seems to have worked.
Well, it probably wasn’t just this. The psychiatrist, and the drugs, and the psychotherapist, and the CBT therapist, and the psychiatric nurse probably had a hand in it as well.
And you guys, and my friends, and just, well, time, basically.
But anyway, a few weeks ago, for the first time pretty much ever, I had a conversation with somebody who wanted know about what’s been wrong with me for the last eighteen months and why I developed PTSD in which I just told them what had happened and how I felt about it.
Now, obviously I’d told people what’s been going on before. It’s how I came by the psychiatrist, and the drugs, and the therapists, and the whatnot in the first place. But previously it’s always been a long, tortuous and drawn out process in which I’ve really struggled to bring myself to use the right words to convey what it is that I’ve been trying to say. It’s kind of been left up to the other person to just guess at what I’ve been telling them. And then I’ve felt sick and scared about it for a long time afterwards.
This time, along with the conversations on the same subject that I’ve had with the same person since, wasn’t exactly pleasant, but I’m okay with it. It doesn’t feel like quite such a horrendously huge and horrible thing to talk about as it used to.
I think it helps that the friend I’ve been talking about this with is such a fantastic human being, who’s gone out of his way to make me feel safe and comfortable, and looked up stuff about PTSD so he’d have more idea about what I was on about when I was talking about it.
But I also think that all the help has helped – and the getting things out of my head and into this space in the internet has made it easier – to finally get me to a place where I feel emotionally well-adjusted and stabilised. Probably for the first time in my life.
And it’s not just that – relatively minor things are so much easier as well.
I’ve told all my new colleagues that prior to starting my new job I was off work for a long time because I was ill. And it just wasn’t a thing. Nor should it have been, but at pretty much any point in my life previous to now I would have expected it to be, and built it up into such a scary thing in my head that I never would have mentioned it. I’d have just made something up instead.
And I can now make perfectly normal sentences which contain the words ‘I feel this’ and an actual description of a genuine emotion in near enough any situation where it’s warranted.
Which I know shouldn’t be a big deal, but it really is for me.
Because when you’re trying to suppress and avoid all the big, horrible, ugly feelings that you can’t deal with, there’s no way to only turn those ones off. You have to bottle them all up together, so that even the little things because quite scary simply due to their unfamiliarity and your lack of practice in dealing with them.
Now, like I was saying the other day about just feeling better, I have next to no idea as to how I’ve suddenly gone from A to B – but it’s awesome to finally feel like a normal, rational human being after nearer enough thirty years of, well, not being one. So I’ll take it.