I like to believe I have had an okay childhood. That I’m living an okay life, with an okay job, relationship and dreams. When problems crop up, I usually make a fuss for no reason at all. I let them worry me a little too much but then they’re over with no lasting damage.
Then, some time ago I started getting small panic attacks for the simplest of reasons. My heart would start racing, my breathing would get slightly more difficult. I became claustrophobic and I’d need to get up from my seat and go somewhere. I’m not too sure what causes it. Sometimes it’s a spontaneous, overwhelming desire to leave the place I’m in because I can’t stand it anymore. I used to bear it before – perhaps shift my position a little to get more comfortable. Now the only thing which seems to work is to get up and walk it out. Sometimes it’s the close proximity of people. People leaning towards me when I’m sitting down with no place to move, for example. Recently I’ve realised I can’t stand staying on the phone for too long. It makes me anxious and edgy. All this started happening in the past year or so.
I realised, very early on that these sensations were new to me and that they probably sprang from a need to do more things at once. I realised that I may not be okay with certain things anymore, that I need to ease up on my strict sense of having everything under total control. The work load increased and I thought I could handle it all. It transpired that I couldn’t. And the sooner I came to terms with it, the sooner I could start seeking help.
I was not suffering from depression. I have not been dealt with trauma or been through a particularly rough patch in my life. I’m your average Jane, with average concerns but I have a tendency to overthink things, like so many of us do. And as I grew older, my small worries increased in number and my mind somehow amplified them and voilá… I felt the physical ramifications at last. So I talked about it, helped myself by writing what my thoughts were at the end of the day to give myself structure, and occasionally I meditate. It’s getting better.
I guess my message, in a tinny voice in the sea that is mental health awareness is that, we all have to look after our minds. It doesn’t matter if this is all new to you. If you’re trying to undermine it by ignoring it, chances are it will only get worse. What you may be feeling, to whatever degree, from a bull-blown anxiety attack to a barely-there flutter, needs to be addressed. We train our bodies and look after our image and yet the mind is always given a backseat, somehow. The mind, the one thing which defines us, isn’t even given second place. And why? Because there’s still something holding us back. Because, since it’s not a physical disability, we can pretend it’s not there.
Don’t. Listen to yourself and to what your body is telling you. I am not a professional in the field nor do I want to come across as one but when something feels off and strange, I try to first accept it, look into it, see what the trigger is and if it’s something within my control to change, then that’s what I’ll do. Sometimes that’s not enough. Seek help (professional or otherwise) – talk to someone (don’t be scared!), exercise, meditate, read. Take a mental health first aid course (yes, there is such a thing and yes, it is awesome and might be life saving). Whatever you do, don’t bottle it up. The world is finally waking up to something that has been kept hidden under the sheets for way too long. There never was a better time than now to talk.
And sometimes – a lot of times – it’s okay to look in a mirror and to ask yourself, How are you today?