Firstly, before you read this post, please call 116 113 if you’re having any suicidal thoughts. The Samaritans operate 24/7 and are specifically trained to help people that are going through a difficult time.
My first public panic attack happened in the middle of Tivoli Gardens, a theme park in Copenhagen. I’ve had panic attacks before but I was normally alone and could spend the whole day getting over it, or just blame it on teenage angst and pass it off as a bad day. This was different. It was brought on by me entering the tiniest shop in the whole of Denmark that had approximately 700 people in it. The palpitations started, followed by spot blindness. It felt like I was on a rollercoaster climbing to the highest point before the drop and my harness wasn’t working properly. The feeling that I wasn’t safe encompassed me and I couldn’t shake it. The most frustrating part was that, I knew I was fine. It’s like when you know you’re in a dream and can’t wake up. My boyfriend led me out of Tivoli and out onto the street, holding my hand really tight and telling me it was okay. But I knew it was okay, so I still couldn’t shake it. I called my mum for a no bullshit approach to getting a grip on myself, but that did nothing either. My boyfriend suggested that eating may make me feel better (story of my life), so we stepped into a restaurant. That was a big fat no, it was loud, crowded and we were given the wonkiest table in the history of tables. We got some water that cost about 70 DK and I began to cry. I felt so ridiculous, like someone had superglued a dildo to my forehead and made me run around in the middle of a Debenhams. My brain was racing at one million miles an hour and my boyfriend buying an expensive bottle of water tipped the scale for me. The following dialogue is not an exaggeration:
Me [Trying to talk through tears] “The water is SO expensive, I can’t be here”
Tom [Softly trying to comfort the wailing lady of Copenhagen] “It’s fine, we can leave babe, it’s a little loud in here. I love you. You’re fine.”
Me [Bigger tears now] “BUT THE WATER! WE HAVE TO DRINK IT NOW. WHY IS THE TABLE SO WONKY? I’M REALLY WARM, WHY IS IT SO WARM?”
Tom [Probably wracking his brain for the Danish word for anxiety] “Tish, we’re going, don’t worry, I’ll settle the bill, we’ll go for a walk and find somewhere else”
Me [Now can’t differentiate between palpitations because of love for BF or anxiety] OMGThankYouILoveYouHelpMeI’mNormallySuperCoolWTFIsHappeningToMePls
Then, as if by magic, we stepped out of the restaurant and I felt fine. 100%. Tip top. Hunky dory. And that ridiculous display my friends, is how fucking annoying anxiety can be.
Anxiety mainly creeps up on me now when I think someone doesn’t like me / is pissed off with me; which is silly because I actually understand and accept that not everyone has to like me. But look at me in the wrong way or say something in a tone that my brain perceives as snappy? I’ll be a nervous wreck all evening. I also can’t be anywhere too crowded that my brain normally associates with being uncrowded (I’m fine at gigs and on the train, but if I’ve seen a shop empty, I can’t go in it another day if it’s suddenly brimming with people). This seriously hinders me in everyday life, and makes me want to do everything I can (even if it goes against what I want) to please the people I feel like I’m letting down. Do you know what’s more fun than anxiety? Depression. Especially having them at the same time. It’s like a mental health fruit salad. Especially as they contrast each other. Anxiety is wanting to please everyone so they aren’t mad at you, and depression tells you that there’s no point in doing the thing because they’re already mad at you and won’t change their mind.
So, how do you change your life from the dark room, Netflix binging, tracksuit wearing abyss that it has become? Well firstly, if you’re hurting yourself and others, you need to get yourself to a doctor, pronto. They can give you all kinds of medication, and refer you to a therapist or councillor. The key really is talking about how you feel, so if you can’t think of anything worse than talking to friends and family about how you feel, go to a trained professional. And don’t say they don’t work until you’ve tried them. Be honest about your medication intake, and actually take them. Don’t be embarrassed, even if you’re going to be on them for the rest of your life. You wouldn’t deny a cancer patient chemotherapy if it would save their life, so don’t deny yourself the tools to save yours, either. Secondly, living in that abyss that smells of takeaway pizza doesn’t have to stop, it just has to happen less often.
However, you can’t just rely on these things to pull you through. You have to do something about it too. Serotonin (the happy hormone) is released by doing a number of different things. Start doing some regular exercise, meditate, actually go outside for a little while and just be alone without your phone, eat a fucking banana. Find something that makes you happy and do it. What’s most important to remember is that you can’t just “get over” your anxiety or depression. It may go away, but more likely it’ll come in waves, and you’ve got to learn how to ride it out. I’m not preaching a cure, I’m trying to motivate you to make the most out of your situation, whatever that may be. Praise yourself for the smallest of achievements, because you’ll notice the most; even if it’s something like freaking out on a smaller scale than usual, you got this, it’s an achievement. Let yourself have your down days, and don’t feel guilty for it, but recognise that you’re not doing as well as you were before and vocalise it.
Living with mental health problems is not easier or harder than a physical ailment. You would not compare Leukaemia with Diabetes, so do not compare your condition with another. Embrace it as part of who you are; but don’t let it control your life. Depression and anxiety aren’t ugly words or ugly conditions, but feeling sorry for yourself is. You have to want to help yourself before anyone else can, the quicker you realise that, the quicker you can get to being the best version of you possible.
Featured Image by Monica Ramos from her series, ‘Sometimes I want to fall off the face of the Earth’ about feeling overwhelmed and lost