I am trying to write so that I don’t dissolve into a full blown, meltdown panic attack.
I’m not winning.
I’m going to work tomorrow after only going back last week and although my first day back was much easier than I anticipated my brain seems determined to forget this and instead keeps reminding me about all sorts of things that I’m trying really hard not to think about.
That having only been in work for six months out of the last two years has left me feeling as though I’m never going to be as good a nurse or work at anything like the level I did before Squidge was born
That I’m going to have to wait years to be promoted to a higher band, if I ever manage it at all.
That I’ve got lots of ideas about ways to improve the care of the babies and their families but that I’ve no idea of how to implement them or even where to start.
That my uniform is now a size bigger than it was before I was pregnant and it’s still a bit tight.
I’ve been plagued by panic attacks since I was diagnosed with depression ten years ago and although they’re usually few and far between there was a period of time while I was at university when I was having them several times a day. There was the particularly memorable occasions where I ended up in such a state that I got stuck lying on the floor, shaking and crying and my incredibly understanding and long suffering friend had to persuade security to let her into my room so that she could rescue me.
Throughout the three years I spent at uni I experienced a seemingly constant background level of anxiety but through will and determination I could keep it sufficiently under control that I managed to attend all my lectures, do my coursework and attend placement. But I couldn’t stay in control indefinitely and shortly after the onset of the telltale fizz and bubble of panic in my stomach I would find myself searching for a quiet place or dark corner to hide in so that no one else could see.
Just thinking about it now is making me feel dizzy; as if I didn’t have enough things conspiring against me and my fragile self control already.
Panic in my world can be triggered by all sorts of minor things that would, to any normal, sane person be minor irritations or inconveniences instead of the massive, unconquerable obstacles that I manage to turn them into.
The washing up not being done.
The Northern One not having a shirt ironed for work.
Squidge whinging upstairs instead of going to sleep.
All things that are easily dealt with and that have no long term consequences and yet have the ability to reduce me to a shaking, sobbing wreck unable to do anything other than stuff myself even further into the corner of the sofa, hugging a cushion and trying to shut out my thoughts.
It is very rare that I have a panic attack over something major although this is probably just as well. If something so small can send me spiraling into such a state then it’s as well not to consider the effect that something of actual importance could have on my metal well-being.
I sit here on the sofa, the laptop on my knees and I try to focus on writing as a distraction but I can feel the panic starting to bubble in my stomach, threatening to rise up and escape. I’m trying to keep it under control but I can feel the pressure building and I know that sooner or later everything is going to explode in a storm of tears and shaking and gasps for breath.
It’s difficult to type when I have the overwhelming urge bunch my hands into fists to try and get rid of the fear and panic that I can feel tingling at my very finger tips, almost as though it’s trying to break free of my body through sheer force of emotion. My arms and legs start twitching and jumping of their own volition, my toes curl with anxiety and discomfort and I have no control over any of it.
The harder I concentrate on trying to keep my breathing deep and even, the harder it becomes not to hyperventilate. Although I’m sat still my body is tense, desperate to take flight and start running away from the unknown, unseen threat creeping up behind it. My brain screams for more oxygen so that it can prepare my unmoving limbs to flee, even though I know that no matter how far and how fast I run I can’t escape from what’s inside my own head.
I press my lips together to keep the whimpers of fear that threaten to turn into screams from escaping. I sit up straight, planting my feet firmly on the floor to try and convince myself that I’m strong and centered but the voice inside me head just laughs at me.
This is the voice that tells me that I’m stupid and useless, fat and ugly, a terrible wife and an awful mother. It whispers in my ear when I’m trying to sleep, reminding me of all the things that I worry about and that I’m scared of and it sets them spinning round and round inside my head, chasing sleep away and leaving me awake and alone in the dark.
My head starts to swim and I can hear a faint ringing in my ears; the sound that you hear when you’ve stood up too quickly after spending too long in bed and the blood rushes away from your head and you know that if you don’t sit down quickly you’re going to faint.
Except I’m already sat down, pinned to the sofa with the weight of my fear and short of an actual fire breaking out in front of me I’m as unable to move as though the cushion I’m clinging to was stuffed with bricks instead of feathers.
I grip the laptop like it’s the only thing stopping me from being swept away in the swirling storm of fear and panic and I look at the Northern One, holding my hand out to him, desperate for a lifeline. Even the strong grip of his hand around mine isn’t enough to keep the panic at bay for long and I grit my teeth against the tears of fright that threaten to spill down my cheeks.
I know that if I let the tears start falling it’s going to be a long time before I manage to stop them again.
Through sheer force of will I manage to beat all the jittery, panicky feelings into submission and stuff them back into the mental box where I keep them locked away. In my head I sit on the box for good measure and I can feel the fear and anxiety rampaging around inside the box, looking for any weak point or chink in my mental armor though which they can break free.
After a while they fall silent and I realise that my fingers are freely tapping away at the laptop keys, no longer involuntarily clenching and contracting as I wrestle my mind for control. My stomach still occasionally clenches with vestiges of leftover fear that I’ve been unable to completely shut away.
Hard as I try there’s always something that escapes being rounded up into the mental box and continues to drift about , leaving me feeling uneasy and with the unsettling suggestion that a panic attack is never very far away.
I’ve learned to live with my panic and all the other foibles of my mental health. On most days I manage to stay in control and any setbacks or obstacles are relatively minor and set aside fairly quickly, allowing me to continue with the daily tasks that come with being the mum of a toddler.
But the panic is always there; retreating but never quite leaving completely even though I may forget about it for a while. Every so often it will run an icy finger down my spine, causing my hands to clench and my stomach to knot, just to remind me that it’s still there and no matter how strong I think I’ve become, it’s grip is stronger still.