Written by Janine Rudin

Voices

Panic

Panic attacks have been part of Janine Rudin’s life for the best part of a decade. During that time she’s learned how to cope with them, and more often than not, head the little bastard off at the pass.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

I have experienced panic attacks since my son died nine years ago. As part of my experience of grief, they used to be regular, accompanying me wherever I went, striking frequently, when I was already quite low.

After medication and therapy I now consider myself well. I am rarely low, anxious or panicky but I am living with this every day. I have learned some brilliant coping mechanisms and I work hard every day to keep it together. I am a professional; I run my own business; I am a wife, a mother and a friend; I am reliable, trustworthy and compassionate and I probably don’t fit any stereotypes of someone with a mental health issue.

My coping strategies are feeling safe and mainly being in familiar and safe places; breaking down my day into achievable chunks; talking myself round if I am feeling vulnerable; keeping busy; speaking to my husband and writing. I am always on the go and I do these most days. I need to eat well and I need to listen to my body when it needs to rest.

A couple of weeks ago it was my birthday and I went away with friends for two nights. Home is my safe place but I still like to go away because I don’t want to be a prisoner at home, not travelling or experiencing other cities and places.

The last time I had a weekend away with friends, I had a panic attack at night. My heart was racing and I had to lock myself in the bathroom to breathe and calm myself and keep it together. And then I played Scrabble on my phone for hours to focus my brain, to distract me until I fell asleep.

It happened again on the Saturday of my birthday trip – a brilliant day of laughter and drinks. I went from laughing so much I thought I was going to pee, to panic and needing to feel safe. I called my husband to calm the fuck down, to head it off, to get some perspective and then I retreated to bed. I kept it together; I spoke to my kids; I played more Scrabble and eventually sleep was mine. The next day I was great.

“Panic is scary, one of the most terrifying things I have experienced – my heart races, my breathing becomes shallow, I don’t feel safe, I need to pace and wander and I can’t settle anywhere.”

So – and this might seem glaringly obvious – excessive booze is a factor. Years ago I realised that regular (nightly) drinking was no good for me. There was a strong desire to numb the pain of grief but it didn’t help me to function.

Now, a few drinks with friends every few weeks is not an issue, but a proper drinking session clearly is: these maybe happen twice a year and they are so very linked to my head hitting panic mode.

I spent Sunday partially analysing it and I think panic takes over when my drunken brain cells can’t keep me together anymore, when the rationalising and protective thoughts that I rely on daily can no longer be effective and the world becomes a scary place.

If panic should stir I can usually break it down, so I know that around me there is no danger, nothing that is there to harm me or mine. I gain perspective and it ebbs away again and I feel safe. But it would seem that having a skinful opens the door for my panic.

Panic is scary, one of the most terrifying things I have experienced – my heart races, my breathing becomes shallow, I don’t feel safe, I need to pace and wander and I can’t settle anywhere. I need to escape, I feel teary, I feel hot, my throat closes up, I feel vulnerable.

After my last big panic attack I felt vulnerable for days afterwards, like the door in my brain was left slightly ajar for panic to creep back in anytime it liked. This time I know it was down to a boozy, fun-filled day and I know I feel OK; the door is closed as firmly as it can be for me.

Living with panic and anxiety is exhausting and it can be restrictive but I refuse to let it completely control me. Now I will add a no boozy days clause to my coping strategies: I’ll have to learn to miss a round or two on those weekends away, to keep me safe and to keep my panic away.

@BirthandBabyCo

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Written by Janine Rudin

Antenatal teacher, postnatal group leader, birth & baby specialist, writer, mother, wife, friend, me. My time is spent with my family, working with parents and trying not to eat all the biscuits. @BirthandBabyCo

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