It’s World Mental Health Day, which I don’t normally mark because I’m never sure who decides which days are which. Seems like a marketing gimmick to me… However, I thought I’d write a bit about about my own mental health after the last few weeks. It might help me today. I feel I need to write it down.
You see, last night, I had a full blown panic attack.
I don’t say that casually or like these things happen often. They don’t. About 3am this morning, however, I was in a bad way. I woke up pouring with sweat, feeling slightly off-centre, fearing all manner of crazy shit was happening to my body. I got myself dressed and went downstairs, ready to ring for a doctor (okay, I’ll admit it, an ambulance) until my sister grabbed me and reassured me that I was having a panic attack. In fact, it was so textbook that hearing the textbook description calmed me. Some deep breathing exercise, some gentle talk, a few hot drinks, and I began to return to normal. I’ve had these a few times in my life and they’re awful.
I know what it is. I was feeling unwell a few days ago. I’d put it down to something I’d eaten though my sister had warned me that she thought it was stress. She was right. The stress of the past three weeks had been too much and, now we’re through it, I just don’t know how to let it go. I could feel it, like a knot in my stomach, a tension across my shoulders, but also that heightened senses of being ready to fight at a moment’s notice.
I think the crux of the matter was yesterday. On Wednesday, the doctors rang to say the doctor would ring on Friday with my Mum’s blood results. So, in addition to Thursday’s stressful hike to see an ENT consultant (which buggered me up thanks a variety of problems which only raised my anxiety), I was waiting by the phone all day yesterday until 3pm when the Doctor rang and began by saying “So what can I do for you?”
“You wanted to speak to us about blood tests,” I said.
“Oh they were fine.”
Three days of stressing out for nothing.
For. Fucks. Sake.
I think the two other times I’ve had stress like this were when I had a mild breakdown (probably overstating it or perhaps not… I never know…) in my 20s, when I was working as a programmer but knew I was in the wrong line of work. I hated wearing a suit. I hated being in an office. I hated being around business types. I wanted to write, study English and film, and be creative. It needed a crisis to force me to make that move. The other time was around the viva for my Ph.D. They’re always meant to be stressful – the myths about how bad they can be make you stress out before you enter the room – even though mine wasn’t meant to be. Later I learned that my examiners had already decided I’d earned it and thought they’d just invited me in the room for a chat, which went so badly they began to question their decision… It took an intervention by my PhD supervisor to help calm me down and restore balance to my universe.
Sometimes I really don’t handle stress very well.
Today, I’m feeling considerably better. It’s like the pressure from behind a valve has been released, though I need more of it to come away. I’ve meditated a few times, which I don’t do in any “wellness” sense. Purely from a scientific point of view, controlled breathing seems rational. I’m now lying in bed, listening to Ludovico Einaudi, a musician so bland that I’m sure classical types will tell me it lowbrow. It is, however, very calming.
Last night, after my attack, I relaxed by finishing Episode 3 of The Long Dark. I now have to wait another year for Episode 3, so I’m looking for a game that further help calm me. I want to also relax with some drawing but not quite yet. I also need sleep. It’s been a long hard month and I want to be ready to write about the crazy U.S. election ahead of us.