A Storm’s A Comin
A year ago to the day I had my first ever full-blown panic attack, just after my 41st Birthday. I was on holiday for a fortnight with a friend and, something about all the sunshiny happy people, the loved-up couples, the beautiful sun-kissed children, and the breath-taking scenery that made me feel as close to heaven as I had ever felt …. well, it seriously messed with my equilibrium (fairly precarious at the best of times).
Shy as I am, I spent a good week building up to a formal introduction with this new acquaintance. I first noticed I was in some sort of new trouble when (feeling pretty blue and hiding from the very happy people) I tried to take an afternoon nap. Just as I would be nearly dropping off, this wave of “Aaargh!” would rush up my body and jolt me awake. I would lie there for a while, trying to calm myself, and then try again. The same thing would happen. And, then at night it started to happen too. Each night I was on the verge of waking my friend to tell her I was scared there was something seriously wrong.
As the week progressed I started to lose my appetite. Now I have to tell you, for me, even at my lowest ebb, this is pretty much unheard of (more of a master comfort eater you might say). A morning arrived when I was so out of sorts, unable to settle even whilst my friend ate her breakfast, that, for want of any better idea of where to put myself, I took the hotel shuttle down to the nearby resort town, in the hopes that a little wander around might calm me down. Bad, bad idea. It was a beautiful spot to be sure. The problem was it was full of people, happy holiday people, over eager touristy people, far too many young men calling “Come eat here pretty lady!” which makes me want to punch somebody at the best of times. On top of all of this bustling, happy humanity it was hot. So, so damn hot! This was a beach resort, what did I expect.
This beachy strip was all open front bars and restaurants, and … well … beach. Very few options on the shade front that didn’t involve human interaction. But there was a tree, an ugly, dusty-under-foot tree. I sat under the tree. I pretended as best I could that nobody at all could see this sad pathetic figure sitting in the dust under a tree on this glorious day.
“I know” I thought, “I’ll read my book. At least that way I may look a little more enigmatic rather than completely screwy”. I started to calm down from this tried and tested diversion. I felt my heart rate slowing down. This lasted all of about 3 minutes. Then things started to descend quite quickly.
I got up and looked around for an obvious answer to my predicament. I suddenly realised I was feeling pretty bloody shaky in the middle of a town I didn’t know, nowhere near my friend, in the blazing heat with my limbs starting to make worrying suggestions about maybe collapsing?
Spotting a taxi I decided getting back to our hotel as quickly as possible was the only option, and hopefully I wouldn’t pass out or vomit on the way. All of which, and much, much worse, were starting to become real possibilities as far as I was concerned.
I made it back without major incident or giving away how ramped up I was feeling (thank you Lord!) and found my friend by the pool having a very lovely relaxed time without her increasingly perturbed and rapidly shrinking friend. Peering over her sunglasses she sees me now looking a worrisome shade of grey, sweating profusely and with legs like jelly. Asking me if I am okay (a stupid question obviously, but then what do you say in these situations), I tell her I am not feeling at all well. In her best effort to distract me she told me I should try reading a little to calm myself down. I think I may have sworn at this point. Sorry friend :(
I perch on the edge of her sun-lounger and try to take some deep breaths. I have become aware of a hastily expanding ball of terror, originating in my stomach and now rising up to push against my diaphragm, getting increasingly large until it is pressing so hard on my lungs and my heart that it truly feels like they may just stop functioning completely for lack of room, or perhaps just decide to burst. This was when the rapid pacing started, I told my friend I felt like something really, really bad was about to happen. Now, looking seriously concerned, she suggested we walk.
I managed to make it up the small flight of steps next to the pool, but at the top my legs buckled from under me (not the look I was going for in view of the other poolside residents). My friend gently suggested I try and make it to the Ladies, only a few feet away. My legs however insisted this was beyond their capability and, therefore, hands and knees would have to do.
In the thankfully empty toilets my friend proceeded to douse me with very cold water, which was such a shock (clever friend), I almost yelled “What the hell are you doing?!”. It turned out this was a very helpful thing for her to do. Now, rather than concentrating on the dying I had been busy with, I just collapsed into a sobbing heap somewhere under the sink. But I was still breathing. Good stuff.
My first ever panic attack. I flirted with others over the course of the next few days. This was not aided by the fact that our flight home was rapidly looming and, already slightly fearful of flying, I was increasingly concerned I was going to completely freak out on the plane (or perhaps, on this occasion succeed in fully expiring). I decided, somewhat unwisely, that copious amounts of alcohol were the only way to go.
Long story short, I did get home safely, although pretty well pickled (my friend has never seen me so drunk, either before or after this trip), and 9 whole pounds lighter than when I had left home (not a weight loss plan I would wish on anyone).
In Part 2 of My Anxiety Anniversary, I will talk about the aftermath of this scary experience, how a little research and the use of a few mindfulness techniques has helped me to better manage my new found friend, and share some of the best mindfulness resources I have come across, which have been pretty life changing for me.
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