It was a day like any other however Wednesday 3rd July 2019 was special in all the wrong ways and when I opened my eyes I knew something wasn’t right.
The sun had risen, the sky was clear, my muddled and confused brain shouted loud as usual and I had a mild hangover mixed with the fog of sleep deprivation.
My day started as was “normal”; went for a run, checked my emails, checked all seven of my notifications, checked my email again, checked all my notifications again, quick shower and dress with no thought about what I was wearing, tried to compile and remember a list of about seven thousand things I needed to complete before 9am, avoided looking at the mirror too much and, more importantly, dreaded the training I had been invited to attend.
It was mildly ironic that Wednesday 3rd July was Mental Health First Aid Training Day and I tried not to think about it too much, I didn’t yet understand my severely anxious state and with hindsight I would have slapped myself silly and told that scared, tired and panicked little girl to start taking a bit more care of herself.
Prior to that day, I’m certain of it now, I was trying to destroy myself. I never slept, didn’t eat, was constantly angry and upset, consumed copious amounts of alcohol to numb the pain of my pathetic existence but externally pretended the world had to revolve around me and I was the most confident, self assured and “together” person that had ever existed.
As was usual, I arrived at the office early, before many others. My hands had already started to tingle, pins and needles shooting down my arms, and my hair started to itch. I was restless and pacing like a caged animal and couldn’t focus on one thing. My “to do” list was spiralling and I felt I was losing control of my surroundings. I decided to go for a walk as it was still early and there were very few people around to hear me mumbling to myself. At this point I hadn’t eaten or drank anything but had ran for 6 miles. There was a one mile loop near the office that I sometimes allowed myself to use so I followed that loop at high speed, somewhere between a walk and a jog, in heels. I had headphones on but I can’t remember what I listened to as I was internally battling with the deafening voices in my head.
The walk made no difference to my mood. I had held my breath the whole way round, as was normal for me. I held my breath a lot, and clenched my fists and tightened my jaw and ground my teeth. I returned to the office with an aggressive feeling that the training was going to be a waste of my time, classic avoidance. My stomach gurgled with lack of food and water and sleep, too much alcohol and I hid alone in the disabled toilet and tried to come up with a course “get out” excuse. The disabled toilet had a big mirror and I spent a few minutes snarling and sneering at my reflection, calling myself pathetic and weak and trying not to be repulsed by what was looking back. I truly hated myself and the person I had become.
Shortly before the course was due to start I entered the meeting room, A4 notebook and pen in hand, wobbling on slightly uncomfortable heels, sweaty body and sore feet after striding around the estate, and tried not to make eye contact with the trainer. He was a very pleasant man, shook my hand and invited me to sit wherever I wanted to. I slammed my A4 notebook on the desk with the chair nearest the door (escape route) and left the room to visit the toilet. I worked out that I had about four minutes to kill before I had to go back in but, as I thought of myself an attention seeker with an “I’m so above this” attitude, I could afford to be fashionably late.
I left it as long as I possibly could, returned to the room, sat down and placed my elbows on the table, my hands clenched tightly in a fist with my chin resting. My brain aggressively warned me that I was in a hostile environment and my vision started to blur, mouth went dry, I told myself that was last night’s two glasses of wine and no sleep. My stomach flipped and gurgled and I wanted to be sick.
The trainer began to speak and explained the content we were to cover during the course. I can’t remember his exact words but I began to identify with them and this terrified me, he was talking about me and only me. It’s like he knew me and could see who I really was, was inside my head with access to my darkest thoughts. His eyes could lock with mine, stare straight into my very sole and drag every hidden emotion to the surface. All of a sudden I started to cry silently and couldn’t stop. Tears fell onto my hands and the desk in front of me and I tried to internally fight the ball of emotion that stabbed me in the throat, choking me with every breath. I wanted to gasp for air but I continued to silently cry. I couldn’t stop. Both of my hands trembled, the heat in my head and in my fingers became almost unbearable and my knees started to shake like they would never work again, my stomach started doing flips and my bladder and bowels started to churn and gurgle.
I went into flight mode, my brain screamed, “LEAVE”.
With a break in the conversation, I realised there was a door directly behind me. I summoned up every amount of energy I had, jumped out of my chair and headed for the exit, not sure if I knocked my chair over or whether my exit was noticed. The door handle was red hot to touch and I recoiled in pain but kept the grip, I deserved the pain, the room lights seared my eyeballs. Laughter and taunting was behind me, I focused on staying up right.
Outside the room I gasped for air, I felt trapped, didn’t know what to do, where to go, what was happening to me. My body kept convulsing! I lost control of my emotions, felt the urge to scrunch myself into the tiniest ball to see if I could disappear.
“I don’t know what to do”. Was that my voice shouting? I fell into an empty office and slumped in a chair near the window, I had an urge to crawl under the table but my body wouldn’t move. I felt caged and alone and at severe risk of harm. I looked around through a foggy blur and focused on an empty chair and the window, I was in a room on the first floor, I couldn’t see the car park. I willed my body to pick up the chair and throw it through the window so that I could jump out after it, then this would all be over. My body wouldn’t move, my legs and hands were shaking, my eyes wouldn’t focus.
Someone was talking to me, asked me if I need support? I was mortified, embarrassed, scared and wanted to die. I fought hard to stay awake and alert, became incredibly tired all of a sudden and a feeling of being mildly inebriated even though the last drink I had consumed was the night before.
I can’t remember what I said, my head voice mixing with my real voice.
I’m ok, I’m fine, nothing to worry about, I’m not panicking, this isn’t me, I’m not weak, I’m in control, I’m strong, determined, successful, a high achiever.
Stop shaking, stop crying, I want to die, I want to hide, I want the pain to stop, stop stabbing my body, stop, stop, stop.
Another voice in the room, it’s best if I went home, I got out of the chair and my legs gave way. I willed my body to stand up straight and to make it down the stairs and into the car. I wanted to die. I found it hard to speak, to breathe, to focus, to process. I was in shock and cried for hours.
Eventually I was breathing, I arrived home safely, my mind churning and shouting but my breath relaxed. My body steadied itself and I regained the ability to walk, talk and function. I was humiliated but alive.
I didn’t understand until much later that I had experienced a panic attack. I thought I might die. I wanted to die.
My public mental breakdown was terrifying. My whole mental existence deflated in front of my tired and unseeing eyes and I realised I could no longer function without help.
Severe Anxiety, depression, OCD and PTSD are words I never contemplated using to describe myself, the barrier I had built up over the years was strong and sturdy and the people who ‘knew me’ laughed at the concept of it ever being broken down.
My recovery started on Monday 8th July 2019, I needed a few days to start speaking and functioning again, still reeling from the shock. I’m assured that I will recover but I think it will never be over.
It’s about time I stop.
It’s about time I stop pretending, masking, denying, crying, reasoning, searching, hiding.
It’s about time I stop looking for external validation.
It’s about time I stop concerning myself with events that I can’t influence or control.
It’s about time I stop being scared.
It’s about time I start.
It’s about time I start my life.
It’s about time I start being more selfish.
It’s about time I allow myself to be open to possibility.
It’s about time I seek wellness.
It’s about time I feel safe and secure.
It’s okay not to be okay.
It’s About Time.