I have written this with the benefit of hindsight- so what may seem obvious now when I point it out, wasn’t at all obvious then.
200 miles from home + working 70 hours a week for last 3 years + 60000 business miles a year + taking on new projects and responsibilities + a broken long term relationship = being just fine.
Everyone said to me it was all too much and to slow down but I kept saying I was fine and I really was fine. Tired and fraught maybe, but still feeling and doing well.
Working hard and playing hard suited me and I loved my lifestyle.
Now add onto that several bereavements – some tragic, some not.
– My elderly Dad died due to cancer and old age. He no longer had much quality of life so it was not sudden or tragic. I was on the way to a client meeting when Mum rang me to say he’d died and I carried on to the meeting, did my stuff and then went on to see Mum, but as everything had been dealt with, I just went back to work as I had a very full diary.
– A neighbour died, which was tragic. I found him dead in his garden and he’d been there a few days. His wife hadn’t said she was going away and so when seeing undrawn curtains in November I put it down to him being at the club and her at her history class and as I was away the rest of the week I didn’t notice any more. Finding him was bad enough and dealing with him, the wife, the paramedics, the doctor, the onlookers, the police, the undertakers all took hours but I was fine afterwards.
One of the other neighbours had said – he was all alone and we were so close but no one knew – and this was to really play on my mind as the weeks went by.
– The imminent death of someone who I also called Dad was looming and he rang to ask me to look after him when he died.
– A 16 year old who didn’t wake up one day.
So one day about 5 months after Dad’s death I went to Wiltshire as usual at 5 am from the Midlands but felt very weird, I was not quite right but couldn’t put my finger on it at all, so carried on. On the way I passed loads of cars in lay-by’s and I had got into the habit to pass the time of wondering who these people were and what they were doing napping in their cars at this awful time – either they should have been on their way somewhere or be tucked up at home. I saw this one car and knew I’d seen it the day before too and I suddenly wondered whether the guy in it was ok, I drove on but eventually after a few more miles had to turn round and drive by him to see whether he was moving or breathing which he was. The rest of that day was fine but I couldn’t stop thinking of these people who could be alone and in difficulties.
The days passed and I continued to dwell on this and related issues – like what would happen if I got into trouble and couldn’t contact my friends or Mum but at this time I was feeling ok and had no idea what was busily going on in my head with all these thoughts.
On my D day in April I walking into a place of work that I was visiting that day and whilst waiting in the queue quietly to introduce myself, I just started to shake and sweat and my heart went into a weird rhythm, my legs went like jelly, I was so dizzy I thought I’d pass out, I couldn’t see properly, sounds were distorted and I felt boiling hot and freezing cold all at once. I just stood there, my mind racing to try to figure out what on earth was going on with me.
The receptionist asked me again what I wanted (GOK how long she’d been trying to talk to me) and somehow I managed to tell her and she waved me round the counter to the back room. Then I needed the loo and very quickly. I was there ages trying to pull myself together after getting rid of everything that had been sitting in my digestive system from both ends. I felt worse than I had ever felt in my life. I sat in the office just not knowing what to do: umm 3 hours drive home to my empty house, but work still needed to be done and the deadline was looming or just stay and do the work. I decided to stay but it wasn’t my best effort.
Adding to still having a racing heart and profound dizziness, I now felt worse at the end of that day-I had a new symptom. I felt just as if I wasn’t real, I could touch things and speak to the staff and use the phone but I felt like I was in a weird goldfish bowl where I could see and hear but couldn’t reach out to anyone. Really horrid.
Eventually I got home. I’d rung Mum and tried to explain but between us we had no ideas and my Mum always has good ideas for everything. I stayed at my boyfriends that night as I didn’t want to be home alone. He didn’t understand and we hadn’t been together very long so I wasn’t about to push it. I didn’t sleep a wink and felt worse still and for the first time felt really scared in the morning so took myself off to Sussex to see Mum – she took one look at me, heard what I had to say and off we trundled to the health food shop where the woman diagnosed anxiety and gave me kava kava which on reading the label saw I couldn’t drive whilst taking them so they remained unopened.
