mental health and travel
This is an extract from my book, my mental health memoir that is nearly finished.
Chapter 15 - The mental health writer’s guide to anxiety – don’t panic, Earth is mostly harmless
Note - this describes a part of my life in 2004 when I had cannabis induced psychosis with delusions of a grandiose nature. I thought I was telepathic, and this contributed doubly to the excruciating experience of having panic attacks.
I don’t remember my first panic attack. I’d had something similar on the ward at the general hospital, an isolated incident. Actually that happening on ward D4 was probably my first, but I don’t remember the first of the others. They were frequent, long and excruciating, but it was a couple of months before I started to categorise them as panic attacks. It seemed to me that there were no words that could describe them, to define how shit they were.
The phrase panic attack doesn’t do them justice and the jury is still out on exactly what they were. It was like being smacked in the brain and beaten into intense fear and misery by Satan himself. They made me panic about my physical health too and they really got my heart going. I was also concerned that the people walking past my house could hear my thoughts, all of the bad ones, and began to dislike me because they were trying to have a good time and not be forced to hear some guy’s fears and thoughts as they walked past my house.
Inside my head things were working a bit backward and on an unconscious level something was instructing my brain to look for negativity, but I didn’t know it and I couldn’t control it, as if I’d been brainwashed by experts in evil.
‘Panic Attacks’ were typically a five hour affair, and came regularly at about six o clock, after dinner when I was having a cigarette in the garden. Five. Fucking. Hours. They were at least five times a week. I would lay down when they happened, usually being comforted and helped through it by my mum, trying to not think of anything at all, because I didn’t want to spread my thoughts to the noisy boisterous people walking past our house, which was in the town centre.
Panic attacks meant for me that every horrible chemical in my mind was activated simultaneously. And emotions too. I’d panic, then I’d panic about panicking. One can learn to control them, to deal with them and to shed them over time but at the beginning it’s a real kick in the teeth. Devastating. I’d rather get kicked in the teeth for an hour than have a five hour panic attack. And sometimes they were nine hours…
If you speak to someone who has had them, they will confirm how weirdly nasty they can be but they are very tough to explain to someone who hasn’t had them, much tougher than labour and childbirth in terms of trying to convey what they are like. At least having a baby is normal and I assume doesn’t mess with a woman’s mind and make her question her sanity. Sometimes a person with serious panic attacks thinks about suicide and how at least that would end the pain, I’ve seen a woman having similar ideas on TV whilst in a painful labour. So some similarities I’m sure.
Note – pain is temporary and usually passes.
I still wanted to work during the day somehow - when I wasn’t in an actual panic attack I was fine, although I would say that two or three times a month I would get a panic attack at work and feel the need to go home and be in a safer more relaxing place where the panic attack might pass. Panic attacks don’t make any actual sense, but let’s face it, they are a fact of life. If you ask around, you probably know someone who has them. In writing about them I hope that it creates understanding and increases awareness. If people could understand a bit more then perhaps they could help contribute towards better treatment. As a metaphor it would be of limited use for somebody who has zero knowledge of actually playing football to manage a football team.
There are creatures called ‘Dementors’ in the Harry Potter books, and panic attacks were like being targeted by them. The Dementors are described as black ghostly creatures that can suck out every positive feeling you have ever had, and leave you completely broken, and make you feel nothing but black. It’s really quite unfair that there should be such a thing. I was heavily affected by these ‘fucking things’ for about a year. My mum was by my side throughout.
I was unaware that anybody else had ever experienced anything like them and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was also learning lessons about general self-awareness like everyone has to at some point, very late on in life and a new thing for me, and having panic attacks at the same time was not a good thing.
I hate that there are people in the world who have them. You never really knew when they’d come and you could hardly prepare for them. I would be going about my life, then from nowhere except the dark recesses of my own unconscious mind there grew in me a feeling best described as a ‘boom kerrang pow’ and I would be well in the midst of a panic attack in an instant. Suddenly everything around me scared me, a person hearing my thoughts, the shape of a mug of tea, the prospect that to get home I would have to face a public place, the sound of music, everything. Even things that should seem soft, comforting and harmless were turned into weapons of war. My mind’s filter was working backwardly and gave nice things a black and fearful feeling.
So it seemed that my psychosis and delusional beliefs were being replaced by anxiety. My own psychosis and delusions were often fun, anxiety attacks...certainly not. I was hit hard.
One night it all came to a head and I had the most horrible attack since the pigeon was put amongst the cats and I ended up in the mental hospital again.
Thanks for reading this humble extract from my book!