[This is one of the hardest entries I've written to date. I think I've spent a good 4 hours working on this one].
On Friday 6th, I had the first anxiety attack I've had in a while.
It's been so long, I'd actually forgotten to recognise the symptoms and it caught me by surprise, though did explain why I've been feeling so rough the last couple of weeks. Since I started my counselling sessions, in fact.
Well, I've been through a lot in my 30 years, which has caused me to develop some rather dense mental armour. This in turn allows me to get with my life...having successfully come out the other end of particularly difficult situations so feeling that little bit stronger.
However, these experiences have created a metaphorical wound, which I keep covered with both a bandage and armour. The bandage is there for when I drop the armour, and am open with someone, but not as intensively as I could be.
Occasionally, when I'm in a safe and quiet environment, I'll remove the armour and bandage to clean the wound. Then put everything back on again.
Recently, as a form of protection, I've kept the wound firmly covered, very rarely even revealing the bandage because I feel like the wound is getting bigger.
But, thanks to my medical circumstances, it's now reaching the stage where if I keep the wound bandaged and perpetually under the armour, it threatens to spread to me on a physical basis (eg my falling ill every time stress hits because I refuse to mentally accept what's happened).
The method of quickly cleaning it then replacing the bandage every so often isn't quite enough any more. The healing now needs to progress to another level so I have to risk showing it to others and accepting their help.
So I agreed to counselling.
For these, I need to reveal the bandage and more, but try to at my own pace, very very cautiously revealing the actual wound itself.
Every so often, however, a piece of bandage I wasn't expecting comes away of its own accord, revealing the wound far quicker than intended.
On a daily basis, in the back of my mind, I sub-consciously protect myself by thinking if I remove the bandage for too long or in the wrong place, there's a strong chance of further damaging the wound. Therefore, when a piece comes away without my anticipating it, my vulnerability, sensitivity and thus empathy levels go into overdrive. On top of this, if the wrong kind of balm goes near the wound there's a chance it could hurt like hell. This has happened to me a couple of times in the past so I protect myself from that happening again (thus why I get aggressive/defensive if I become vulnerable at the wrong time).
Accepting this kind of help is very difficult. Especially when I'm been so used to hiding it from people (protecting them).
I'm strong. I hate showing weakness. I've done it before and been made even weaker. So the armour is set and firm. Again...the Sadira of my brain.
Recently, through slow encouragement, I've started opening to a select number of people, but even as I start to peel back the bandage, the alarm bells in my head go off and I'm mentally screaming 'put it back! PUT IT BACK!!'
This sentiment first actively revealed itself at my last counselling session when I suddenly realised we were talking about something particularly sensitive and I really didn't want to be in that room any more. That feeling of needing to escape, however, spurred me on, forcing me to fully accept that that part of the wound had now been revealed.
I have noticed when a particularly sensitive subject comes up and I can almost physically feel her probing the wound as she helps clean it, I really struggle to look at my counsellor, instinctively pulling away. I don't realise I'm doing it until, in my peripheral vision, I notice her lean, trying to slowly pull me back.
I recognise when she does it because I've used this technique myself: sometimes the recipient just needs to look away to think about what they're discussing and get their thoughts straight.
However, as soon as they seem to start losing themselves, it's ideal to look them straight in the eyes as this forces away any fiction they've managed to build up in their heads and gives them something more solid to focus on. It's terrifying for them, but sometimes has to be done. You've just got to know the right moment to do it.
Due to these sessions, I've now started walking around with a partially revealed wound in my mind, so my sensitivity levels are up. I've still got a mask to help me through daily activities and social events, but I'm still very aware that I can't use my armour as much as I'd like to. Because if it goes back up, I have to go through the struggle of removing it again. And that's a huge step backwards.
I don't know how I come across to others now. I'm very aware that the wolf hound (see previous post) is definitely up and awake. This means that although people close to me know how to handle it, those who aren't as closely involved in my situation risk getting bitten and I can't allow that. This is when I may come across as closed off or aloof. I can't describe the exact behaviour as I'm on the inside, dealing with the situation.
And this vulnerability makes me susceptible to emotional situations. The wound in my head is breathing, there's a strong chance of getting hurt....so the anxiety attack peeps its ugly head up again.