I went to work again in Wiltshire and sweated and palpitated my way through the day but felt more and more dizzy and unreal so when I got home I phoned my boss and said I was going off sick the next two days. I discovered I hated being home alone and those two days found me wandering round the village from neighbour to neighbour and eventually went to see my GP who said – out of all my patients I never thought I’d see you here with a nervous problem and take another week off, oh and do you want Prozac – umm No thanks.
The Early Middle
I now was diagnosed as anxiety and panic but no one knew what I was supposed to do to get better and I just got worse and worse. I couldn’t be alone, I couldn’t have worked, I could hardly drive, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drive as I couldn’t see straight. I called in every visitor I knew, my best friend from Switz came over, I stayed with neighbours as I wouldn’t be left alone. Life was not worth waking up for. I went to the GP and said I was going mad as I no longer knew what I was doing.
Eventually, I rang Mum as I had done every night but asked her to come up to stay with me. She did and when I tentatively asked her how long she was here for ‘As long as it takes’. The best and sweetest words in the whole world. She was here 4 weeks. I went to yoga twice a week, I panicked, I went to a healer, I walked 5-7 miles a day, I talked, I panicked, we cleaned, we turned out cupboards, I panicked, we cleaned freezers. I went back to doctor and reluctantly accepted Prozac. We did something outside the house every day as I know agoraphobia was looming, I stopped alcohol and caffeine including my beloved diet cokes and stopped pure sugar as they all really affected me. I anxiously counted how many days I was off sick and worried I’d be fired. I still didn’t cry, sleep or eat much but one day in the evening I realized I wasn’t feeling so unreal or spaced out and was smiling- Hurrah – success.
Sweet but short-lived – The next morning was worse than ever.
It slowly got better and better and I went back to work. Another month or so passed and I came off my Prozac after 11 weeks and declared myself fit. We went on holiday to Italy. I flew nervous but fine having refused point blank to go on a plane for the previous few weeks. Life was as it had been previously again with a few niggling worries but it was behind me …..
The Late Middle
We’d just come down off Mount Vesuvius, it was cold and pouring with rain and I sat on the little train shivering and with hind sight I now know what happened but at the time I didn’t so it was an ‘out of the blue’ panic. Sitting there and just went into a blind panic..those horrid, horrid feelings of being unreal again, racing heart – really dizzy. The whole 9 yards. I was distraught. I eventually stood on Sorrento station crying and my boyfriend had to find me a loo very quickly and there I stayed trying to figure out what had happened yet again… In retrospect I now know that I associated the cold and shivering with panic shakes, hadn’t eaten for hours, then looked round the carriage and realized it was a closed carriage with no doors between the carriages and no loo and started thinking about all the possibilities of fire, flood, panic, loo, someone having a heart attack and off I went on one.
We went back to the hotel and I tried to sleep but my mind was racing – what had happened, was I really ill this time, it was so random, did I need to be back on SSRI’s for ever, was I really going mad, would this ever go etc etc
We got home, I don’t remember much apart from the loos at Rome airport which I remember very well as I spent ages there trying to talk myself to getting on the plane. I went back to work terrified and it all went pear shape again, back to where I had been so up came Mum again in December and this time I mostly continued at work but bless her – she came too and sat outside the offices for another week, then she went and I’d feel it was a manageable again for a few weeks and then have another terrible week, palpitating my way up the M6 and vomiting on the way down the M1. I couldn’t figure out what was going on at all. Back to the GP I went in desperation who sent a CPN round after about 8 weeks who after 2 hours assessment said – Prozac. I refused and said I’d figure it out myself.
In some ways these next months were to be worse than the first few as I wasn’t acutely ill but was more restricted in what I would do, I couldn’t ask for the sort of support I’d had previously when everyone had rallied round. I was so ashamed of myself. ….so back to no sugar, caffeine, little alcohol, Vitamin B supplements, yoga, walking, relaxation CD’s etc etc
My boyfriend who had been staunchly supportive still used to say everyday – another successful day despite all that angst overnight. He once sent a text. ‘You are never too far from home for me to come and find you and bring you home if you need me too’ It was great. I would have sleepless night, have a hissy fit in the am then JFDI and go on my journey.
