Today is the first day of mental health awareness week 2017 and since I love both telling and reading stories, I figured I’d kick off with one.
It was Thursday. The one day during the week that I work at my new job as a Learning Support. It was my second week and our usual arrangement is that my husband does the school runs since he has a study day. However, this week he had to work and needed to leave at 7am. I had to get both children out the door by ten past eight with everything they needed. I also had to get myself out the door with everything I needed. None of us could be late. We didn’t always cooperate. We all needed different things. I was the one responsible for it all.
The whole of Wednesday I felt this hanging over me. It was anxiety relating to matters I can’t fully control. So I shared it with my husband and he helped me to do certain things the day before to help make it more manageable. I then gave myself a pep talk.
You can do it. It will be fine. Stop thinking about it now and do some soothing things to energise yourself in preparation.
I totally crushed it.
I even managed to get a chicken casserole in the slow cooker. I didn’t manage to locate my son’s school jumper, but – hey ho. You win some you lose some. I was walking to work (with “Mum, I’m cold!” echoing in my mind) and I remembered that we were having a birthday tea at a family member’s house so I hadn’t needed to do the casserole. Who cares?! Now I have a meal done for another day – high fives all around! I’m awesome! (One has to celebrate the triumphs, right?)
My day went fine but at the end of it I tend to feel as though I have done well and handled what had been thrown at me. Yet at the same time I’m feeling anxious about whether I did in fact handle everything appropriately.
When I was about to leave I checked my phone and my friend who collected my son from school messaged to say that there had been an incident in the area near the school involving a possible firearm, which meant the school had been in lockdown and the children were kept inside for 25 minutes after the usual pick up time. They were already back home, everything was fine and in my mind it wasn’t something to freak out about. The next day we found out it was some bloke trying to scare individuals with a plastic gun.
Yet it did increase my stress levels. As did having to report a concern at work before I left. As did leaving a bit late and having to walk fast. Then I had to rush my son out my friend’s door to get to preschool to collect my daughter. As the three of us were walking down the street towards our car I felt on edge. I just wanted to get the kids strapped in the car so I didn’t have to worry about them walking down the pavement on a busy road. I didn’t have to worry that they might run off. I didn’t have to feel exposed to a deranged sniper who may still have been in the area. I could feel more in control.
It is hard to explain. I wasn’t thinking through all of these scenarios. I just felt it. I didn’t feel safe.
It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to figure out the triggers. Once we were in the car and had set off, I could feel it coming on…
My head felt a bit dizzy. My heart was beating hard. I felt sick and shaky.
I’m having a panic attack.
So, I told myself a few things:
You’re having a panic attack, it’s ok. You just need to help yourself feel safe. You are going to a family member’s house – you’ll feel safe there. When you get there, try and tell someone how you feel without commandeering the birthday party. Do your square breathing technique. It’s understandable why you’d feel this way. Give yourself a chance to calm down – it will pass in no time.
And it did.
I may need to work on the ending of that one, but in short, there was a happy ending.
It shocked me when my therapist told me that panic attacks only last for a few minutes. When I was first unwell, I remained in a state of fight or flight for pretty much the entire day. It was torturous.
Yet last Thursday, I had a rather inconsequential attack in that it didn’t feel overwhelming at the time and I felt in control and knew how to soothe myself. So I said a prayer of thanks and gave myself a pat on the back. It would seem that things are improving and it is important to acknowledge that.
Over the last week or so I have been listening to Paramore’s new song, Hard Times. It is about living with depression though it’s actually an upbeat song. Yes, we want to thrive and not just survive. But there are times when life deals you such a poor hand that survive is all you can do – it is the natural response. This song has made me reflect on the importance of celebrating success when it comes to surviving. You have managed to just stay on your feet. Yes, you may not have moved forwards but look, you didn’t go backwards either! You handled that panic attack well. You pushed past the anxiety and did what you haven’t been able to do before. You got out of bed. You went for a run. You reached out for help. You smiled and danced when you were feeling tormented.
You just kept living.
So whack on Hard Times, have a little jig, and think about how well you’ve done/are doing – fist bump from me. Tell me how it feels, or post a video of said jig to my Facebook page!