Thursday, 21 January 2016

Anxiety attacks vs Panic attacks

** Trigger warning: panic attacks and detailed descriptions **

Early last year, someone asked me why I use two different terms when talking about my anxiety: panic attacks and anxiety attacks, and how do they differ. It was a good question, and my answer would be really personal. So personal that it's taken months for me to answer.

Anxiety can come in a multitude of different forms for everyone, and in very Classic Lou style, I’ve split mine into different boxes. It helps me categorise my anxiety so I know how to deal with it. Therefore, do remember that everything in this post is far from scientific. I’m not a medical professional, I’m a writer, and talking through how I categorise my anxiety is likely to be more wishy washy than scientifically accurate. But, like all discussion on mental health, maybe, just maybe, it could relate to someone else’s experiences…

My anxiety umbrella

Anxiety is my umbrella term. I use it for my general state, including my BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) tendencies which often stem from anxiety. I was diagnosed with GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) in my second year at university, so I really do see it as my 'general' state. I say I live with anxiety, not BPD. I say anxiety clings my ankle, I don’t say I suffer with panic attacks. Anxiety will do. 


Anxiety attacks

My anxiety attacks are subtle. I know why they’re triggered, most of the time, and they very quietly bubble in the pit of my stomach. 

I used to get them every single morning when I woke up. As soon as I was conscious, The Fear would punch me. ‘HEY LOUISE, WELCOME TO ANOTHER DAY, SOMETHING’S HAPPENING AND MORE THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN AND YOU’VE FORGOTTEN SOMETHING AND AS SOON AS YOU MOVE SHIT’S GONNA GO DOWN AND ARE YOU LOVING ALL THESE FEELINGS THAT DON’T MAKE SENSE ISN’T IT WONDERFUL’. 

From the tips of my toes, my body would slowly go numb. It’d work its way up my body. If I let that feeling affect me enough, I’d get pins and needles in my hands and feet. It’d feel like they were eroding. I’d be disappearing. Mornings were the worst. 

Socialising was a main trigger of an anxiety attack. It’d mostly ravage me beforehand, but sometimes during too. No one would know. I’d be deathly quiet and the only tell would be the awful sight of me scratching my hands to death. It wasn’t self-harm, but it was a coping mechanism. My skin reacts horribly to anxiety and I would scratch my hands until they bled. Inside, I couldn’t hear properly. My ears would feel like they were bubbling, that’s the only way I can describe it, and my tongue felt numb. I couldn’t talk properly. I probably just sounded drunk. My legs would go numb again and my hands would go clammy. I couldn’t keep up with conversation, I couldn’t concentrate. I’d feel like time was speeding and that I was running a million miles an hour. Everyone was staring at me and whispering about me. No one wanted me there and everyone was plotting against me. That’s what I’d think, anyway. 

If I had an anxiety attack away from the social environment, I’d totally space out. I think this is because my thoughts were my own and I wasn’t distracted. It was me and my anxiety and that’s it. This was the climax of an anxiety attack. If I was completely still, not blinking, and breathing either incredibly slowly OR incredibly quickly, I needed to be dragged out of it. I needed to be held incredibly tightly until I cried. Until the emotion was quite literally squeezed out of me. Then I’d feel exhausted, weak, and fragile for the rest of the day. 

In summary, I knew my anxiety attacks incredibly well. I knew my triggers. But that didn’t stop them doing their work. I’d let them take over and do what they had to do. What they wanted to do. I had no power over them. They were slow-building and had a very specific process, and in a way, that made them all the more terrifying. I knew what was coming.


Panic attacks

I’ve only ever had one explosive panic attack. By ‘explosive’ I mean one that I couldn’t hide people from. I had no time to run away before it happened. It appeared in front of everyone. That's the one I want to talk about - that's the one I want to shame rather than it shame me.

There was no conscious trigger. I was sitting watching telly with my boyfriend at my parents’ house. My heart suddenly started racing, I could hear it, and the pulse in my neck felt like it was pounding its way out of my body. My whole body went numb in one hit, all the blood felt like it drained from my head, and I started shaking uncontrollably. This was all silent. I turned to my boyfriend and tried to say something. I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t speak. But the look on his face when he saw mine told me that he knew. He looked as terrified as I felt. He asked if I wanted to go upstairs, he tried to lift me out of the chair, but I was just a lump of flesh. I couldn’t move, and there was no time. 

The wail that came out of me next wasn’t human. My mum came running in with the same look on her face as my boyfriend’s and just scooped me up. All I remember is crying ‘Ow, ow, ow!’ over and over again. This hurt. My body was a shaking numb mess, but my hands and feet stung, they were contorted in weird shapes, and my neck burned. 

It didn’t last long. My painful cries turned to exhausted ones. I was bright red and dripping with sweat. My dad brought down a fan, my boyfriend fetched me water, and my mum just carried on holding me. I hadn’t cried in front of my family since I was tiny. 

I never, ever want to experience that again.


But I know I might have to. I know what a panic attack is now, I know what it feels like. I know it can just kick you out of nowhere. It has no morals. It doesn’t care. Anxiety attacks are sick in how they like watching you react slowly. Panic attacks have no interest in you. They smack you down then fuck off. Ruthless. 

So. There you go. My experience of anxiety attacks and panic attacks in 1,000 words. It's written down now. It's external, I've ripped it apart from me. I control it. Fuck you. 

