Sprig's Pages

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Hit the Panic Button

I've always been a nervous person. As one of the more shy girls in school I didn't like to put my hand up to ask a question, and if I had no choice then my heart would pound and my face would be red as I spoke. In the lead up to my GCSE's I was convinced I was really ill, feeling so sick every day that although I got myself to class I had to go and get fresh air all the time - my doctor assured me and my dad (who I sent in to reiterate my problem) that it was just stress. No it wasn't, I complained, I was clearly very ill. Then came July and the end of school and it was all better again. I still don't like that doctor though.

I think I know when my panic attacks started, though I find the thing that must have set them off quite trivial. I had celebrated my 19th birthday at a bar in Brighton, having hired it out in order to throw a big party. The problem with hosting your own party is that you stress about who's coming, when they're arriving, whether they're having a good time and making sure you speak to them all. So I drank quite a bit. People bought me drinks, I bought me drinks, all I remember are the drinks. Needless to say I left early feeling very ill and my then boyfriend whisked me home in a taxi to stay at his. Then in the middle of the night, I awoke feeling like something was pressing on my chest, my heart was pounding and I couldn't breathe. It scared me, and him. That was the first time.

Since then panic attacks or anxiety attacks have become a regular fixture in my life. I don't have to be consciously thinking about something stressful for them to occur, which is the most annoying thing - my subconscious mind surprises me by setting off these awful feelings of dread. I get hot, and feel light headed; I worry I'll faint, then and there, at the train station, in the bar, at work - wherever I am. This worry makes it worse. My heart pounds, heavy in my chest like it's beating me from the inside. I can't breathe normally, sometimes hyperventilate. I feel sick. Then I get the shivers. My legs go like jelly and my mind races with thoughts, both good and bad, one half of me trying to calm myself down and the other half running through all the things stressing me out and the worst case scenarios.

If you're a fellow sufferer then just reading those symptoms will probably make you feel nervous - so take a deep breath, you're OK. How to deal with these pesky panics? I'm not sure yet. Ideally, I'd run away to a desert island, spending my days relaxing, writing and enjoying the sun, away from the stresses of money, work, health and life in general. Unfortunately the penniless writer situation means I have to stay in claustrophobic London and deal with it.

So far I have learned that they're worse when I'm on my own - I panic that something will happen and no one is there to help. To make it stop I need distracting; from a Friends DVD to a friend reading to me or telling me funny stories from their day, anything to make me stop thinking about the feeling of my heart pounding will help. Courtesy of a very thoughtful person I have a few paper bags in the drawer next to my bed, with messages of keeping calm on them, if I feel I need them to slow my breathing. I tell myself to calm down, that I am absolutely fine, that I know it will pass, and think about one of my favourite movie scenes - Ally and Noah in the boat, in the rain in The Notebook. Not sure why, but it's calming.

A lovely PR has sent me a new product from Bachs Rescue Remedy - a chewing gum with flower extracts inside - to try out. Having never even tried Rescue Remedy I had no idea what it would be like but I've had three pieces of the gum in as many days (the panics have really been getting me this week) and I'm still not sure they help - but it's a work in progress and I'll do a blog on the results soon.

As mentioned in my previous post, Twitter has become a huge source of support and knowledge, and the lovely Nicola (@nic__nic) sent me a copy of Panic Away, which has already been helpful in giving coping techniques.

If you know any tried and tested tips for kicking panic attacks for good, do let me know - they're becoming quite the nuisance. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and breathe... stress is not worth stressing over.

Here's my favourite happy-moment scene that keeps me sane....

Image from http://www.isfym.com/

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