My old flame

The cruelest trait of anxiety is its ability to creep up and blindside you whilst you’re sitting eating your mugshot on a Tuesday afternoon. For me, anxiety started as that feeling of rocking on your chair a little too hard and tipping over the point of balance. If you manage to catch yourself before it’s too late the relief is almost euphoric, if you don’t,  you end up in a heap on the floor, aching.

I have had a relationship with anxiety since I was a teenager. My first experience began as a flutter of nervousness about fainting in public, particularly supermarkets. This then blossomed into a wave of panic whenever I found myself in crowded spaces. My fear bequeathed me with the ability to decipher the layout of a room including entrances and exits, windows and toilets, within seconds and with the precision of a Secret Service Agent. Should I think I was going to faint I would be out of there before most people had worked out whether the door was to be pushed or pulled. Luckily for me my fear of crowded spaces seemed to diminish as I got older, and although always vaguely there in the back of my mind, I managed to get on with my weekly supermarket shop.

As with most past relationships there comes a time when they decide to check up on how you’re getting on at 3 am in the morning. With human relationships you have the option to “ignore call.” Unfortunately anxiety doesn’t like you having options and it certainly doesn’t like you forgetting about it.

 

During my first trimester I suffered from low blood pressure. This became a problem when commuting to work on Manchester’s crammed metro link service. The carriages were so packed and there was so little breathing space that I began to faint on an almost daily basis. This eventually resulted in me fainting, hitting my head on a pole in the middle of the tram, knocking myself out and being carried to the platform by two men in suits which I can confirm is as embarrassing as it sounds. Following this my anxiety became so great that I wouldn’t even allow my partner to say the word “tram” in the house.

My doctor signed me off work for 2 weeks.

The last 3 months of my pregnancy were chaotic. With so much going on in my head at all times I did what I would later be told was the worst reaction to anxious thoughts. I pushed them to the back of my mind. My partner had to spend a lot of time away during my pregnancy which meant I would work twice as hard to distract myself from any worrying thoughts. At this point, distraction for me was indulging heavily in Netflix original tv shows and actually viewing the “because you watched…” section. Unknowingly to me I was quietly creating the mother of all mental boomerangs in the back of my head.

Then in May, 7 days after my birthday and 6 weeks earlier than expected my daughter arrived. It was around 4 weeks after we were allowed to take her home that I began to recognise the signs of that familiar call from my past. However this time it had an energy like nothing I had ever felt in my life.

Anxiety would leave me standing in my garden searching for that second magpie regardless of the time or weather. It would insist I ran up and down the stairs 3 times to prevent something bad from happening to someone in my family. It encouraged me to walk a particular way home to avoiding certain grids or uneven pavement slabs and at this point it was visiting me almost every night burrowing deeper with each visit.

Anxious thoughts I have had whilst falling asleep:

  • Did I talk too much about myself today?
  • I should have asked more questions.
  • I can’t believe I talked over the top of them as they were trying to say something.
  • I should have paid more attention to their baby.
  • Why does Arabella always do that thing?
  • What if the doctors have missed something?
  • What if Arabella is actually really ill?
  • What if Arabella is actually really ill?
  • What if Arabella is actually really ill?

That final question attached itself to my brain and managed to twist and contort every thought I had about Arabella into some kind of sinister prediction. When you’re getting an average of 4 hours of sleep each night you are pretty much creating a warm, damp inhabitable environment for the mould that is anxiety to breed in. Over the next few nights I began to film Arabella in a fearful hope of catching her doing something that doctors had missed.

The problem with this was that Arabella wasn’t actually doing anything.

As I sat in the waiting room of the doctors surgery I was plagued with posters and images of illnesses that children could suffer from. I would later go home and google these unpronounceable names and once again convince myself that Arabella was showing signs of having them. This would then provoke a full on panic attack in which I would zone out completely, get tunnel vision, try not to vomit, hear my heart pounding in my throat, think I was suffocating and basically feel like I was going to shit my pants. Were you to see me experiencing one of these attacks you would probably have no idea this was going on other than me not responding to you, and my eyes being completely glazed over. Eventually I introduced a complete ban on google, for my own sanity.

Things I have googled whilst feeling anxious:

  • “Baby lifting arms”
  • “Baby blinking quickly”
  • “Baby laughing without cause”
  • “Baby moves feet away when tickled”

 

It was on my second visit to my new doctor with over 1,000 videos (seriously) of Arabella doing normal baby things that my doctor asked me how I was feeling. I was a bit shocked at the question and couldn’t understand what had made him ask. Now I can guarantee that if you take over 1,000 videos of something and show them to the doctor and act like that is normal behaviour to do such a thing they will also ask you if you’re feeling okay. I responded to his question by bursting in to tears and it was at this point that he asked me to come and see him again in a week.

Had I not been on maternity leave, I wonder if I would have just been signed off work for 2 weeks, no questions asked and left it at that? I was once told that it takes a psychiatrist over 8 hours one on one work to determine the extent of a mental illness in a patient. A doctor has 20 minutes to make the decision and when you’re insisting on playing them 15 minutes home footage of your baby literally just sleeping then that doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

As it would happen it was 2 days later that I myself called the doctor and asked to speak to someone about my anxiety. Simply being asked the question “Are you alright?” made me take the time to mentally check whether I was and the answer was a resounding “No.” Anxiety had taken over my life and I outright refused to let it make its mark on my relationship with my daughter any longer.

When you first experience that sickening feeling of the tipping chair it feels incredibly lonely and it is of no surprise to me that depression is the sweetheart of anxiety. The truth is, everybody swings on their chair and at some point, everybody tips over. It’s just that only some of those people wake up in a pile on the floor, aching and decide to tell someone about it.

 

 

 

*Featured image from imightbedeadtomorrow.tumblr.com

 

 

 

 

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