If you need any help with your mental health, please seek support from your GP, family, friends, or charities such as Mind. There's always someone there to help. Always.

Drawings featured by the wonderful rubyetc

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Twenty Fixteen.

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions because, like a lot of others, I find the concept a bit pointless. If you want to change or achieve goals, do it without the excuse of a new year. Be very Shia LeBeouf about it all. 

Alas, I’m a beautiful hypocrite and endlessly fickle, so as this year draws to an end, I’ve thought about it and written some resolutions down. Besides, I managed to turn 2015 around spectacularly in the last five months, and there’s no way I’m slowing that down. If that means using an often empty tradition as encouragement, then so be it...

***

Finish book.

The big one. The monster. The one that’s been my hidden tradition for the last five years, but the one that now I find achievable and believable. I’m going to finish writing my debut. I am I am I am. 

Unapologetically write.

I’m bored of letting fear of opinion and/or ridicule stop me from writing. I love writing, and I want to write about anything and everything, everywhere, so I’m going to blog constantly and maybe even try my hand at some more freelance writing in 2016. I can and I will.

Keep running.

Running has been the weirdest addition to my 2015, but definitely one of the most impacting. It makes me feel good and it’s methodical. It’s practical and therapeutic. So I want to keep running at least twice a week and maybe even take part in a 5k and 10k. I want medals, damn it. 

Give less chances and more love.

I’m done with excusing people for shitty behaviour, and I’m done with caring so much about others’ opinions. In the process of focusing on the shits, I end up not giving my all to the people who really matter, so I’m going to spoil them horrendously in 2016. (If my best friends could all message me their favourite type of cake, that’d get the ball rolling a lot easier. Cheers.)

Read 24 books.

It doesn’t sound like a lot. Others’ targets are ofte- OH LOOK, there I go again. Thinking about what others are doing. No. I want to read at least two books a month because that’s achievable for me. 

Go on European city breaks.

I’m not one for going travelling, but I want to up my Instagram game so I need to see some fancy buildings and drop some hashtags… I joke (kind of). I can tell I’m growing up by the fact I DO want to see fancy buildings over a beach and too-clean swimming pool, and I’m willing to actually budget food money instead of relying on all-inclusive deals. Three cities. I want to try and see three cities on the mainland in 2016.

Try and come off my meds.

It’s as simple as that. 

Don’t beat myself up if I can’t.

It probably won’t be as simple as that.

Cuddles puppies wherever possible.


 Or kittens. Or anything fluffy, apart from mouldy oranges. I’ve been in contact with too many of them in 2015.

***

2016 will no doubt bring a lot of misery. The world sucks. But it can be the year you deal with it all well and counteract it with beautiful things. Go forth, my son. Drag the shit with you and smother it in glitter. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

22.

I like being 22.

Mostly because I made it to 22. 

It’s a nice age. A settled age. We went to Bristol for my birthday, back in September. I’d never been before. We stayed in a cute B&B, had some fancy cocktails, ate some crackin’ food, saw the sights and took a ridiculous amount of photos. It was a good September.

Birthday in Bristol, September 2015

By the start of October, I was training to be a volunteer Relationship Advisor for YouthNet - a digital charity for 16-25 year olds.  I still didn’t have a job - I was only half-heartedly looking because I wasn’t really ready - but I stumbled across the opportunity and thought… why not? The nice thing about feeling more in control of myself is that I don’t immediately reject things, people, and, well, everything. I went for it and they took me. I finally felt useful. I loved it. 

By mid-October, I had a job interview with YouthNet. Like… a real life job. A paid one. An adult job. A proper job. I wanted to be their new Editorial Assistant. I wanted to write for young people, I wanted to work for a charity, I wanted to talk about mental health, and sex, and relationships, and all the shit that school doesn’t prepare you for. 

I got it.

YouthNet, December 2015

By the start of November, I’d graduated, moved to Ryan’s in London, and started my new job. All in the space of a week. We bought a wardrobe, a throw for our bed, I was taught how to double lock the front door, and we were bickering about how to squeeze toothpaste and why I leave yoghurt pots on the side instead of putting them straight in the bin (because they can be washed up and recycled). I figured out my commute, I navigated the market on my lunch breaks, and then I put on a mortarboard that didn’t fit and graduated. 

Graduation, Bournemouth, November 2015

And it all felt incredible. Every part. It FEELS incredible. I dealt with every stress and I pushed through it and I am so, unfathomably proud that I am sitting here, able to type this.

In December, my friend and I hosted a fundraising event for Mind, the mental health charity. We crafted, baked, held a raffle, played games, and wore stupid Christmas jumpers. We raised well over £1,000. One thousand! 

Charity event for Mind, December 2015

I’m lucky. Things have just fallen into place, in ways, but it’s still ME who acted upon the things once they fell there. I still made them happen. I could easily put that down to medication but I won’t. It’s been a helping hand, but that’s it. It’s just an enabler. 

I might even be coming off them soon. Not cold turkey, but slowly. Now things are settled, now I’m 22, we’re going to see how my brain does without them. ‘We’, because this isn’t just my battle. It’s my doctor’s, and my boyfriend’s, and my friends’, and my mum’s. We’re all in this together.

It’s only been four months. Four months since I spent my days crying, pushing everyone I loved away, and begging someone, anyone, to just take all the shit I felt away. Since it all felt pointless. Since I found no use in myself and no reason to even try and carry on. But it can only take four months for everything to change, and I find that quite wonderful. 
 
Images by Freepik