Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Panic-versary

One year ago tomorrow, I had the worst day of my life. It also turned out to be the best day of my life, though I wouldn't go through it again.

For at least a month, I'd felt very ill. Constantly dizzy or faint. Not sleeping. A burning knot in my sternum that felt like it would actually burst out of me, Alien-style. Sometimes I'd feel like my entire body was vibrating, which might sound amazing but I promise you it was not. My heart was fluttering too much to sleep, and when I did sleep, I'd wake up with swollen ankles like somehow I'd sprained them in my dreams.

I chalked all of these up to allergies and not sleeping well, but I had so much work to do I couldn't stop to think about it. I carried on doing 12-hour days, hunched over my laptop, worried about deadlines and chasing down clients for payment and wondering if I'd make my rent that month and fending off a fair bit of personal drama at the same time.

One Sunday morning, I'd planned to meet someone I'd been chatting with on Twitter for a coffee. He happened to be in town that day visiting a friend. And as I stood in my bathroom and started to get ready, my left arm went numb and tingly. I broke out into a cold sweat. ('Cold sweat' is one of those expressions you don't think about until you break into an actual cold sweat; the closest I've felt to it was when I had the flu - that kind of freezing icy cold but also burning up kind of feeling.) And then I started to black out. 

I thought, well - this is it. I'm having an actual heart attack and all of the symptoms I've been feeling for weeks have been leading up to this moment. So I called 999. And I texted this Twitter man I'd never met in my life, who was waiting patiently in the coffee shop downstairs, and asked him to come up and wait with me. Not something I'd normally do. But I was terrified. 

Within 5 minutes the two most wonderful, gorgeous men on the planet were in my flat. Ed from Northwest Ambulance and Matt, who went from Twitter pal to my actual hero the moment he walked in the door, put the kettle on, and sat down and held my hand while I sobbed and struggled to control my breathing. (And he remains my hero to this day.)

Good old Ed figured out fairly quickly I was having a panic attack, which could not be possible, I argued vehemently, because all of these symptoms were very real. But long story short, they finally got through to me and I finally understood what was happening.

The next two or three months were lost to me, because I had to unravel what had led me to the point where my whole body shut down. Just taking a shower was difficult; running out for a quick food shop was an epic struggle; I couldn't work; every bit of my mental and physical energy went into trying to manage the constant panic. Thankfully, I had Hero Matt with me through much of it, although I know it must have been so difficult for him that we couldn't go for a meal or anything without him having to talk me down and manage my anxiety attacks, which were usually the unwelcome third wheel at the table. 

My dear friend Caz suggested we give it a name – this separate entity of panic – and we called her Barbara. "Feel like going out?" "Not today, Barbara's in town." It was funny, yes, but also incredibly helpful in the sense that it made me start to see anxiety as something separate from me, as an the actual person. If you've ever spent 5 minutes with me in real life, you've seen me suddenly have to leave the restaurant or shop to get some air, or frantically signal the waiter for some ice water, or cancel plans outright because I "suddenly wasn't feeling well." I always thought that was just my personality – I never wanted to go anywhere or do anything; I often thought of what a drag I am, how it's a wonder I have any friends at all. And finally, FINALLY, it began to dawn on me how anxiety has ruled my entire life. I was quite used to managing depression, but it had never occurred to me that anxiety, the flip-side of the depression coin, was a constant lurking presence as well. 

It's still there - I don't think it will ever go away. Just thinking of writing about this for the past few weeks has been enough to trigger mini anxiety attacks. I still have them in hot, noisy crowded places, which makes me so very fun to hang out with. I get them at the gym when my heart rate gets super fast and I start to hyperventilate. But now I know what it is, and how to manage it, and that I'm going to be okay. Better than okay. It's a lot of work sometimes, but as it turns out, I'm a lot stronger than I knew. 

Anyway, to get back to my original statement - how was May 11, 2014 the best day of my life? Because it opened my eyes to how I treated myself – mentally, physically and emotionally. It explained all of my physical symptoms, which miraculously began to disappear. It made me take stock of the costs of burying your feelings, ignoring your body's signals, not having a work/life balance, internalizing your darkest moments instead of talking to someone. 

