We all want to have it together, in control, be on top of things. For a long while I often backed on the sturdiness of my own mind. Never wanted to be deemed as weak or incapable. I can do anything. I’ve been through the worst and made it out alive. That is until the actual worst happened.
The thing is, mental health is something that can be broken down insidiously. You tell yourself you’re okay and expect the problems to vanish. For those without anxiety, its akin to the supernatural. We hear the stories but won’t actually believe it until it happens to us. “Oh you can control your mind, meditate, pray etc”
Two and a half years ago I was driving along, carefree. My notification on my phone went off, BBC. MY eyes darted down for a second and I lost control of the wheel. Not something you want to happen when you’re driving lets say more than slightly above the speed limit. Ok, a LOT above.
I remember everything.
The wheel back and forth. The screams (my own). The view of my car from all angles. The presumably last thoughts. The prayers. The silence. Then the submission and withdrawn of my hands from the wheel.
I opened my eyes. Surely I must be dead.
Nope. Still strapped in, I can move all my limbs, the airbag deployed.
I squeeze my eyes shut. Thank you God.
Then came the screaming. I screamed non stop, like I was breathing air for the first time. People rushed over from what appeared to be the Heavens. They pulled me out, lay me on the grass.
“We saw what happened and thought for sure, that child died” is what I heard next.
I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed.
Because you see, I was on the way to the temple, this was ironic. Now on the way to the hospital on the day that if I had been at work, would have been on call. Hilarious. I remember the puzzled glances.
This is what a brief psychotic episode looks like. A young lady, dressed in a basic salvar kameez, glass splinters in her hair and face, lying on the ground laughing hysterically.
If theres anything to give you a good hard look at your life, its definitely the sudden realization that life can be swiped from you. Like someone pulling the chair from under you.
A few days later I started to recall the incident. I played off the post accident trauma like it was no big deal. when I started to remember the incident more and more, my heart rate increased, my breathing shortened, everything kinda got fuzzy and all I saw was black after that. My first panic attack.
There’s a reason I can recall that accident so vividly and its a result of the many flash backs and nightmares. The tears which came on passing the site. On any accident sighting. If you've ever experienced PTSD then you know what I'm talking about.
Thankfully I was able to get behind the wheel, I convinced myself I could beat this.
The rest of the year came and went. One day, whilst in the middle of a clinic, I got a call from my sister in hysterics. She and her husband had just had a fight. All I could think about was my 6 week old nephew in the middle of all of this. Then again, this feeling. Breathing shortened, hands clammy, sweating, heart begins to race and suddenly my hands start going numb and tingly and I cannot move them. Tears start falling against my will. My co workers try their best to relax me and I lay on the examination bed where I was just examining a patient myself. Even I didn’t recognize what whats happening at the time. I was able to gather myself and deal after but all I could think is - what the hell just happened?
After that, I formed a new relationship. But still, the attacks came. Frequently, randomly, in the middle of a manicure, getting dressed in the morning, just sitting quietly in the passenger seat.
My body didn’t like the stress either. I lay immobile with back spasms. I had an excruciating 3 week long heavy period. Migraines filled in the gaps.
At least I wasn’t alone. The minute it happened I was lucky to have someone near me, who was able to calm me down, tell me it was okay. Remember a happy memory. Remember that time you laughed at me? Lets go back to that time. Here, sip this water. Its okay to cry. What’s on your mind?
Gradually, they came less. I had long since left an unhappy marriage. I changed environments. I avoided my stressors. I opened up. I allowed myself the type of love I thought I deserved and loved back with my all. I spoke my mind.
I cannot tell you the value of letting someone in. Most people have these panic attacks and are ashamed of what they might look like to those they love.
- A sign of weakness! Get it together! Toughen up! Its all in your mind! Just pray!
Yes, some may say so. Even those closest to you. But you’ll know who to let in. Doesn’t have to be a family member or a lover (although you should be able to trust your partner enough for them to see this side of you). They can be a mentor, a teacher or anyone you trust.
If you think you can’t let anyone else in and you’ve experienced this, start with seeing a counselor. Get to the root of the problem because you cannot ignore it and hope it goes away. Face it, head on, like you always do.
Do not be ashamed. Seek help. It is not all in your head. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. You are human. You are not broken or wounded. And you are not alone.
Anxiety, worry, depression, PTSD all require a change. A time out. A change in the way someone treats you, an exit from a stressful relationship, job, environment. Do whatever you have to do because as cliché as it sounds, life goes on and tomorrow is another day.
Just like a lover or a child needing your attention, so do you need your own. If you try to avoid thinking about the stress, trust me your body won’t. And being healthy body wise is strongly linked with a healthy mind.
Remind yourself that you are your first priority. Just like the airplane announcements: "Place the oxygen mask over your own mouth before you help those closest to you".
I leave you with a peace of poetry from Derek Walcott:
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.