A few months ago, I nearly died at East Croydon station.
I didn’t really, but as opening lines go, that’s not half-bad, is it? With the juxtaposition of melodrama and utter banality – yeah, yeah, English students die hard and whatnot; I’ll get on with it.
I thought I was going to die. For perhaps 120 seconds, I was convinced that This. Was. It. I even remember thinking, “Here? Really, here? Of all places?!” To this day, it still frightens me a little to recall just how fast my heart was racing, how I pretty much forgot how to breathe in and out, how I spent a tearful ten minutes in the waiting room between platforms 3 and 4, trembling and trying to calm down.
Panic attacks can be so embarrassing.
I’ve had this post half-written for a long time, and I’m putting it out there now because 1) I’m having trouble coming up with ideas at the moment, and it’s worrying me more than it usually would, because I’m about to do a fortnight’s work experience at a student website and therefore need to be at the top of my writing and content-producing game (eek). And 2) in the last week or so, new charity Mindfull has advised that lessons about mental health issues should be a standard part of secondary education.
I don’t know many stats about mental health issues off the top of my head – and it really isn’t for want of looking – but I can name at least four family members who’ve suffered depression and/or anxiety (I really won the genetics lottery). Most people know someone who has dealt with issues that are somewhere on the spectrum – from “mild” depression or the odd panic attack, to severe mood disorders. And despite a growing number of high-profile people (Stephen Fry, Catherine Zeta-Jones, my own personal heroine Thea Gilmore) being open about their own experiences of mental health problems, it remains a tricky thing to talk about. I almost think I’d more readily give my nearest and dearest a grim-faced account of a particularly bad bout of cystitis than admit that sometimes – no, often – my brain goes a bit rogue and starts throwing panic-inducing question after panic-inducing question at me.
I wouldn’t say I have a serious problem. (You may read this and conclude otherwise, and I wouldn’t blame you.) I mean sure, if I have two whole days off in a row I start to freak out a bit – too much time off triggers my “worst case scenario” montages. But if I’ve worked a six-day week or two, and have ended up relying on coffee in the mornings and a glass of wine in the evenings, it won’t be long before the jitters set in. Which turn to tension, which in turn may spark a little panic moment, or a proper “OhGODIcan’tbreathe” attack. Sometimes hormones play a part, sometimes they don’t.
There was a time when I would have said I had a problem. I’ve mentioned it before – “that time I went a bit mad in second year”. In, um, my second year of uni, funnily enough. Until then I’d been a worrier, sure, but the end of 2009 saw that erupt, seemingly from nowhere, into a full-blown Thing. A Thing that hounded me for months, like an internal stalker. If depression is “the black dog”, anxiety is a Jack Russell, yapping and snapping at your ankles, until you give it the attention and energy it needs.
During those horrible few months, I tried a number of things – saw more than one GP, went home to my mother, confided in one tutor, played a lot of clock patience (there’s not much to do at five in the morning when sleep is an alien concept and you need something that’s going to occupy your brain and your hands. Don’t make it weird), and got as far as the door of the university counselling service. On two occasions. Did I ever make an appointment? No. By admitting that a few sessions of chatting to a trained professional might be a good idea, it felt like I’d be slapping a label on my forehead that read “nutter”. I was scared of what other people would think – I’m still not sure why I thought I had to tell them. I think I reasoned that if I had good friends, a reasonably supportive – if not endlessly patient – family, a bemused but caring boyfriend, what was so wrong with me that I needed someone else to talk to? But that’s the nature of the beast, I guess – the sense of perspective is the first thing to go.
I spent most of the summer that followed second year with gastritis. I’d literally worried myself sick. Things only started to settle down properly when I began my third year – I was living with a good friend, my workload increased, so I had more stuff to concentrate on, and I think I’d just worn myself out. Being in a constant state of anxiety is exhausting.
I’m really not sure how to round off a blog post that is a little more soul-baring than I’m used to. Like I said, I don’t feel I have a serious problem now – I have a few bad days every month or so, and I know what helps and what doesn’t, even if I don’t always act upon that knowledge. Would I be rid of my weird anxiety issues? Of course I would. I’d pay good money to be one of those asleep-as-soon-as-head-meets-pillow, whatever-will-be-will-be people. But the chances of that kind of a change happening are slim-to-none – the best I think I can hope for is just to get a bit better at dealing with the waves of panic as and when they roll in, and eventually, they might start to shrink.
If this doesn’t haunt your dreams, well, then I’m all out of gothy-sounding country-folk to give you.
And this is cute. I don’t know if I’ve missed the boat with this band – has anyone heard of them? Have they released anything over here? But the video itself is gloriously silly and camp, while the song is basically a shortcut back to the best bits of your teen years – sweet and fun and at times, a little bit sexy (altogether now: “we’re going to rattle this ghost town!”).