The last time I came close to having a full blown panic attack was when we were on holiday back in May and Molly had a high temperature. My anxiety levels were through the roof because we were in a foreign country and I was convinced that she had contracted some deadly virus.
She was fine, obviously, but I hardly slept a wink that night, my legs were like jelly and my chest was tight as I struggled to control my breathing, thoughts racing 100mph through my brain.
This week, out of nowhere, panic set in again. Or so I thought. I had been to see one of my best friends who is unfortunately going through exactly the same thing. She has had a very hard, stressful and emotional few years and it looks like its taking its toll now. She is experiencing panic attacks and is suffering with anxiety and depression.
It shocked me a bit as in the space of 2 weeks she is like a different person. She has gone from being a strong, confident woman to a frightened, frail shadow, too scared to open her front door in case she has another panic attack. God it’s such an awful illness, and I remember that feeling all too well.
I hated seeing her like it, and after talking for hours about it all, which meant reliving my own experiences, I left feeling quite drained but glad that I had managed to help her a little bit. A couple of hours after leaving her house I was in the supermarket with Molly when that all too familiar feeling of dread started rising in my chest. I went icy cold and it felt like I had pins and needles in my head. OH NO! Here we go again….
While I didn’t have a full blown panic attack, I did feel, well, a bit weird. My chest was tight and my head felt foggy. Thoughts were racing as I tried to process what was happening. My legs were like jelly and my shoulders ached. These are all familiar anxiety symptoms for me. I went home and carried on as normal (as I have learned to do in those panicky moments), but I just couldn’t shake the feeling. For the next couple of days I continued to feel worse and I was convinced that my anxiety had returned, so began to work out why. I wrote down the following:
- Talking to my friend about her problems. I absorb people’s feelings like a sponge
- Arguing with John
- Molly not napping and waking up in the night again
- Worried about money
- Business not doing very well at the moment
- Anticipating a change of routine (Molly starting nursery soon, me looking for a job)
- Change of season
While these all sounded like perfectly good reasons for my anxiety to flare up again, I knew deep down that I wasn’t really that worried about any of them. I had been far more stressed in previous months, and it hasn’t bothered me over the years to talk about anxiety with anyone, it’s never been directly triggered by just talking about it. So what was going on?
By Friday I knew what the problem was…I had come down with the flu! I had a massive headache, really intense chills, my entire body ached, my chest was tight and I just couldn’t get out of bed. Poor J had to stay up after a night shift to look after Molly. I hadn’t done myself any favours by doing a cardio workout the day before thinking I was having an anxiety attack!
I’m pretty lucky in that I don’t get physically ill that much at all (mums don’t get sick do they!), I’d say a couple of times a year at the most. I’d forgotten how shit being ill can make you feel and, as I’ve never had the flu before, my poor, tired virus-ridden brain had sent out the wrong signals.
Our minds and bodies are strongly connected, and I am so in tune with mine. I remember when I first starting having anxiety/intrusive thoughts, and I thought I could feel an attack coming on, but all I needed was a big yawn! I think most people with anxiety will tell you that they notice every single thought, feeling and change in their body, and automatically think it’s a panic attack, or worse.
Ironically, studies have shown that anxiety attacks can mimic flu like symptoms, but also, actually having the flu can cause anxiety. What a fucking shit vicious circle that is, and how do you know which one you’ve got? Well I felt better after a lemsip, so that ruled anxiety out.
What was different about this time was that I wasn’t scared. Anxiety just doesn’t have the same hold on me as it used to. The physical symptoms in particular don’t bother me one bit as I know that they’re not harmful or life threatening. Even though I did feel a sense of dread, I was more annoyed that I thought it had come back. I whispered “oh for fuck’s sake” whilst rolling my eyes and mentally putting my boxing gloves on.
This time my logical brain kicked in far more quickly. I turned it into a positive experience “great, I get to practice my breathing exercises”! I upped my physical exercise and I finally downloaded the Headspace app which I’ve been meaning to do for ages (it’s amazing by the way).
I am always going to be an anxious person, I accepted that a long time ago, but I know how to deal with it now. I’m chalking this one up to experience, another chink in my armour against anxiety. It will only make me stronger and more equipped to deal with it in the future, oh and give me more writing material, obviously!
As for the flu, well, that can piss off too quite frankly. It floored me for a few days but thankfully I’m on the mend now. And the next time I feel an anxiety attack coming on I’ll have a lemsip first!