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10 November 2016

Painting Of A Panic Attack: A Personal Essay On Anxiety

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  (Trigger Warning: this contains discussion around anxiety and panic attacks)

I  will start by apologising to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison for hijacking the band’s latest album title as my essay header, the words were simply too perfect.

I have spoken about my battle with anxiety previously. It has become my imaginary friend and foe. The voice in my head that comes back from time to time and she is on a long visit moment. Many know that I developed agoraphobia about 10 or so years ago. It was debilitating and like I have reiterated countless times, I wouldn’t wish it on even my worst enemy. Luckily, with help I overcame it, but as I say, those feelings are creeping back.

The best way I can describe anxiety is a constant second-guessing of yourself. For me, I might be fine one minute, but then I start to think “what if”, this happens around 20 times or more a day. Generally, fuck all happens and I am left with a jaw so tight I feel like I have been chewing gum for 24 hours constantly, my thigh muscles feel like cement and I have pins and needles in my fingers and toes leaving me thinking “am I ready to have a heart attack?” Although I have been to the doctor for a full MOT and in the best health I have been in years, it’s still that bitch in my head saying “but what if?” Panic attacks are the most horrific things to experience. Think of all the feelings you have during high impact exercise – your heart rate is going over 120 at least, you are sweating, your breathing is so fast, then imagine that all happening – but you are sitting still. The fidgeting starts, you are looking for escape routes, you start to think what you can do to combat the feeling. You just desperately need to take your mind of this thing that is happening.

I have noticed recently, particularly in my local circle, the amount of people mentioning anxiety, they might not say much, they might just ask a few questions, but I can recognise their fights and calls for help. Asking for help is the hardest thing, a cliché yes, but I cannot begin to explain how much harder it is when you have anxiety. Your inner white rabbit has burrowed so far down that tunnel in your head that you feel you are drowning and you just end up feeling stupid. The irony is that you need to try and work through it yourself, but at the same time you isolate yourself and it becomes a vicious circle. You get invited to things, but then you start to decline because you start to think ahead of time “what if I get stuck at the front of the crowd and I can’t get out?”, “what if there is no exit near me?”, “what if the train stops on the bridge before central station for more than ten minutes and I have a panic attack?”, “what if I need to sit on the inside in the cinema and there are loads of people and I can’t get out?”.

I write a personal diary for TYCI where I have been documenting my weight loss, I have mentioned the beginning of my anxiety coming back, but I have never really gone into it fully and wanted to save it for here. I have started to contact people in the background about their experiences and it is started to become apparent that so many people within music and the industry are overwhelmed by it. I am sorry to you all, I know what you are going through. My heart breaks for you, but it also wants to help.

I usually get the same bus into town everyday and sat on the top deck, I felt a panic attack come from nowhere, which was two months ago. I haven’t been on that bus since. I feel ashamed that I have avoided it; instead I have been walking to work. It’s great for physical health, but mentally I am avoiding a situation. I started to avoid other situations too. That walk has been a bit hard at times and I will go into more depth about that and how I have coped…

I leave the house; it takes a lot sometimes as I have to gear myself up. I can feel my legs tightening now thinking about it. Thanks to ‘Get Out’ by Frightened Rabbit for helping me with that.

As I walk past the first few local shops my eyes start to dart and I begin thinking, “please don’t have a panic attack in front of the Spar”, I look for alleys or streets to hide down in case it happens. Thanks to ‘Dancing Makes Us Brave’ by Nimmo for helping me with that.

I get to the open area at Govanhill Park and it is has a few benches; there are loads of birds and trees. I just want to sit there and breath for a bit, but I have to keep going and walk to work. Thanks to ‘Little Hurricane’ by Malcolm Middleton for helping me with that.

Here comes the first bridge. The motorway is on the left side, the traffic is frantic. Everything is so loud and I am scared. There is a waste ground on the right hand side with a tall block of flats. I want to go over there, but I need to keep going. Thanks to ‘The Blood’ by Kathryn Joseph for helping me with that.

I am coming to the car wash now, I feel like all the people are staring at me wondering why I look so shifty. They could help me though if I had a panic attack though right? Thanks to ‘Cold Days From The Birdhouse’ by The Twilight Sad for helping me with that.

Oh God, it’s the Brazen Head and the crossroads. Am I going to be held up at the crossing and have to stand with people on the bus and in cars staring at me? What if I have a panic attack here? I have nowhere to hide. Thanks to ‘The Floor’ by Turtle for helping me with that.

I am coming up to The Citizens Theatre now, there are lots more people and I am really scared now. Nothing is open so I can’t hide, but there is a little waste ground that is green, can’t I just go in there? Thanks to ‘Weeds’ by Owen Rabbit for helping me with that.

I’m at the court now. There are plenty of places to hide here, but there are double the people. They all look normal and official. Ah good, there are police cars if I need an ambulance called quickly. Thanks to  ‘Marching Bands Of Manhattan’ by Death Cab For Cutie for helping me with that.

Fuck. It’s the big bridge. I don’t know if I can walk across it. Maybe I could scrape my wrist along the wall so there will be pain to take my mind off if I have a panic attack. Thanks to ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ by Radiohead for helping me with that.

I made it. I did it again and I managed to get through it. Nothing happened and I was fine. It was hard, but I did it.

This happens every day. This thought process happens to me every day.

I have now started CBT counselling with Glasgow Wellbeing. We have made progress and I am getting there. I now know my thoughts are my nemesis, but they are also what I am most thankful for. Please don’t suffer in silence. Please talk to someone if this is what you are feeling. If people don’t understand then explain it to them. Explain what is happening to your body, what your thoughts are telling you. Speak to your doctor, speak to The Scottish Association for Mental Health, research online, speak to me, find solace in music, write a blog, film yourself, express it in a way that helps you. Just please don’t be alone.

Halina x

Sources I have found useful:

Wellbeing Glasgow: http://wellbeing-glasgow.org.uk

The Scottish Association for Mental Health: https://www.samh.org.uk

Get Self Help: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/act.htm

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