Panic Attacks & LA Freeways.
See the way I look at my anxiety is quite simple, really.
I went on holiday once to LA. My boyfriend at the time was driving us to a Lakers game and we got stuck on a freeway.
Now, if you’ve been to LA then you’ll know what they’re like.
I was in one of my particularly crap periods. It was like a really shit version of Wheel of Fortune when it came to knowing how I was going to wake up.
Or just-leave-me-whilst-I-behave-like-a-walking-advert-for-the-Samaritans Jo.
Anyway, the day of the Lakers game I felt particularly fragile. Scared for no reason. Concerned with no cause. Worried that my boyfriend would leave me in the States alone ‘cos I was a manic mess and who could of blamed him. Worried that the plane home would blow up. Worried that the thousands of dollars we had to spend wouldn’t last us the two short weeks we were away for.
And at that exact time, there I was sat, on a gridlocked freeway.
Five lanes of traffic. No regard for each other’s space or safety.
Complete and utter bedlam.
On one of these roads the cars weave in and out fighting to reach the front of the queue. They bump, they hoot their horns, there come to a standstill or they crash.
That’s my brain, basically.
On any given day.
Each and every one of them cars is a worry.
There’s a car for my relationship, a car for the fact my Mum’s got cancer and a car for the unfounded concern I have that I might lose my job.
There’s a car for me scrutinizing the photo of me that’s just been uploaded to Facebook. A car for the fact that I just made a joke at work and I’m convinced everyone thinks I’m a twat. There’s a fear of being lonely car. A fear of ending up alone car. A feeling of being sorry for doing nothing wrong car.
A car for the chicken in the fridge that I’m sure might be so off I’ll die if I eat it. A car for the impending feeling of dread I have for no reason at all. A car for worrying that someone will notice that my nail varnish is chipped.
A car for worrying that I’m taking too much. A car for worrying that I’ve had too much coffee today and the car that worries that maybe I’m not talking enough. The – you are pug ugly and useless car.
A car for worrying that that I’m worrying.
The difference between someone who has anxiety and someone that doesn’t isn’t the cars themselves. Because we all have cars. Be them big worry cars, or ‘did I turn my hair straighteners off?’ cars.
But if you don’t have anxiety, those cars drive straight through. They’re fewer and further between so there’s space for them. They’re fleeting drive-bys. And the road in your head is like a country A-road. Maybe a lush little sunset somewhere in the distance. A meandering tractor somewhere. You catch my drift.
If you’ve got anxiety, your head is a five-line freeway. And there’s so many of them cars that they can’t just drive straight through. And if they’re a dirty great big pick-up-truck-cancer worry or a piddling-shitty-Skoda-nail-varnish worry, they’re still there and are all fighting to get to the front.
They push and they shove and when they can’t go anywhere else they do one of two things.
Gridlock. Stand still.
When they stop still, I stop still. I sleep. For hours on end. Days on end. I sit and stare at a film I’ve seen 45 times before because I can’t take anything else in. I ignore my phone. I avoid everything and everyone. The traffic is exhausting and sometimes, I just gotta stop. Wait for rush hour to die down before I carry on.
And when they crash, so do I. For me, those crashes are panic attacks. I’ve had times when I’ve gone 15 months without one, thought I had my traffic police game up there on lock.
And then bam, you take your eye off the road for a split second and before you know you’re in A&E because you’ve hyperventilated and you just think ‘fuck’, how the hell did that happen again.
I’ve heard some stories of people’s worry crashes manifesting themselves in a really horrific bout of flu, a deep feeling of needing to run away or a quick period of manic shaking.
But the crashes normally come with a physical reminder to us that we’re not playing traffic cop well enough. It’s time to get them temporary lights out and start channeling the cars down to a couple of more manageable lanes.
Avoid another accident.
So yeah. That’s how I look at it.