The knife is slack in my hand. The vegetables I was cutting, forgotten. Terror grips my chest and I am struggling to breathe. I am paralysed.
The family dinner is now beyond my reach. I have stopped. My body has simply stopped. My mind is racing for reasons why.
This has happened once before. Years ago. Three weeks after my son died, I collapsed to my knees, unable to continue. Raw grief, emerging from shock, forcing me to floor. Demanding that I pay my dues. Telling me to pay attention to my grief.
I knew then what forced me to stop. This time, there is no reason. No reason to be suddenly fearful and unable to pinpoint the terror. No reason for my heart racing. No reason for my dry mouth, wild eyes and panic. There is no immediate danger.
The dispassionate observer that always follows close whispers, You are having an anxiety attack. Breathe. Just concentrate on your breath. Count back from 10. See something, touch something, smell something. Gather your senses and find ground. Somehow, I emerge from the panic. I am bewildered and confused. Why now?
My mind searches for answers. Despite all life has taught me, I remain a person who needs reasons. What could have caused this? Was it the new pill I had changed to? Was it hurried week upon hurried week? Was it the decision to start my own business? Was grief changing course yet again? What had turned into un-named terror and left me helpless in its wake?
I am a modern woman. I consulted Google. And, as Google tends to do, it validated the answers I was searching for. The new pill could definitely cause anxiety. There was my solution. I felt a measure of relief. I went to my GP the next day, recounted my experiences, diagnosed myself and asked for a new pill. Without warning, I found myself crying. She looked at me kindly and asked me to fill out a depression anxiety stress scale. I didn’t cheat. I am prone to giving the answers I think people are looking for. I didn’t do that.
She told me I was over-anxious and that left unchecked it could become depression. She prescribed a new pill. She recommended more sleep and an exercise program. She set up a mental health plan gave me a referral for a psychiatrist.
It was there I became unstuck. I have friends that see a psychiatrist regularly. I don’t judge them. But I judged myself harshly. Here I was, someone who had survived the death of her child with minimal professional help, unable to make dinner. Surely this was something I could fix myself?
I have no issue with being broken. As long as I can piece myself back together. When I admit that I need help, the vulnerable under-belly shows and I am uncomfortable. Even writing this now, feels exposed. But it’s important that we talk about it.
I spoke with my friends about my anxiety, warily and fearful of judgement. I found no judgement. In fact, a number shared that they had experienced depression or anxiety. Many of my friends are creative perfectionists and mothers – perhaps the ideal conditions for anxiety to take root. I began to realise that mental health and psychical health are alike. We need to take care of both. Both can dip. There can be times in life when you can heal yourself and there are times when you need help.
In the end, I took the referral and I kept the appointments. The psychiatrist was kind. I told him I couldn’t comprehend why I was suffering from anxiety now when I had survived a parent’s worst nightmare. He told me that anxiety isn’t necessarily logical but logical thinking can help you through it. He told me fear was okay, but there were ways to manage fear without it becoming crippling. He told me that my experiences meant that I had reserves of strength to draw upon. He also told me that my experience rendered the unlikely more plausible in my mind. It all helped. It helped to talk. In fact, the very act of asking for help, helped.
1 in 3 women will experience anxiety within their lifetime. It’s not a small proportion, as borne out by my own experience. And just as we might seek help should our physical health fail, we should feel no shame reaching out when our mental health falters.
Today heralds the start of Mental Health Week – a week to bring awareness and acceptance around mental health. To finish it off, Hat Day is on Friday 9 October. You can participate by wearing a hat and donating to research. Visit www.hatday.com.au to register a Hat Day FUNdraiser event and invite your friends, family and collegues to join in.
You can also find more information on the Facebook page.
And if you are sharing your Hat Day, the hashtag for instagram, twitter and Facebook is #hatday15
Have you suffered from anxiety?
Do you find it hard to ask for help?