I’m going to write about something that’s a bit out of character for me. I’m not really sure why I feel a compulsion to do it, it’s not that it’s hard for me to talk about… it’s just that I don’t usually like to piss on your cereal with anything too heavy nowadays. I also don’t like to be judged unless I know that I’ve explained myself accurately, beautifully, and usually to the point of exhaustion – something that I’m not entirely brilliant at doing.
For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking more and more frequently about an episode I endured over a two-year period between 2007 – 2009, perhaps it’s because a few of my blogging peers and friends have opened up to share their experiences with the tougher times in their lives and the frequent rounds of depression they’ve battled but whatever the reason, I’d like to begin by apologising to anyone who recognises a bandwagon jump when they see it – I’ve surely been inspired to write this, it’s definitely not something I’d actually sit down and compose out of choice but I can’t shake off the compulsion and if I’m completely honest, I’m afraid that if I don’t use this as an exercise in ridding myself of my demons, they may come back to bite me in the ass. Longest sentence ever.
I was 25, had been married for 2 years and was content with how life was panning out. Aside from my PCOS (and the related-issues this brings), I had nothing wrong with my health either physically or mentally and yet, I started to feel uneasy. You know how some days, you wake up and can’t shake off the feeling that something isn’t quite right? That became my every day, the worst kind of groundhog day. I rarely had the kind of panic attack that needed a paper-bag to alleviate the pain and only once did I manage to work myself into such a frenzy of fear that I temporarily lost the feeling in my arms, which hilariously (with hindsight), made me freak out even more.
I had the sort of anxiety that left me feeling in partial control, failing at not being able to shake off the dread, nor pull myself together. My first thought upon waking was to immediately assess my levels of fear/dread – I’d run through a series of checks: steady heartrate? (check), palpitations? (check), breathing? (check), shaking hands? (check). Of course, when you’re so damn focused on taking your pulse and analysing any little chest flutters, it’s quite easy to convince yourself that you’ve got an undiagnosed heart condition. I’d spend evenings lying across Paul’s lap, sobbing that I just wanted to go to hospital so that they could run a shit load of tests – truth be told, they could never have run enough tests to convince me that I wasn’t dying. I didn’t go to hospital, I was too afraid of making a fuss and being branded a hypochondriac (which to be honest, I was) – but I did go to my GP who prescribed me beta-blockers. Worst things ever. My heart rate simply ran at odds with the speed at which my mind was travelling and that in itself left me feeling constantly nauseous and even less in control than before.
I read up on anxiety, Google was my friend but all I found were people on forums who felt as hopeless as I did – taking blind steps toward a normality that seemed like a distant memory. I’ll say for certain that I never found myself out of options, but exploring them exhausted me and I don’t mind admitting that sleep was my greatest comfort – you don’t feel frightened when you’re sleeping. Or anything at all.
My worst moment came at my Nan’s funeral in 2007, she’d lived with us and had endured Alzheimers for over 10 years, a stronger lady you never did meet. When I sat outside the crematorium, certain that the symptoms of panic literally wouldn’t let me go inside to say goodbye properly – well, I’ve never felt so much anger in my life. I ended up withdrawing from normal life more and more, it’s one thing to feel a tide of panic rising when you’re at home… quite another when you’re out shopping, surrounded by strangers.
I’d like to say that I slowly overcame the anxiety, addressing each symptom with thought and reason through some kind of cognitive therapy that provided answers and the tools to fight back, but the truth is that I had very little input into its resolution. Recovery happened more quickly than I would have dared to anticipate and with each passing day, I slowly forgot to assess how afraid I was at any given moment in time, something that undoubtedly helped a great deal.
The episode remains a mystery to me, I sometimes think about the possibility of it returning… I like to think that it was, indeed, caused by an infection or something hormonal affecting my psyche (I’m only too aware of what a urine infection can do for a patient with dementia) and although I may be wrong, thinking of it in more physical terms brings me comfort and gives weight to a condition that feels so damn abstract when you’re going through it.
The only thing that I can be certain of is that having someone who would listen to me being completely unreasonable, time and time again, without judgement… anchoring me, both physically and mentally, helped me more than he could ever know.