Then I’d wonder why he’d ring to see if I was ok… ‘Of course I am’ I’d say – ‘why?’ Coming home was never as hard as going… wonder why??
One day when I was at my wits end I sat and had a good analyse about it all, I sat and wrote and thought and read and wrote and read and came to the conclusion that I was going about this the wrong way- it had to be easier than constantly looking for company to get rid of all this- what did company do to help = zilch except made me think I was safer than I was on my own. Umm why?? Because I thought they would take care of me when I flipped out…umm no!
I thought about it all day and eventually 2 themes kept coming through – ‘I thought I was going mad-was going to faint- was going to lose control’ and ‘when concentrating or busy I’m ok alone’ so coupled with what I’d read but hadn’t made sense of -I hadn’t had a light bulb moment as yet- I decided to give it a whirl.. I stocked the car up with food, water, magazines, books and set off to work and when the overhead gantry said – delays ahead – queue ahead- my tummy flipped as normal, palpitations arrived and I got dizzy and felt awful and normally I’d have turned off asap, but I ate something, took some rescue remedy, got out a work project and just sat and got involved, got nervous again and phoned work and had a reasonable conversation and then we moved again and I had survived and within 10 mins was feeling ok again. Hurrah ..
So then I was on a mission…I stopped looking for company and outward for solutions and instead looked inward to myself for help and diversion. I started having mantras – JFDI for the difficult days when I was scared but knew I could do it and ‘I’m doing fine, I’m absolutely fine’ for the days when I needed a bit more TLC. I recited these everywhere continually
My boyfriend and Mum couldn’t believe the difference in 2 months. I still got nervous, I still felt sick, I still hated it but I no longer moaned and asked for constant reassurance as much, Mum didn’t have to visit – phone contact was fine.
The Final Frontier
Over the next months, life eased considerably as I learnt to change my thoughts from terrifyingly doom and gloom ones where I was always the victim and always had awful things happen to me to being optimistic and hoping for the best and more often than not, it usually happened too. It was now years and STILL my predicted fainting and madness hadn’t happened.
I said ‘No’ to work things that I decided would tire me too much long term and guess what – they didn’t fire me and as I consistently did well and my teams performed well we even got praised.
I took my Paddington Bear labels out of my car, left my panic kit at home by mistake for 3 months and only realized when I wanted to lend someone something out of it.
I was no longer totally obsessed with all things panic 24/7, when the next one would be, what would trigger it, whether this would really mean I – seriously now – this time I was going mad.
Work days when I was alone all day were still hard but weekends were now good rather than worrying about next Monday from Saturday am onwards.
I had good days, I had bad days, I had blip days, I had dizzy days, I had sad days, I had great days and happy days and slowly the pattern changed from sad and bad to good and great days with blip day’s in-between. I also had blip weeks where everything was awful and I was sure I was heading straight backwards to whence I’d come. Then they’d pass – quicker and easier and I decided that these were now normal everyday stress. I knew I was really winning when the power of suggestion no longer got to me – reading something about madness or hearing a ‘ I nearly…’ story no longer brings up an instant -that could have been me- reaction.
I then had a very stressful time and I waited with baited breath and.. Nothing. Lots of worry but no panic and I recognised it was because now I had learnt automatically that the worst wasn’t usually right and now considered all options briefly and usually took middle, sensible and rational route for thought processing which means my mind wasn’t dwelling on worst case scenarios all the time and terrifying me. I learnt to keep an open mind and keep all options open.
I am confidant that I can now dissipate anxiety before it reaches panic and to me who never coped well in the full throes of panic this is the best option. I’m back travelling; I fly willingly by myself or with others.
If I’m stressed I go back to a good diet, little alcohol etc and I know when I need to take extra care but it’s now been literally years since any sign of panic.
I lead the life I led before panic but I don’t do such silly hours anymore and only about 35,000 business miles/ year.
Oh, and I spend lots of hours now on this forum trying to promote progress and providing help for those who are where I was a few years ago. I may not always come across as the fluffiest person here but I haven’t forgotten what it was like and sometimes we all need a push. I needed a big push in the right direction and it took me a very long time to do it myself.
Energy follows thought – think about it ! Thanks for reading my Story.