I lean on the tiles of my shower standing across from my husband, he’s chatting away to me the way he always does, its the best chatting place we have here at home because it’s the only time we don’t get interrupted by children, dogs or escapee chickens. This time I can’t focus on what he’s saying because a panic attack is setting in. My experience with real panic attacks isn’t big, it’s very recent and I can tell already that this one, this one is really brewing inside me. My throat is closing in, my breathing begins to whirl erratically from my mouth, I feel faint and sick all at once.
I wait a moment before stopping Shaun mid sentence; “I need to get out…now“. I stumble from the shower, Shaun follows me naked and dripping and sits me on the edge of the bed. I sit, my head in my hands when my legs begin to uncontrollably shake, I can’t breathe, my world is closing in and feel like I am dying.
‘If he leaves my side I’ll die’ I think to myself..
But I sit silently, still shaking, my head in my hands and tears brimming in my eyes, I can’t blink them away because I can’t move, I am completely paralysed with fear and terror. A cold naked Shaun walks back to the bathroom to get a towel and I go to ask him not to leave me, but nothing comes out. I can’t even look up to signal to him I need him by my side.
In my head, I know whats happening, “you’re having a panic attack, you’re not dying, you’re okay, you’re okay, you are okay” I say over and over, really unsure if I believe that I really will be okay.
My loss of control over my own body scares me in a way that I don’t recognise...this is new.
When he returns he covers me in a blanket and rubs my back, he is completely helpless.
I am hopeless and he is helpless; what a team.
I want to ask him if he can push on me, to hold me down, to stop the shaking, to stop the fear but I can’t. My heart races as fast as my head and I am defeated. But suddenly… as fast as it came on, it stops.
Something that took mere seconds to come on and only lasted 5 or so minutes, felt like a very long, painful and stagnant hour.
Eventually the panic slows and my body calms, I feel the tension leave my body, like a wave. I feel the pressure leave my chest. I feel my mind slow; yet I am left exhausted.
I lie down and I am done, my entire day is a write-off. I feel like a failure. I have muffins to bake, lunches to pack, uniforms to wash and all of those other mundane duties to attend to. But I don’t because I can’t. Not now.
I lie down and Shaun lies with me and I cuddle into him. Rest. It’s time to rest.
Later that day, once my tears had stopped, once my heart stopped hurting Shaun told me “It’s reassuring for me to see you have a moment when you’re not on top of everyone in this house’s shit, it’s nice to see you being human”.
I found his comment oddly comforting. Human, something about that strikes a chord inside me. I’m usually the on-top-of-everything kind of person, my house is clean, my life is ordered and neat, school lunches and recess are usually baked good’s I make myself because I hate the idea of them eating 100 billion preservatives, toilet floors are piss free and I am present. But when the darkness comes; I’m no longer her. When the darkness comes, the house is left to ferment until Shaun realises its fermenting, I cry before Uni while Shaun tells me I must go, I feed the kids those store-bought processed recesses I hate to feed them and then guilt myself over it.
When the darkness comes I am a shell of who I usually am.
And usually I want to numb it all out with drugs and consider how easy life would be if I were just a heroin addict. I want to drink myself stupid because I want to forget the darkness, even just for a moment.
But the hardest part of it all is that I can’t do those things because;
1) Shaun won’t let me find a heroin dealer…
2) I don’t do well with hangovers (lots of vomiting, I sure ain’t what I used to be) and I know in my heart of hearts I don’t want to do that stuff to myself or my family.
I also know that the feeling of needing to escape doesn’t last forever.
But the saddest part is that when the dark comes I disassociate from my life and leave my kids in the dark…with this dismissive mother who hasn’t time for her own hurt let alone theirs…Thats the part that breaks my heart the most.
And Usually, I’d beat myself up over this. Usually, I’d fight the dark. But not this time, this time I didn’t. I took my Psychotherapists advice and I stepped into it; and something that usually could take me months to recover from, lasted a mere two weeks.
When I went back to my therapist last week and told him how I’d been feeling he said;
‘I think your panic and depression are incredibly normal and realistic responses to a very upsetting situation, your response to your trauma is completely normal but not only that, it’s healthy.’
The thing about mental illness is; that no one prepares you for it, so when it comes, it takes you completely by surprise. No one teaches you about depression and anxiety when you’re growing up. No one tells you that you will experience some form of depression at any point in your life and that sometimes it comes with no warning and for no reason.
What most people don’t know or realise is that, panic attacks, anxiety and depression are actually very realistic and human responses to hard times. It’s a natural response to life.
We are not invincible. But our society has us believing that if you’re depressed, that something is wrong with you.
I’ve never looked at it as something normal or healthy before. I have spent most of my life fighting the bad. Not embracing it.
But just because it doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t mean its not healthy or natural, or normal.
And this time because I did what my therapist has been telling me to do, and the dark didn’t scare me so much. I sat with it, I stepped into it, I embraced it.
I accepted it and it got better.
Life is hard, on everyone. We are never exempt from mental illness, there is nothing in this world that can prevent you from being plagued by this.
It is what it is.
Life is stressful. Life is demanding and the expectations we place on ourselves and others are unrealistic.
Your stress might be hating your job, family life, kids, money, cars, pets, relationships and if all of that is not working the way you felt it might, and you respond to that with sadness, anxiety, or panic, I’d say thats a pretty expected response wouldn’t you?
Next time you’re feeling like a turd in the toilet; step into how it feels, sit with yourself and really embrace the hurt, the dark, the panic. Don’t fight the inevitable. The more you fear and fight mental illness the harder it is to work with. If you are familiar with your own special issues. Take them on board and learn about what happens during those dark times, know the process, know how you usually respond and map it out, or roll with it, what ever you need to do to get through.
Take notes if you need to so that next time, you know whats going on.
And most importantly, talk about it.
I won’t lie, this probably won’t change how it feels right away, it might not help at all, but hey; it might help you feel a little less crazy, a little less inhuman, a little less like a turd…
I will never be cured, I will never be fully healed but always remember that sometimes we all feel like turds because we are human after all. Even me.