If there’s one thing I have learned it’s how to relax. I had serious anxiety from 2004 to 2013 so it was a case of necessity being the mother of invention. During that time my desire to shift the shitty stuff was strong, there was no way I was ready to accept that my life was going to stay that way. I’d get anxious about leaving the house and then I got over that. Then I’d get anxious about slightly busy places like restaurants. Then I got over that. Then it was the work environment, and I got over that. (Forgive me for sounding like a self-important prick.) Then it was classroom situations, meetings and waiting rooms and I got over that. Then it was travelling and I got over that. Then it was being the centre of attention, like at a recent violin concert, and I did that too.
What does a panic attack feel like?
The previous paragraph makes my anxiety journey seem short and trivial but it was long, hard and complicated. Let’s start at the beginning – getting over the fear of leaving the house. I had been battling panic attacks (daily and typically for five hours) for a year and a half in 2005. Anyone who has had them will confirm just how weirdly nasty they can be. Like being smacked in the brain by Satan himself and quite incapacitating, as if I’d been brainwashed by experts in evil. It was difficult to even think let alone do something fun and productive. Everything was black, if someone showed me a picture of a colourful rainbow with a black ink outline, the black outline stood out and I could hardly see the colours. Harmless and comforting things were turned into weapons of war – music, a handshake, the shape of a mug of tea…it was up there with the strangest things to feel like death because someone was shaking your hand, or threatened and scared because a tea mug was shaped like it was. It was a serious time and I have two big things to thank for getting through that part of it. Number one – my medication, number two – my mum.
So what helps with it?
Since I got unwell in 2001 until 2005 I tried about ten medications with none of them helping much and all of them giving me shitty side effects. Then they put me on Clozapine. It was billed as a new drug, a last resort, and the phrase ‘miracle cure’ even got passed around. I was hopeful. My panic attacks instantly went from daily for five hours to once a week for an hour. A huge change. I was so happy! Clozapine is an anti-psychotic but works well for anxiety too. If you are struggling with serious anxiety it might be worth looking into, if nothing else works then maybe you can ask your doctor about it.
My mum has been there through it all. When I started to improve she suggested, no – pushed me, to go out sometimes. “Pete, come to Asda with me.” “No way Mum.” “Pete you’ve been feeling better lately, give it a try. If it gets too much I promise we’ll come straight home.” We went shopping and it was OK. Then she said: “Pete, let’s go for a walk.” Encouraged by my newfound ability to go to Asda we went for a few walks at local parks, watching people sailing their model boats on the small lakes. It was okay. Then – “Pete, let’s go to the library.” Then – “Pete, there’s a mental health support centre nearby where you can attend and meet people like you. It’s completely pressure free and the staff are mental health professionals trained to help people in your position.”
Most of the time I said no at first, with surety, but Mum would not let it rest and I usually came round and went just to shut her up. When I got home after pushing myself to go out I felt a bit better each time. It was worthwhile. Perseverance eventually paid off, just like Mum knew it would.
Soon, well about a year later, I began trying restaurants and such for family birthdays. It continued to go well and I began enjoying myself. The first phase of becoming happy and anxiety free (nearly, I do of course still get anxious like normal people in normal amounts) was in motion and working quite well at times and I owe it all to Clozapine and my dear Mother. Of course other things helped too – the rest of my family, my own effort, luck, my doctor…
The next phase of building up to a normal life again was fun and educational at times. Because I have decided to keep my blog posts short, I will continue my anxiety recovery journey in part two, the next post. I hope you will join me again for that in a few days, thanks for reading!
P.S. I have a page on this website devoted to mental health tips, lifted from my long journey. Click menu in top right then ‘Pete’s Quick Mental Health Tips’, and if you fancy seeing my painting I’ve been enjoying since lockdown, my art gallery is also available through the menu.