Tuesday, 31 January 2017
In the moment there is only the panic and none of the reality is allowed in. Its a dark block shadow preventing all light. For example in the CBT I read over and over got boring after so much repetition to the point where I knew each next word so I gave it up but in that moment I could remember none of it. The key concepts were things I had burned into my mind but they were gone too- in that moment. Less ventured was the final chapter on recovery and if I could have recalled that then I would have remembered that the path to recovery is not smooth. Setbacks- these are invitable. I am not yet panic free. I can't be. I am better prepared though and as a result I am not falling back into the mistakes of the uninformed which led me to a "disorder". In truth though full blown panic had been so infrequent that I dared to believe it was gone forever.
2017 has already taught me much panic lies ahead but it has also taught me I can get through it. And if the CBT is to be believed then its important that I still experience these episodes. That said I did not feel as philosophical last week. I was standing underground out of breath having just missed the train. My wife and I had ran- well somewhere between a quick walk and a slow jog. Just missed the train. The suddenly I felt panic hard. Small platform underground. Dark tunnels. No way out- tickets used to get in not out. I realised I needed the toilet and could not wait. Panic. How long to wait? 25 minutes. I needed my CBT. No signal underground so no Internet and no CBT. Not that it mattered. It was full blown panic and once it hit there was no stopping it. It was torture.
It wasn't though the first time this year or even the first time that day. We'd got the train to Glasgow at rush hour and there were only two carriages so we had to stand. From the off I was uncomfortable but I never thought about what would happen at each stop. There were 5 before Glasgow after our own and at each stop more people got on and hardly anyone got off. As it filled I got more and more uncomfortable. At the penultimate stop though after deliberations each time about whether to get off I finally started to calm. I could feel the tension releasing and was glad for it. But then it turned on its head. We were underground into the dark and people in seats started to get up and move torwards the door where I stood. I had less and less space and so the panic switch was flipped. Its something people on the underground do every day but for me its been a while and so it caught me out. The relief was immense when the doors open and my legs were like jelly on the walk up top and out the station. That was the start. My wife's phone was being repaired and so we had to wait for 2 hours in the city centre and for the first hour at least I just could not calm down at all. Eventually I did. We had a nice walk and even sat for a while at a window seat in Starbucks watching the world pass by. Again the main point is that nothing bad happened and although I am in no hurry to recreate these episodes the panic did pass. I am beginning to agree with the CBT books and seeing that the only way to lose the fear panic lives off is to keep experiencing it until that fear is lost.
Without doubt my start to the trip into Glasgow played a massive part in what happened on leaving. When there is a lot of adrenaline in the body then panic is triggered much more easily. And underground its easy to see in that state how easy it was to get myself in trouble. If nothing else by rushing to catch the train I had emulated all the panic symptoms when at rest- out of breath, jelly legs, shaky, sweating and others. Then needing the toilet. If anyone desperately needed the toilet and had nowhere to go then it would cause panic and already being in panic it was clear that it was going to be the case. The truth is not only did I manage to get by the 25 mins until the train came and the half hour train journey but we also then went to the shops and all without needing the toilet. In the mind. Realistic but in the mind.
So plenty of panic to start the year and to be honest I've probably experienced more panic in this first month than the whole of last year put together. The first of the year was actually at IKEA. I had never been before and so was not prepared firstly for its gigantic size but more problematic was the layout. I felt like I was being herded along and once in I could not turn back. It just seemed to go on and on and as we were turning back on ourselves at time I got really disorientated. I kept dipping in and out of panic but after about 20 minutes it just blew. I really struggled. It was blind panic. On one hand I was going to ask a member of staff to let me out and on the other I had eyed up a fire exit that I was tempted to just open and flee. Instead I rushed on thinking it had to end sometime. And it did. The end was not as far as I had thought. As bad as it was I able to go back to the start and back around again with no panic at all. And I would imagine I was not the only one feeling a bit claustrophobic in that kind of environment.
Panic. Its still there but I am fully convinced now that one day it won't be and in order for that to be the case I must get through these episodes. In order to get back into life again there are lots of new things I need to get back into and they are not going to be easy but like most other things they will in time become normal to the point I do not think about them. That said not all new things are hard work even if the apprehension before hand is unbearable...
My wife had planned a meal on new year's day as has become tradition at home. At around the time we would normally be sitting down to dinner we were all sitting down in a car heading for the place where I was brought up. I was physically shaking and despite the heating on full my hand were freezing. It was anxiety. I knew that but could do nothing about it. Earlier that day one of my old friends had messaged me to say he was over from Europe for a couple of days and did I want to meet up. It then turned out that new year's day was the only day he could do and most of my other friends would be there too. My wife was adamant that I should go. I wasn't so sure. Not that I did not want to see them all but I did not think I could manage it and the journey through just made it all the more worrying.
I went into a pub I had never been in. It was small, very small. I'd say there were about 20 people in and it could hold about 20 people. I had to squeeze by people at the bar to get a look at the back and none of the faces registered. I didn't feel comfortable at all. I left and got back in the car as my wife was waiting outside. I couldn't do it. More than 15 years had passed since I last saw any of them and I could not do it. I sat in the passenger seat wandering what to do caught between staying and fleeing. At this point a man came outside and lit up a cigarette. It looked like one of my old friends but I could not be sure. It felt surreal getting out and walking up to him. I still couldn't tell but he could. And in that moment every ounce of anxiety subsided into insignificance and was swallowed by joy.
It was something I did not realise I had missed so much. I could not believe that so much time had passed and I had not yearned this. It was so good to catch up. There were 5 of us in total and then a girl we went to primary school with happened upon us by coincidence. It was so good spending time with them. It may have been 15 years but it only felt like 15 minutes. Not one grain of awkwardness. Bliss. It won't be the last.
That is how I started the year. Yes there has been panic and there will be lots more to come but its OK. I spent the start of the year with my friends after Christmas with my family. That is what matters. That is what I will remember when I look back- not the panic. My hopes of employment might not be as close as I thought but they are still a reality with some care.