*slow, deep breath*
Last night, I had one of the most frightening experiences in my life. It was also one of the most faith (in-fellow-humans) restoring events of my life.
Despite the fact that I fly every few weeks at least, I had a completely unexpected meltdown/panic attack mid-flight. I didn’t know this at the time; I thought it was probably a heart attack. Completely out of the blue. One minute I was fine, the next I thought I was dying. Super intense, gasping for breath, couldn’t feel my arm, sweating and shaking. Thanks to my watch, I had the added paranoia implosion of seeing my heart rate hit 165bpm. It was truly one of the most horrible experiences of my life.
It was also a faith-restoring experience thanks to fellow passengers and the brilliant Flybe crew. A lady called Caroline, a retired flight attendant, came to sit with me, held my hand, and talked me through breathing exercises. She also neatly distracted me in conversation just enough to slow me down. Given the state of my breathing, I think I’d have choked myself out if it wasn’t for her. The Flybe crew were also amazing, as were many other passengers. When it started I was horribly embarrassed; I expected awkward looking away, sneering and sniggering even. Instead I was surrounded by a plane full of kind, concerned, yet reassuring faces. The kindness of strangers is an extraordinarily beautiful thing when it looks you in the eye.
It was in the ambulance that was waiting on the runway (ALL the drama!) that I was told by an ex-Army PTSD survivor and now paramedic that I’d had a panic attack. I was really embarrassed, even disappointed in myself. I push myself, I work crazy hard on huge projects, but I’ve been telling myself that I’m fine, that I’m handling it. To be ambushed by what seemed like a near death experience, because of some underlying anxiety I haven’t noticed… I just felt… silly. I still have no idea where it came from, or why.
So that’s why, despite cringing as I type, I’m putting it on Facebook. I bang a drum on here about freedom of expression, of not staying quiet in the face of issues and stigma, *especially* regarding mental health… and yet my inner narrator is beating me down with all levels of prejudice and stigma. I’ve surprised myself in an unpleasant way; my work has brought about so many deep conversations, often with people I’ve never met, about the stigma attached to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. I despise the “You’re fine; pull yourself together!” schtick, and here I am dishing it out to myself.
So if you’re dealing with anxiety, don’t give the next cruel person who disregards that struggle another second of your time. Even if – *especially* if – that critic is you xx