The silver lining is that I am not talking nonsense by blogging about mental health. Ridiculous, I know, getting imposter syndrome about something like that.Isn’t it usually getting a new job and worrying you’re not made of good enough stuff? Or finding a new hair salon and thinking you’re not worthy of being there cos your nails aren’t manicured and you don’t wear lippy?
Who the hell panics that they are not ill enough though? Me. I was worrying. I was starting to doubt my integrity…
I don’t have a REAL mental illness. I just worry a lot. I whine a lot. I’m as mentally ill as Katy Hopkins is likeable, as the Daily Mail is tolerant and as Madonna is virginal. As somebody who has often had health anxiety (not a real illness, so I tell myself), it seems odd to try to make myself feel better by convincing myself that I do have a diagnosable illness.
The irony. All that CBT to stop me from looking for diagnoses for my 101 illnesses, and now I’m worried that I don’t have an illness.And that all the other mental health bloggers with real illnesses will hate me for it.
God it’s tiring. I might as well run a marathon with a fridge tied to my back (if you’re not from the North East, Google ‘Tony’ and ‘Fridge’).
I’m a Time to Change supporter, and yet I regularly beat myself blind with my own home-made form of prehistoric stigma. And the only way to remind myself that it’s not all in my head? Getting ill again.
The reality is that even on 100mg Sertraline I am not immune to panic.
Drugs alone do not work.
Increasing volumes of Diet Coke cancel out the drugs.
Slipping back into negative and indulgent patterns of thinking cancels out everything.
Friday night. A dash to the toilet, followed by shaking, shivering, shallow breathing, tingling sensations in my arms and a feeling of the chills in my legs and bum.
It’s real alright.
Why does it always have to turn up out of the blue on a weekend? I had spent Friday lunchtime telling a good friend that everything in my world was bloody aces. I was looking forward to a night in. I go home happy. Then bam!
It must have been biting at my heels for a while. I must have got complacent. Oh, I did didn’t I?! I convinced myself there was nothing wrong with me.
I’m lucky to have a husband who really gets it. And a stepson who really gets it. Well, I say lucky, it’s actually been an unfortunate head fuck for all of us at times in our lives. But still, they get it and they don’t say ridiculous things like ‘calm down’.
My husband led some breathing exercises. It worked. Until he started suggesting I hold the breath for longer. Like 6 seconds. I was like ‘I can’t do it’. He’s like ‘breathe properly’. I’m like ‘I am!’ and ‘I can’t do it for that long’. He’s like ‘if you cant breathe in for 6 little seconds you need to check in to A-‘n’-bloody-E cos you’re obviously suffering from some serious lung malfunction!’
I got massively impatient and irritable. Still, it wasn’t panic-irritable. It was ‘Chris – you’re doing my head in’ irritable. And that’s kind of normal and reassuring in our house.
Not only did my panic subside, but my kitten climbed onto the bed and I fell asleep almost instantly listening to her cute little purrs. Meanwhile, husband turns on his mac book to watch the latest instalment of Ultimate Fighting Championships. We work well together.
But I woke up the next morning with that familiar feeling of dread and that awful knot in my gut telling me that today was going to be dark and terrifying. Imagine watching Rillington Place on acid, with only Katy Hopkins and Donald Trump for company, while being forced to complete Nicola’s olive eating challenge (I will not forgive her for that one) and sticking rusty needles in your eyes. Yes – that bad.
He talked to me again. It worked – again. Then I went for dinner and couldn’t eat my pizza (anyone who knows me will know that something must be wrong if I can’t eat my pizza). My stomach felt upset again, and I got hit with more strange chills and shakes and went to bed with another knot in my stomach.
Then I woke up. And it was gone.
I’m still worrying about worrying. Has it really gone away? Will it come and bite me again. I think about the triggers and rather than worrying about whether they are real cause for concern, I am worrying that I might panic on encountering them. Cheering on the dread that is currently dormant. In hiding. Like the temporary peace and quiet when Gozer vanishes…only to be replaced by a gigantic Stay Puft marshmallow man. You can’t relax knowing that a giant marshmallowy cloud of anxiety could stamp all over your happy town of calm and suffocate you at any second. Must. Stay. Alert.
Maybe it’s just gone.
I don’t know for sure. But I know this….
Crossing the streams of supportive friends and family, kittens, daft Mr and Mrs card games and Jon Ronson books has helped me chase away the panic. For now at least.
I’m on meds. I know they’re not 100% panic proof (blatantly) but this was 36 tiny hours. And as my wonderful husband said: ‘don’t run away from it. Face up to it, look it in the eye and tell it to do one!’
Anxiety. You’re fired.
(For now anyway – it’s a start).