Instead of dinner, how about a panic attack?

How was 2016 for you? If you’ve been following along, you would know that I’ve had a few lowlights. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, but I can say that I’m ready for a productive and prosperous 2017! In fact, I need to earn some extra pocket money this year, as I want a do-over for my anniversary. I want a do-over for my anniversary as I spent the dinner in the loo. Follow along and I’ll fill you in.

Have you ever had a panic attack? I managed to live 31 odd years without having one, and then, out of the blue, I began to have times where I felt like I was having ‘a moment’. You know, like, I just needed to slip away, like I just needed to get away from everyone. Like my heart was going to explode out of my chest, like my throat was going to expand and implode, like my stomach was going to be emptied and twist inside out, like I wanted to run away, like I wanted to freeze and hide. Like I wanted to no longer be here, not die, but not be here, not in my head. Yeah, have you ever felt like that?

The first time I felt out of sorts, I didn’t understand it. Heck, I don’t understand it much better now, but I would get strange pangs of adrenaline rushing and pulsing through my body with no trigger or external reason. Like the time I was having a post-gig drink with my parents when we went to see Renee Geyer, I had to step out of the line at the bar, stare into the distance and focus on my breathing, until I stopped shaking. There was no reason for me to feel panicked about having a drink of diet coke, but in that moment, I couldn’t think about anything else except keeping my dinner down, and my breathing steady.

I didn’t understand the time I had dinner with my in-laws, celebrating the fact gall bladder surgery was a success as a wave of adrenaline washed over me. I didn’t understand how I could finish dinner (and one beer! A tasty Stone and Wood) and have a conversation with people I know and love, and all of a sudden, all I could think of was the food pouring out of me, covering the table. I just needed a moment.  I fumbled around, erring on erratic, searching for my magic ant-nausea pills. When they didn’t help my mind from racing, I tried to breathe, breathe in and out, and in and out. And I tried to go to the bathroom, in case I was really sick, but I wasn’t, my mind was sick, my heart was racing, again, how was I so panicked and anxious about talking with my family? All the way home, my heart was trying to jump out of my chest, and all the way home, I tried to focus on my breathing and take back control. Failing, I imagined asking my father-in-law to pull over, but I didn’t want to make a fuss. I didn’t want to tell anyone what was happening because I couldn’t explain it. How do I tell someone, can we just stop for a minute while my brain re-calibrates?

I didn’t understand, when my husband and I packed up the car for a night in the big smoke for our anniversary, why my mind kept thinking of all the bad things that could happen in his car. I didn’t understand why my mind was focusing on the contents of my stomach, or how the car would roll down into the valley we were driving about. I didn’t understand why I was hungry and why I couldn’t eat lunch when we stopped for sushi at one of my favourite places. I didn’t understand why I didn’t really want a drink of wine when my husband and I went for a drink before dinner. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop shaking when we met up with friends for another pre-dinner drink, or why I couldn’t finish my sparkling mineral water. By then, I had no idea why I was reaching for my anti-nausea meds, but I think I needed something, anything to try and still my mind. I couldn’t describe why I didn’t want dinner. Why couldn’t I make a decision about what to eat, despite knowing that the head chef of the fancy restaurant we were dining at would have made me anything I wanted because we’re old mates? I didn’t know then, and I can’t quite articulate it now, but I do know that I rushed off to the loo, twice, while my husband sat in the restaurant, quietly celebrating seven years of marriage by himself. While my husband of seven years drank artisanal cocktails and nibbled on hand made crackers with exotic dips, I was on the floor of the loo, in a fancy dress bought for the occasion, with my phone glued to my hand, playing puzzle games and trying to make sense of my chest that was about the empty and burst.

When I went to the doctor, I tried to talk about why I might be struggling to eat and breathe, which was so strange. I mean, anyone who gets to 95KG doesn’t have a problem with consuming food, amirite? And why, why was this happening now? Why after 31 years, was my brain deciding that it was necessary to panic about waiting in line, or having dinner? The doctor gave my some drugs, and I have an appointment with the psychologist, so I’m doing all the ‘right’ things, but this feels so far from right. I’ve felt nervous before, I’ve been proper stressed before, I’ve been depressed before, but I’ve never felt like this before. The logical part of me feels my brain is broken. As though someone flicked a switch inside, making me fly into overdrive when it’s not necessary. The logical, or perhaps illogical part of me hopes I can see the psych, and she’ll tell me where the override button is so I can feel normal again. So I no longer fixate on food coming out of me, when I go out to dinner.

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Here I am, nervously waiting to be taken in for surgery. Nervous is so incredibly different from anxious, for me. Nervous is butterflies in your tummy when you ask the boss for a raise. Nervous is driving somewhere new, and not knowing directions. Nervous is a normal feeling, but being anxious and having feelings of deep anxiety are consuming.

Before this, I didn’t know what anxiety meant. I thought it was just like being nervous about something, but being extra nervous. Now I know anxiety can take over your brain and body, making you be someone you no longer recognise.  Now I understand the difference between worrying over what to wear to an interview and struggling to keep dinner down because a little voice in my head won’t be quiet.

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