Saturday, 6 September 2008

A little eternity (1996)

An all-too-familiar feeling. Vague physical discomfort, an outward symptom of something nagging incessantly at the back of my mind. Something trying to unseat me from within, make me feel unsafe. Unease. Disquiet.

Here I was in a little room used for consultations. A room seemingly without features, let alone any redeeming ones. Two people sat opposite me, one of whom looked at me intently. I was feeling like I wanted to get out of here at the earliest opportunity, wanted the questions to be over regardless of the outcome.

I desperately tried to control my breathing - and desperately tried to conceal the fact that I was desperately trying to control my breathing. What would they think if they knew? I felt dizzy - my thoughts, my pulse were starting to race seemingly in tandem and I felt short of breath. Try to ignore the thoughts which triggered this off: to delve into those thoughts felt like it was to delve into something very dark: was it something I had done, something remembered, something imaginary? I wasn't sure: but as painful as it would be to go through the whole process of trying to pinpoint those thoughts, analyse them, ruminate on them and somehow try to find a way of making everything ok again, it would be just as hard to temporarily banish them to the back of my unsettled mind.

But I had to. Somehow. Amidst the whirling thoughts and the physical symptoms which seemed to be gearing me up for confrontation or for getting the hell out of here.

I'm a bad person. I'm a mess. They know it. They can tell.

Next question.

Have you ever suffered anxiety or panic attacks?

I couldn't help but inwardly afford myself a bitter smile that this, of all questions, should come up right now. I tried to keep my voice even as the words came out.

Mumbled half-formed sentences followed.

Yes...sometimes it's difficult to cope. I's like everything is...I get scared to go out because I. Er, it's like something's going to happen. Something bad.

I wished I could stop clenching my jaw. Were my attempts at breathing easily noticeable to them? Could they tell that this was what I was going through right now? That the words being spoken between us just felt like background noise in a room full of people shouting at each other? That it was a strain just to try and feel normal? Eye contact wasn't easy, but I had to do it, just because of that word: contact. It might help, just having these points of focus, but it might also serve to betray what I'm going through. Amidst all this, all that shouting in my head, a further question.

Are you able to tell anybody or get help when this happens?

Fucking hell, how patronising, I thought. How can you tell anybody when this happens? It's like running up to someone who thinks you're a fundamentally decent person and telling them that you're mad. You fear the response and that just makes the destructive cycle worse. You seal yourself in and just try and deal with the symptoms and rake over the thoughts - over and over, like some forced exercise in internal map reading, the terrain of which is harsh and unwelcoming.

A further mumbled answer.

More questions.

Do you take any medication?

Easy enough question to answer: factual rather than reliant on being able to express thoughts and feelings. Good: more like that please.

I felt shattered. The room wasn't getting any bigger or more inviting. The door was still the same distance from my seat, yet still seemed an eternity away. Freedom if I went through it now, before this was over, but what if there were consequences? The thoughts - including all those nameless, shapeless, malevolent ones - still whirled.

The voices spoken in the room still like something barely discernible in the background.

They must be able to tell. Or am I doing a convincing job of concealing this panic? Well they hadn't reacted to me any differently, we were still sat here.

More questions. We were finally away from the intrusive, searching questions and into the realms of the mundane. Name and address of GP, next of kin, thankfully no more delving into hospital admissions, how you behave when you're unwell, raking over painful personal history.

Finally, a perfunctory, almost businesslike, we'll be in touch - and I was free to go.

Fresh air. Space. Freedom - and I realised I had managed to control the panic attack. I was tired, unsettled, but much calmer. Maybe I was actually starting to get better at dealing with this.

The thing I should point out here is that - yes, I was the one who was having the panic symptoms: I was also the one who was asking the questions, carrying out the assessment not being on the receiving end of it.


Reading the Signs said...

Blimey. It's bad enough having one of those without having to keep it together in that kind of role. I wonder if it's more common these days - there seem to be so many of us. Strange how shameful it feels when one is in the thick of it.

trousers said...

