PANIC ATTACKS AND PARENTING
Mental health was never something we really discussed as teenagers or at school. Until a close friend of mine got really ill and we tried our best to rally round and support her as best as we could. I remember how it was brushed under the carpet. Whispers in the common room about what was going on, but nobody spoke to us and nobody seemed to know how to support her effectively. Looking back, it was quite a disgrace.
Now, as a part-time teacher, I see mental health as something we HAVE to talk about. There is so much pressure on teenagers to compete against each other, perform well, and be the best in all areas of life. And there still isn’t enough time or space given to just let kids be kids.
My first understanding of how important self-care is started when I was at University - doing double shifts at the student bar, going out at night and trying to fit in some study. One evening, after working all day and drinking pints of coca cola, I suddenly felt an intense pressure in my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack. I went dizzy and I felt the urge to run out of the bar as quickly as I could. I sat in the bar office for a while, trying to catch my breath, as my supervisor explained that she thought I was having a panic attack.
Up until that point, I thought panic attacks were a bit of a joke. Apart from my friend at school, I didn’t know anybody who had suffered with a mental health issue. I thought it was highly unlikely that I was going to suffer from something too. After all, didn’t I have everything together?
My boyfriend picked me up and I remember the car journey home so vividly, because the sound of the traffic had me wanting to open the door and jump out. I was more scared than I had ever been in my life. I needed the air to get in the car, but the noise was overwhelming. Even when we got home, my boyfriend sat in bed with me and watched the telly. But he had to turn it right down, because I couldn’t stand the sound of it. It felt like it was taking over my whole body. I spent the rest of the evening with my face hidden in his lap, trying to drown out the sounds around me, until I eventually fell asleep.
The panic attacks came back in a much milder form for a couple of months. After refusing to take beta-blockers that the doctor had given me, I started to learn about the physiological side of panic attacks - the rush of adrenaline and what it does to the body.
And then, for the rest of my 20s, I can only remember a handful of times when I felt really panicked. There was definitely an element of anxiety or being ‘highly strung’ in my everyday life, but that felt quite ‘normal’.
It was when I had my eldest daughter that the panic attacks creeped back in. But in a very different way.
I had practiced hypnobirthing, and had used the tools to really positive effect for my birth. I was really proud of everything I had achieved, having the homebirth that I wanted. But, as soon as we had Eliana by ourselves, the sheer exhaustion seemed to trigger high anxiety within me.
I refused to sleep, for days on end.
When I tried to sleep, I’d worry she was going to die or that someone else was going to hurt her.
I thought I would make her ill if I did her bottles incorrectly, so I spent hours a day washing them and measuring and remeasuring the formula.
I was scared to go outside, to walk down the stairs.
I had horrific thoughts about harming her, scaring myself livid that I would even think such a thing.
There was one morning when I was completely hysterical, convinced that if my husband went to work, we wouldn’t be here when he got back.
Another evening, I collapsed on the kitchen floor. I didn’t faint, my legs just went from beneath me. It was as if I was watching myself curled up in a ball on the floor, unable to move.
I was desperate for someone to help me, but I didn’t know what they could do to help. And I didn’t want them to think I was a bad mum.
Every time someone gave me advice, I clung on to it, turning it over in my mind until I was entangled in fear and panic. ‘How could I not have known that?’. ‘They must think I’m so awful’.
The realisation came gradually, as I started to understand that ‘having everything together’ meant absolutely nothing. It was just a thought, like all the other thoughts I had. It couldn’t stop the feelings flowing. It couldn’t hide the emotions that I didn’t want anyone to see.
Over time, I opened up. Not just to others, but to myself. I found reiki, meditation and, I guess, a spiritual side of myself that I always knew was there, but seemed a bit too woo woo. And, helping others to open up, enabled me to build a lovely community of women and mums who are purely there to support each other to access greater self-care.
With the birth of my second baby, just 20 months after my first, I completely let go of what I thought I SHOULD be doing and just did what I WANTED to do. All my life, I had been trying to please others, strive to be the best at everything and create a competition with everyone else. It was all completely in my head. And none of it was helpful to me.
So now, when I have the thoughts that descend into crappy feelings, I let them flow out. Rather than clinging on to them and churning them over. I just let go. Surrender. And know that they aren't anything to be scared of. They're just human.
Knowing this has changed the way I work and my gigantic aim - to spread the message about our joy defaults - our innate contentment. Women, mums, mums-to-be, the kids I work with, and my family and friends. I like to call it ‘uncovering your joy default’; removing the layers of fear to find the love and joy deep within.
If you'd like to read more conversations with Mental Muthas, click HERE.
Women talking unashamedly about their mental health and parenting innit.