Anxiety Attack - a personal description
For me, life is seen through a windscreen. Sometimes this window can get clouded with cotton wool, or turn into a fish bowl (this is when I'm disorientated and can effect my hearing and concentration).
My thoughts are like a Teleprompter and every so often, negative words pop through and carry an array of emotions with them, giving them extra weight. You can tell when this has happened when I physically wince. But then they're gone just as quickly.
When an attack begins to wake up, the negative comments start to develop more substance and some friction, preventing them from passing through as easily. Then one gets stuck and makes base. Another comes along and gets lodged into the first. More and more come along and stick until you have an inky, black, murky stain on the window and nothing...but literally nothing will shift it. A bubble of logic (either my own construct as I try and pull myself through or an external voice) comes along and pokes it, tries to cover it up, ram it, but it won't shift.
I can sometimes still see the world around the stain and, like a drowning man, try and ignore it or work past it. But I know the stain is still there.
Logic doesn't work. It just consumes the logic and denial at the real world hits home and hard.
Sometimes, if I'm lucky, something gets under there and shifts it completely off, helping me work past it.
But if not, it gets bigger, darker, heavier and you start to physically feel the weight.
That's when I'll start rubbing my hands. Putting pressure on another part of me to focus away from the pressure in my skull. Or I'll rub my head to try and soothe the pressure. One of the bonuses of short hair!
If none of these work and it overwhelms me, it shatters. And so do I.
The Day of the Attack
On Friday, I wasn't myself. I was dealing with a number of situations which I felt were spiralling out of my control and at one point I called Tom at work and found myself becoming agitated over a subject I'd usually have no qualms with.
I was getting progressively more and more nervy, trying to resolve issues and get my head in order.
But it just wasn't happening and this was throwing me even more out of kilter.
Enough was enough. I sent a quick text to a mate in the form of a basic 'gah!', shoved my headphone on, music full blast (to try and temporarily screen the window and the stain with my own images raised by the music) and started washing up/cleaning the kitchen.
When these attacks rear, I now remember that I clean and tidy. Really clean. It's my control over my own situation.
I have little recollection of the actual cleaning process. I just remember trying to drown out everything that seemed to take place in my head, but feeling worse because it just wasn't happening.
I suddenly realised I had tears streaming down my face and my chest was constricting.
At that moment, I received a text from my friend and in response began to write the words: 'I'm just terrified of....everything'.
And that's when it clicked something wasn't right and I broke.
The combination of the loud music, the texts and the actual attack seemed to finally push me through and the storm clouds began to clear.
Unfortunately, after an attack, a person can feel weak, with a dull chest ache for pretty much the rest of the day.
Did you know...
The chest pains encountered during an attack can, in fact, further aggravate the issue as the subject may feel that they're having a heart attack and make the whole thing worse. However, knowing the difference between either attack can actually help the subject work through it:
the subject will begin to hyperventilate for long periods of time, causing bloating from excess air and thus cause pain in the centre of the chest. Therefore, the subject needs to be encouraged to take a controlled deep breathe (4 counts), hold it, then slowly release. Repeat until calm. Breathing also doubles as focus.
Work them through the attack, don't push them to get to the other end as that makes it worse, putting further pressure on them.
I find that when I have an attack, physical contact with another person can help bring me back to myself as it grounds me.
Heart Attack -
pain from this attack is focused on the whole left side, including arm, chest and even jaw.
This is a whole different kettle of fish so whilst an ambulance is called, keep subject calm and get them to kneel. Encourage them (physically hold them if needed) to hold both their shoulders back and take deep breathes to help expand their chest whilst waiting for medical assistance.
With this knowledge, an anxiety attack is actually easier to deal with because you know you're not in any immediate danger and just need to pull through. Rest is recommended after an attack to let the mind and body recover.
How am I now?
For one, I'm very aware of my chest. I can still feel hints of the tightness/a dull ache in the centre, which I try to work around by sustaining a good posture and doing deep breathing exercises.
The ache doesn't particularly bother me, I'm just very aware that I've had an attack and could have another.
I'm also on the alert. It's like having a neon sign constantly in my peripheral vision. It can't just be switched off. Telling myself, 'I'll be fine and won't have another attack' isn't an option. I just need to be ready in case it happens again. Because I know it will. I can feel it in my body.
I thought I was over them...clearly I'm not. Preparation is my best form of defence.