After nearly five years, there aren’t many more relationship ‘firsts’ to be had. The first argument probably happened within weeks of getting together, if I know myself at all. The first ‘I love you’ happened on the Clifton Suspension Bridge on a summer’s evening (this isn’t important, I just like to brag). First week, month, year living together – done. The only firsts still to come are probably ‘first child’ and ‘first wedding anniversary’, and thankfully – as I couldn’t be less interested in planning a wedding if I tried, and can barely look after myself, let alone a baby – those things are still a fair way off.
On Wednesday night, seemingly out of the blue, I had my worst panic attack to date. Worse than the time I thought I was going to die at East Croydon station back in November 2012. Worse than the two consecutive nights I ended up in A&E in 2010, far, far out of my mind on raw fear and cortisol.
I felt strange on and off throughout the evening – I was tired and had overdone the caffeine during the day, and almost definitely made matters worse for myself by having a fairly stiff G&T when I got in from work. But I pottered about in the flat, put the washing on, had dinner, listened to Lissie’s new album for about the twentieth time in a row, and then Drummer Boy was home, and we talked about Jessica Jones (I’m making him watch it).
And then everything in my head came untethered and bolted. Suddenly, logical thought was slipping away from me like warm oil and in its place was icy rushing fear. I literally couldn’t think straight. I knew exactly where I was and that everything was probably OK – I’m just tired, and wired – but the anxiety wasn’t listening. Something is wrong; I can’t explain it but I can feel it, something is wrong.
To use the technical term, I completely lost my shit. Panic is a speed demon, a boy racer of an emotion; it overtakes anything in its path and doesn’t care a jot for the trail of exhausted, jittery wrecks it leaves behind.
Drummer Boy has never had to deal with me in this state; he has never seen it spiral out of control so fast, or to such an hysterical extent. He was amazing, though. Utterly calm and unflinching, talking to me in that low rumble of his, asking me simple questions to bring me back down to earth, back into the room. “What’s our landlady’s name? What brand of drumsticks do I use? Who are the other two members of Iron Chef?” I don’t know how long we went on like this but it worked, and eventually it became apparent that my brain wasn’t going to leak out of my ears quite just then – I was probably going to live to see another day.
I feel bad for scaring him, and stupidly, bad for giving him no choice but to deal with it. Watching anyone frightened to near-hysteria by something that’s entirely in their own head is unnerving; witnessing it in someone who was only discussing her love of unlikeable female characters with you moments beforehand must be fairly close to to terrifying. He knows I’ve had anxiety issues before, but for the last two or three years they’ve stayed manageable, easily tamed by back rubs and silliness and videos of baby animals. I’ve never been so far gone in front of him – I’m now scared that when he looks at me, he’s seeing ‘mad, panicking banshee’, as opposed to ‘slightly naggy but really quite fun girlfriend’. He’ll get home from band practice later, read this, and tell me I’m being silly.
I’m OK now, sort of. Still a little on edge, still got an eye out for that tell-tale quickening and blurring of thoughts. Panic attacks have their own sort of hangover, and the fear of fear takes a while to fade out completely. It’s a persistent little bugger. I’m writing about it and will continue to do so because I know how many people suffer these things in silence, and the silence is almost the worst part; it compounds the misery because not only do you feel utterly mad, you feel trapped and alone in your madness.
And that silence and loneliness makes the madness seem bigger than you – and it isn’t. It’s one tiny part, an inconvenience, an annoying interruption. The things you know – the small details that somehow make up your life, the daily certainties – and the people you love and are loved by are all bigger and stronger, and they will bring you back from where you’re spiralling. Those are the things that will hold you together.
I know that now.