And so I did start to talk to people about it. I still only know a few people in the UK, but they've all been incredibly supportive and caring. (Thank you Caz, Fenner, Kenris, Andy W1, Leanne and Richard.) I struggled with talking to friends and family at home about it, because I didn't want them to worry. Also if I'm being honest, I'm not great about admitting weakness or vulnerability with them. But when I did open up about it, they were, as ever, uniformly amazing. I also turned to Twitter and Facebook friends, most of whom I'd never met in real life, and some of whom shared their own experiences with panic attacks, or just listened and offered support. Especially Rob, Ben, Jon, Vicki, Andy W2, Alaco and Caroline - you all made me feel less alone and I'm so very grateful.

And of course, my hero Matt. I honestly don't know how I would have got through it without him, how he put aside his own problems to look after me, or how he somehow managed to see the gibbering mess he met that day and think, Yeah I'd like to see that woman again, what a catch! then give me the best year of my life. Even though we've recently split up, it's as the best and most loving of friends, and I know we're both stronger for the amazing time we had together. 

Finally, and I guess the main reason I'm sharing this: it reminded me to try every day to be more compassionate, less judgmental. We never know what someone's going through, what pain they might be in, how difficult it might be for them to get through the day. And it's important to use this compassion on yourself, listen to what your mind and body might be trying to tell you, to realize your needs are important too. Take the time to look after yourself. And remember to breathe. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Roses are red, daisies are best. I hope you still love me, I have PMS.
Roses are red, violets are blue. Nothing! I'm FINE! What's wrong with YOU?
Roses are red, oh my god you got me roses? *cries*

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pulling up stakes

Much has been made (by me) of a big move (by me) from Boston to England. "Why, Kerry?" I asked. "Why England, why now?" "I will reveal all in my blog," I replied. Then I noticed as I stared into the mirror talking to myself that my brows could do with some plucking and I lost my train of thought. Also, I didn't have a blog. You can imagine the withering look I gave myself, with the one raised (ungroomed) eyebrow, you know that look, and my reflection was like, "Fine! I'll do it! Get off my back already!" And that, dear reader, is how I finally done a blog. 

As Dickens once wrote, I was born in England, some years ago, after Rolling Stones 12x5 but before Exile on Main Street. My dad was stationed in London with the U.S. Air Force and we moved to Boston when I was still little; I never even had an accent. But being born in London became my "thing." This was made evident when I started a new school in 5th grade and Billy Hickey shouted out "The British are coming! The British are coming!" when I was introduced to my new class. Ha ha! What a card. Even at 11, his grasp of U.S. history was more sound than Sarah Palin's, so he had that going for him.

My English friends may find it amusing that being born in England would be considered exotic, but in my homogeneous neighborhood, I may as well have been from Myanmar, or Ohio. In a sea of blue-green eyes, pale Irish skin and Boston accents, I stood out... not at all. We were all exactly alike. That's why being born in England could become my thing. I felt lucky to have a thing, quite frankly. Joey and Paula Richter were twins; they were the only other kids in my class with a gimmick. Well played, Richters. Well played.

I grew up -- and remain -- a rabid Anglophile, I guess you could say, although I always rejected the term on the basis of having been born there. "I'm not an Anglophile," I argued. "I'm actually a British citizen. I'm a me-ophile, if anything." But I can see where that doesn't actually make sense. So from wearing out my dad's Beatles records on my Fisher-Price LP player, to discovering Monty Python (though I'm told they already existed before I found them), to my love of punk rock & new wave (1982-present), to my whole Jane Austen thing, if it had an English accent, I was all over it. I mean, just look at my "following" list on Twitter. (Hi guys, I love you.)

I started going back to London on a frequent basis when I was in my 20s. And I've wanted to move back there ever since. I honestly can't explain why, but -- let's be honest -- it's probably because every time I'm there, I'm on vacation. So somehow in my tiny pea-brain I think I will always be on vacation there. I'll never have to work, the Tube will remain a tourist attraction rather than a tedious way to commute to my non-existent job, I'll marry Colin Firth and have a million babies with cute accents and I will be their mom but also their governess, I think? Still not sure how that works over there. Anyway, it's sort of like when you're a kid and you want to live in the Santa's Village at Macy's 24/7/365 because it's candy canes on the regular. England, you are my Santa's Village.

And now I find myself in my 40s, burned out on my job and my hometown, and ready for an adventure. So you know what? I'm doing it. I am saying goodbye to ranch dressing and proper BBQ and Thanksgiving dinner and people who know what fried pickles are. There are non-food-based things I will miss as well, I'm sure. But if I think too long about how homesick I'll be for my family and friends, I'll chicken out. For now, I will be brave and try to wrap my mind around TV shows starting at weird times, cars on the wrong side of the street, saying chips when I mean fries, and striking out for a new and distant land: Manchester.