Hi signs, I seem to recall feeling a great sense of gallows humour at the time - after all it's not often that you're doing an assessment on someone and asking them about panic, anxiety and so on whilst in the midst of an attack yourself!

Yes there is that sense of shame, isn't there? Like it's something filthy or nasty: all part and parcel of it really.

I'm very thankful to be able to say I can't remember the last time I experienced a full-blown panic attack though: perhaps due to learning how to manage some of the symptoms - and also because I eventually managed to move on from the circumstances which caused me to experience them in the first place.

jean paul said...

Nausea, pure nausea.

Merkin said...

Been fairly close to that feeling in a completely different realm.

I had a 'what am I doing here?' feeling at the time.

trousers said...

Oh hello jean-paul, I was just talking about you in a previous post. Pure nausea indeed.

Hi merk, yes I do remember that kind of feeling as well - not just as regards the situation in question, but many other times when the panic hit as well.

Fire Byrd said...

just remember to breathe which ever side of the table you are!!

trousers said...

Indeed, fire byrd, so much of it is about keeping your breathing steady.

szwagier said...

Ouch. So many of my times in the classroom felt similar

Ms Melancholy said...

Fab post, Trousers. The more I do therapy, the more I realise there is never an expert in the room....just two people having a particular kind of conversation.

Arrived here via the Black Boxes widget, by the way! Lovely to see you on my couch earlier, though x

Stray said...

The widget tells me I should be here ... and it feels very appropriate!

I am about to fly on my own to Boston via Amsterdam and the whole crowded, over-peopled, enclosed space, unending noise of it is the scary bit for me ... not that I'll show myself up at the training with this publishing company by being too stoooopid to contribute, but that I'll freak out on the bus / tube / plane bit that so many people seem to just breeze through. I wonder if any air crew suffer from fear of flying?

Caroline said...

Widget brought me here.
Perfect x

DJ Kirkby said...

How very interesting. I have had one bad panic atack and an occasional very mild and easily controlled one. My heart goes racing out of control or misses beats. Not nice.

JJ said...

Hello, I've come here via Black Boxes widget. It keeps sending me here.

trousers said...

Sorry to hear that szwag. I don't recall if this ever happened any other time in such a situation at work, because most of the time I'd be in "doing" mode and was able just to get on with stuff. At the time, I would be more likely to suffer during a break, or inbetween appointments, when I had chance to think and reflect.

Thank you ms m, and lovely to see you here to. You're always welcome :)

dj, sorry to hear that - it isn't nice is it? I had lots of really bad ones. But eventually, all I got were symptoms of panic attacks: what I mean is I ended up being able to recognise them and deal with them and so it no longer constituted a panic attack because I knew what was happening and how to manage it.

Hello jj, hope it's not such a bad thing to keep ending up here :) The more people do the Black Boxes widget thing, the less likely you are to end up chez moi.

trousers said...

Oops missed you there stray - you'll have made the journey by the time you read this, hope it went well. Nice to see you here again too!

trousers said...

Oh bloody hell - missed you up there too cas - my apologies! Nice to see you (to see you, NICE! etc)


Leigh said...

Yeah. Know this feeling well.

trousers said...

Sorry to hear that, leigh with typewriter - hope you can manage those feelings when you experience them. I appreciate you reading this after randomly landing here via the blog widget.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Random widget hello to you!

Been there, got the t-shirt, unfortunately. Most of the time I can get a grip on most of the physical symptoms by taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of thirty. Possibly because I'm concentrating so much on the breath and the count that I'm forced to stop winding myself up. And after a suitably sceptical introduction to it I do find some of the tricks taught with cognitive behavioural therapy quite useful at times.

Keep on keeping on.

trousers said...

Glad to hear you're dealing with it kevin. I've never heard of the holding you breath way of countering it, I learned steady, deep breaths through the stomach. Still, if it works for you...

Anyone reading this thread might be interested to look at fire byrd's site (she's on my blog list and has also commented on this thread), she is writing extended pieces on how to deal with panic attacks, as well as many other issues.