A few days ago I wrote a blog titled Fear.
Today I’m writing about the fear OF fear, and of conquering fear.
I have come a long way, just inside my own skin, and I am proud of where I am now.
For anyone who has ever experienced panic attacks or anxiety, I hope this proves to be encouraging, in that, you can overcome it – this “fear of fear”, which ultimately is what panic attacks are all about.
There was a time in my life when the thought of leaving my own house filled me with terror, and eventually I couldn’t.
Trapped by my own fear.
In even darker times, albeit thankfully only briefly, I even began believing that some evil force had taken possession of my mind.
At that point, when things had spiraled out of control, – if there is a precipice between sanity and insanity, I was balanced on the very edge of it.
I’m almost ashamed to write that. Will people think I’m truly a crazy person?
I don’t think so, but, true crazy is never THAT far away, for any of us. Not really.
Remember that next time you see some homeless person muttering to the sky.
It all began when I was around fifteen and began dabbling with drugs.
Nothing too heavy, a little bit of pot here and there and alcohol, mostly.
I had been suffering terrible migraines too, so was put on all kinds of anti migraine medications which possibly could have contributed to the depression I found myself in.
I was looking for a way to numb myself from all that was going on around me in my life, and mostly, what was inside of me.
One night, while at a friend’s place I smoked some marijuana that affected me physically in a way that it had never done before.
Incidentally this friend of mine had strict Muslim parents so what we were doing was even more stupid and fraught with dire consequences.
The affect of the pot hit me instantly like a tonne of bricks.
My vision became extremely disturbed, I was unable to focus properly -things were jumping instead of remaining still, and instead of a happy buzz it turned into one of the most frightening experiences of my life.
My friend, unaware of what was happening to me, played a silly joke and leaped out from behind a wall to scare me, and this was when I felt it…. felt myself slip from that precipice.
A physical splitting of my mind occurred in that instant.
It’s the only way I can describe it.
I became two people in that moment.
Along with that split came the physical sensations….
You know the feeling when you lose your stomach in fright or those “butterfly” like sensations you get on a roller coaster ride?
Well imagine it never ending.
Losing your stomach but that feeling just keeps going and going….rising and rising and intensifying all the while.
My heart began racing, as though it would explode in my chest- I could hear the blood pounding in my ears.
I was hyperventilating, pains were shooting through my chest, I felt dizzy, out of breath, my hands were as cold as ice and I felt as though I was going to die at any second!
Two voices were speaking to me simultaneously inside my mind.
I could hear them as clearly as though they were people in the room talking to me.
One – not MY voice though, was saying…. “Just calm down….take deep breaths…it’s going to be ok, just calm down!”
The other was saying, almost with glee…. “You’re going to die…your heart can’t beat this fast without exploding…Any minute it’s going to stop beating and you’re going to die!”
It sounded like true evil speaking to me.
I felt truly as though I had gone insane.
The voices fought inside me, screaming at me, as my friends rushed me from the house down to a neighbours house where eventually an ambulance was called.
I remember the shame and indignity of being questioned by the ambo’s, going through the list of much harder drugs, to try and find out what was happening to me.
I wasn’t a drug addict. I was just a stupid kid experimenting with dope, but in my head I wondered what ELSE was in the dope.
In the hospital I was treated with disdain by the nursing staff.
Nobody explained to me what had happened.
They gave me a little white pill and hooked me up to a heart monitor, which scared the crap out of me because I kept waiting for the blips to STOP….leaving me dead.
I wasn’t allowed out of bed so they brought a bedpan for me. It was humiliating. I didn’t want to use it but I had to.
I overheard one of the nurses say – “They always seem to do that afterwards….have a really big long pee.”
It was terrible. I just felt like a “they”, whoever ‘they” were.
I never did understand what had caused such an intense physical reaction, nor what had occurred inside my mind that night.
I never EVER smoked Marijuana again. I hate the stuff, with a passion! Can’t even bear to smell a whiff of it. I’m uneasy being around people who smoke it.
The results from that experience I believe affected me for many years to follow, and maybe even still to this day.
I began experiencing panic attacks shortly after this experience.
At first it was just the occasional burst of palpitations, which although quite disturbing and uncomfortable, were nothing like what I experienced one day whilst standing at a train platform on my way to work.
Completely out of the blue, no warning, no feelings of impending anxiety, not even any conscious unsettling thoughts and all of a sudden I was back to feeling EXACTLY as I had done that night when I’d smoked the marijuana. Like a flashback.
It utterly terrified me and what was worse was that it happened whilst I was out in a public place!
I hid in the public toilet on the platform for some time…
I don’t remember how I got home, but somehow I managed.
From that day on I became afraid of going outside, and eventually, for a period of time, couldn’t.
I became a prisoner in my own skin…completely trapped by the physical sensations that my body would throw at me.
I became so infinitely tuned into every single sensation, every heart beat, every breath, and always with a deep sense of dread that IT would happen again.
