I painted this picture many years ago. This is how I felt and even though I am not a very talented painter, it was my first attempt to canalise what was going on inside me.
I remember my first panic attack very vividly. It was Easter 1997 at my Grandmother’s house. My parents, my brother, myself and my aunts, uncles and whoever else belongs to the broader family were there for a family gathering. Nothing unusual. The only thing that was different was that my parents had decided to break up a few weeks earlier. Family gatherings usually mainly took place in my Grandmother’s huge kitchen, and I remember that I started to feel ‘weird’. I went to the living room to get some space and there, my pulse started racing. My heart beat so fast that I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified. I got my Mum and after a while the feeling went away. The shock stayed for a while though. It scared me so much that I decided to go and see my doctor the week after. He did a huge check-up on me and, of course, I was the healthiest person in the universe. Then he asked me all kinds of questions, stuff like “Do you sometimes feel like the world is going to crush you?” Yes, I did! So he told me that what I had experienced was a panic attack and that it was my psyche that caused it. I did not believe him – I was not crazy! I had not made this up! So I left it as it was and it did not come back for a long time. The only thing that did not go away anymore was the fear of it coming back. Fear of the fear….
But then it happened again. It was New Year’s Day 2001 – it hit me out of the blue! Yes, I had a lot of emotional stress going on but did I not always function? I was always the one in control, poker face, no emotional fits! What was going on? For a while, the panic was only focused on certain occasions – when I was on the underground or on a plane. Ok well, then I just avoid underground trains and planes, no biggie! I managed somehow and still did not realise what was going on. The panic was just this ‘thing’ that came over me and that I had no control over.
A few more years passed and then came the year 2005, a bad, bad year. My relationship had just fallen apart, my brother was diagnosed with recidivism of leukaemia and I was unemployed after finishing university. I had a LOT of time to live my panic. It came to a point where I would wake up with panic and would go to sleep with it. I was exhausted. I drank way to much because it helped….. temporarily. Then it made it worse. I was scared of everything. Often, when I had to go to the supermarket, I would sit on my bed for half an hour crying because I was so terrified. Shelves can be very threatening, you see? 🙂 I don’t know how many times I left my friends in the pub to run home because I thought I was going to die. How contradicting! Wouldn’t it be better to die in public so someone could help me? I only felt save at home. A lot of my friends did not understand and tried to rationalise the whole thing for me. You’re not dying, you are save, the shelves will not cave in on you, your heart will not stop. And I don’t blame them, they just wanted to help. But it kept happening to me, again and again. There was only one friend who took the right approach. Every time I freaked out he would say: “Ok, is there a problem or are you just putting on drama?” And I would think and answer him honestly. So when there was a problem we tried to solve it. When I was just being a drama queen he would tell me to snap out of it. At the end of the year I got a job and I also decided half-heartedly to get help. It worked for a while but i never really went away. I was still fearing the fear because it was so powerful. It had all the power over me.
In 2007, my brother passed away. Boom, gone! There was no fear for a while anymore, I was too numb to be scared. I functioned and I felt NOTHING. I never cried, I never laughed. When the numbness faded, the panic came back, worse than ever. I became really needy and clingy to people but of course they could not help me. And then, slowly, I finally started to put myself on the right track, with professional help. Little baby steps, but I started to learn and understand the dynamics of it all. It would take years to write it all down, therefore I will just jump to….
Now. 2013. I am fine, I am really doing well. And I am still moving, progressing. I know now that ‘it’ did not happen to me. I did it myself. And I put fear on myself until I decided to not do it anymore. I learned that I am the only person I can rely on – not in a bitter way, but I am the only person who can drag myself out of this. I am enjoying life again. I go to concerts, on planes, on the underground. I love food shopping. I enjoy going out. I still remember the fear and there are still situations in which I get nervous. But this is normal, I guess. I am very careful about the people I surround myself with and I am learning to let go of people and situations that are not good for me. I can feel joy and sadness again. When I am sad, it is overwhelming but I can still see the good side of it. When I am happy, I am so happy that I think I will burst! And the panic left a hole that has yet to be filled. I try to fill it with writing, painting or doing something else creative. Last month I was a bit sloppy with filling the hole and started to develop patterns that are not good for me. But the difference is, I noticed and was able to stop it before it started to get really bad. I am learning to accept ‘relapses’ and just tell myself that tomorrow is another day. I am responsible for my well-being and I am enjoying it! I am taking breaks, I work out, I get inspiration!
I am very grateful for the life I have, for my family and my friends. At this point I would like to thank them – you know who you are! I would not ever trade my life for somebody else’s! And the most important thing that I’ve learned is that there is:
Yours truly, madly, deeply!
All photos used in this blog are mine unless stated otherwise. Feel free to use them if you like, but be decent and link to this site!