Yesterday I sat down to write something that was quite representative of my optimistic side. Which frankly is the side of myself I present to people most often and is the one I work best with. It helps me cope with this big old scary, beautiful, intense world (we’ve all got to have a way to deal with that). Hence the name of this blog, ‘Bubbly Mum’. I do tend to look on the bright side if I can and do a lot of the old “well at least… did/ did not happen…” in my daily life. However, last night after I had started to write this thing my anxiety arced up and I had a full blown panic attack as I lay in bed (this is apparently where my brain likes to do most of its panicking). It was a real good one too- the kind I try my best to battle off with doe-eyed idealism and positivity most days of the week. But there it was, one of those utterly jarring, screaming life’s terrors and futility like a hurricane type of anxiety attacks. So I think it’s safe to say I’ve decided I’m not quite ready yet to write that article. Maybe one day when I have my shit a little more together.
When I was a kid I was super dooper anxious- always feeling isolated and worried and like there was no one I could really trust. Certainly I think that came from loneliness but more than that it came from that feeling I think we all get that represents our total lack of control in this world. And with the crash of hormones that came with puberty, I became a nervous wreck. By the age of 12 or 13 I was having 3 or 4 panic attacks a day and I was terrified. For anyone who has experienced this sort of thing- you will know the icy cold grip of anxiety that just takes your insides and floods your system with adrenaline while you just stand there totally paralysed, petrified. And then most of the time you just have to ride that feeling out. The shittiest thing about it all was that no one at the time could tell me what the fuck was going on with me. I phoned Kids Help Line once in the middle of an attack and as I tried to explain my fear to this woman, it became clearer that she had no idea what I was talking about. I saw a psychologist for a while at the time too- she wasn’t too bad. But the more I talked, the more anxious I found I became. So she gave me superficial solutions to a much deeper problem that she didn’t seem to be able to name. It wasn’t until I was into my twenties that someone actually said that I had anxiety issues.
As I got older, I learned how to deal with these feelings and attacks better. I had to figure it out by myself pretty much. It seems to me it’s only been quite recently that resources for people with my sort of brain have become readily available. In my teen years I tried to distract myself from anxiety with drama- just the usual crap- friends, boys, sex, drugs, rock and roll. I coloured my hair 100 times, pierced 13 parts of my body and tried to create a persona for myself (as many teenagers do I suppose) that would help me seem braver and stronger than I felt. I feel a LOT of shame when I say that I even gave cutting myself a go for a while to try to find some semblance of control in my life. Those who found out about it tended to tell me that these were first world problems and that I needed to get my shit together and stop being so self-involved. Maybe it’s wrong, but as I reflect, I’m so embarrassed about that behaviour and I tend to agree with that opinion- there were people out there with much bigger and realer problems than mine. You didn’t see them doing that sort of self indulgent/ mutilatey crap.
When I was about 19, I decided I’d had enough of this shit and I just wasn’t going to have any more panic attacks. I just wasn’t going to be fearful or anxious. I hated these stupid attacks and they could just fuck off and die. When I was beginning to feel that adrenaline surge- I would just give myself a smack (quite literally sometimes), distract myself, say the serenity prayer, take a deep breath and just not have that attack. Good in theory. The bonus of that mindset I think is that I really gained a lot of my positive thinking from it. If I hold myself to account and try to look at the good things in the world, the GREAT many things I have to be thankful for- for me that gives the fear in my head and my heart less power. The downside of course is that just kicking yourself in the head and sucking it up is not really a permanent solution. It did work for a while mind you. I think possibly because that was a time in my life where there weren’t really any huge stressors. I wasn’t super tired, I lived with my parents, went to uni, did whatever I liked really. Oh sure- there was still drama and alcohol and break-ups/ get-back-togethers and friends sleeping with boys I liked and fights with my sister. But comparatively, this was all more of a distraction than a fuel on the anxiety fire.
These days it’s less easy. When I was in my early 20’s, of course I thought I knew it all. But where I am now- the veil between me and the real world is truly much, much thinner than it was then. I realise in saying that that I still have so much to learn in life. And most of the time that fills me with gratitude. How could I not be so happy that I am given that gift to learn and reflect in my life (not to mention to write about it)? How could I not be thankful for my beautiful family, my amazing friends, the food and shelter I am afforded every day, my health, my education, my rights as a person and as a woman? But then sometimes I just blink and all those things I’m so grateful for become things I am just desperate to hang on to until my last breath. And I know that in this world- as people- we are rarely truly in control. And that still scares the fuck out of me. On top of that, now that I am a mother- I am bloody exhausted, I am guilt-ridden and I am overwhelmed with hormones and love ALL THE TIME. And that makes me soooo susceptible to my now well-practiced anxiety.
It’s all the huge questions that scream in my head. Am I rushing along the time I spend with my girls? Am I doing enough for them? Will I be there to see them grow up? Am I able to protect them? Will I blink and suddenly find myself old and sick and alone? God, the last 10 years went so quick! How the hell do I slow time down???
When I read about Eurydice Dixon- I couldn’t get her name out of my head for days. How could the world be so random and cruel? How could I fix the world? How could I make it better for my girls so this was never something they need to be fearful of too? Why was I not in control of this issue???
And there’s really no little voice to answer those big yelly questions. Except perhaps for the one that tells me to just be hopeful and keep on going if I can.
I am lucky though that these days I can cope a little better. I can breathe. I can ride out that wave of terror and it surges and falls. I can turn to my husband and allow him to comfort me, knowing that he’s holding me in during those moments even though it’s not an experience we necessarily share. Most importantly though, I think where I used to feel like shit for days after these bouts of anxiety- I now try my very best to allow them to make me feel alive. If I can realise that I feel this way because of some existential crisis I’m having at a critical turning point in my life, then I can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that I’m learning. I’m changing. I’m growing.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m pretty pissed off that I was wrong at 19- you can’t just make anxiety and massive panic attacks go away. It’s not like a cold. It’s the way your brain is just wired. You don’t just get better. I’m super annoyed that when I am old and grey and at every developmental milestone I face in between now and then, I’m very likely to hit these road blocks again and again. It’s been the case for some of my family, and I reckon it’ll always be the case for me. It’s shitty and unfair and it doesn’t happen to everyone. But there it is.
Really, I still commonly feel that although this problem is real to me- in the grand scheme of things- as problems go, I could do a lot worse. But there’s my bubbly, optimistic, utopian-society-wanting side kicking back in again.