IT- that could paralyze me with fear…more than fear – terror!
It began to control my every waking thought, and even, eventually, IT sabotaged the safety I thought I could find in sleep….waking me at night, breathless, clutching at my chest as once again my heart raced out of control.
I began having nightmares as well.
Vividly REAL they were…. terrifying dreams of death and dying….of dead children standing in the Amity ville horror house beckoning to me, telling me they would “see me soon”.
I even had an out of body experience during this time where I floated up to the ceiling only to lose control even OUT of my physical self, in a frenzied swirl of rainbow colours that eventually crashed into my “body” on the bed, triggering yet another nocturnal panic attack.
Every day was a struggle, but night time was always the worst.
I had moved out of home at that point and my boyfriend (now husband) worked nightshift.
To be alone at night filled me with even more dread.
To just feel “normal” for a few minutes… an hour….to not feel the clutching fingers of anxiety squeezing in the pit of my stomach.
It exhausted me trying. Honestly, I can’t explain that feeling of mental and emotional exhaustion. It was overwhelming at times.
To try and control my breathing… to “breathe OUT” those feelings of anxiety.
But how could I when the fear bubbled inside me, ever present, always standing on guard anticipating that IT would strike again, out of the blue.
Always….out of the blue…when I least expected it.
For no REASON. No thoughts, not conscious ones anyway….no situations…
These panic attacks were sly…always lying in wait to strike at any given moment.
“Attack”, really is the right word, because I felt as though I was in a battlefield…at war , with my own mind, and it was constant….every waking moment I lived in fear. (In fear OF fear.)
When my first waking thoughts were of how I was going to get through the day, and how I just wanted to give up and not have to face those hours ahead….I knew I was in trouble.
I also knew that nobody was going to be able to help me with this.
I had gone to counselors, even a psychiatrist…my own doctor had prescribed medication to control the palpitations, but none of it worked.
I spent many hours on the phone to lifeline counselors during the worst of the attacks…too ashamed to speak to my family, my boyfriend, or my friends of exactly how I was feeling.
I didn’t want any of them to know the true depths of how low I had sunk.
I felt mad – alone and just plain crazy!
There came a defining moment when I just KNEW I had to do something.
I had a choice.
Either to beat this or have THIS be the reality of my life.
I knew I just couldn’t go on. I was exhausted on every level.
I couldn’t go out, or if I did, it wasn’t too far from home and I had to make sure that I knew where the hospitals were or doctors…”just in case”.
That voice, the one that spoke to me that first night was always there telling me that I was going to die.
I decided, that the only person that could help me WAS me.
I began to have faith in ME.
Logically, intelligently, I knew what was happening.
The fright, fight flight syndrome…my body’s reactions, the physical sensations were ones that I read about, and understood.
It was all about fear…..Fear OF fear.
Time and time again I read that these attacks were self limiting, that even if one were to pass out from hyperventilating that the body would correct the situation.
That the body has it’s own safety valve….that people do NOT die from panic attacks!
My heart was fine, God knows I’d had it checked that many times.
All I had to do was get through them….grit my teeth and deal with all the horrible sensations.
I began to do that….and each time I told myself “Well….now that was pretty bad, BUT, hey I’m alive!
I had to do that many MANY times…
I began to force myself to go out, to face situations where I would be alone and in public.
It was hard, but I kept telling myself that if I didn’t do this my world would just keep shrinking smaller and smaller and I didn’t want my life to BE like that.
May as well just BE dead.
I don’t even know how long it took – years really, but eventually, slowly, each panic attack became less and less terrifying.
Unpleasant, and physically uncomfortable, but there seemed to be less fear involved each time.
The attacks themselves became less frequent.
It got to the point where I was able to get through them without the panic, in fact with the aid of some tricks I head learned, I was almost able to stop, or at least minimize the length of the palpitations.
I took my life back!
Told that voice to shut the $%#@ up!
I still have the occasional bouts of palpitations.
There have been periods in my life where I’ve had all kinds of physical sensations that stem from anxiety.
A tense jaw, nerves twitching, ectopic heart beats, headaches, strange buzzing sensations under my skin….weird stuff.
I just seem to be more acutely tuned into my physical body – more than the average person. It’s annoying and disturbing at times.
On more than one occasion I have found myself worn out and exhausted thinking “I hate being in my own skin!”
But….it’s just how it is. Who I am…part of what makes me ME, and whatever else pops up I know I can deal with it.
I have come from a place where the confines of my body have been a terrifying place to be in.
From a place of being agoraphobic, scared to even walk out of my front door… to the person I am today who frequently travels to the most remote places in Australia – the outback, where there ARE no easy to get to hospitals or doctors or people at the other end of the telephone that can console me and tell me “You’re going to be ok”
*I* tell me I am going to be ok!
Whatever happens…I am going to be OK!
This is a song I wrote called “In my skin” which pretty much sums up what it’s like for me, at times. Not all the time, thankfully, but certainly there have been periods in my life where I have hated being in my own skin.