Thursday, 2 April 2015

Keep calm and... Nope Panic.

How can one person fall to pieces so fast? I had it together, I'd been sleeping properly for the first time in months, I was going to (most) of my lectures, I was more or less up to date on my seminar work, and for the first time all year I began to feel like I was coming out of the other side. I had started going back to church, I was consistently exercising again, and even though I was really anxious about the final assessments I'd have to hand in, things really seemed to be going great. I was even excited to be going out for my friend's birthday: He'd come to Norwich especially and I was looking forward to it being just like 2nd year all over again: no worries, just a night out with good friends and a large quantity of alcohol. I opted for an outfit I'd not felt brave enough or thin enough to wear in a long time... in fact since the end of the summer I think it was. A long sleeved cropped tee with my skater skirt and tights (always the tights). I knew I was pretty much on display, but for the first time in a long time, I felt like I should be, that I could be, without feeling like I'd need to find the nearest muddy pen to roll in or ocean to go back to. People told me I looked slimmer, that my make up looked perfect and that I had this "glow," this kind of intangible change.
"What is it? So, Helen, are you going to tell me what is different?" "What's your secret to being slimmer? I need to know because I want to be too..." The questions and compliments kept on coming and I didn't know what to say or how to respond. I think it can be a bit of a mood killer to say openly and plainly "For the first time in a long while I don't want to walk into moving traffic." Plus, truthfully I didn't know what was different. Maybe it was the fact I am less apologetic about myself and who I am. Maybe it was the fact that I was actually beginning to believe in the "me" that I have attempted to create for years. I like her: she is confident in herself, unapologetic for her personality and more than just a little bit flirtatious. That night was fun. I was content and comfortable with the people I love and felt a little more settled in my own skin. You'd think, then, that this would be the perfect set up to a first date scenario I had lined up for the next day... Confident, flirtatious and comfortable. It couldn't be anything but a recipe for success. Right? WRONG.

I woke up in the morning, tired but excited and ready. I couldn't wait to meet this person. We'd got a lot in common, had been texting pretty much all the time... and I was so happy. I had a good feeling about it. I agreed to lunch because I thought I'd be fine. I did a face mask (which did a surprisingly good job of hiding my 4 hours sleep), applied my make up and fixed my hair. I looked in the mirror, and far from what I normally feel (disdain mixed with resignation), I actually felt pretty. I felt ready. I felt really optimistic. I was nervous too, but honestly, mainly I was happy. I  was happy because I thought today would be the time when he liked me too... When I wouldn't disappoint.

After nearly missing the bus, I got into the city early. By this point I felt a little anxious and a little queasy. So I thought diving into a shop for some water would be a sensible plan and then I could use the opportunity to calm myself and be the composed person I was before I left the house. Alas, this was not the way the afternoon would pan out... Fast forward half an hour and I was a shaking, sweating, crying mess on the floor trying not to lose feeling in her arms, and struggling to even eat a single mouthful of bread without wanting to throw it straight back up, being talked down from my panic by a total stranger in a back corridor of Pret, whilst waiting for my housemate to come and rescue me. This was not something I thought I'd want to share with the world (the Twitter-sphere, and Facebook) but it made me realise just how much pressure I was putting on myself to live up to an image I wasn't all together sure I could maintain, or even try to be. And it definitely wasn't a subject I wanted to explain on a first date: Yeah you have never met me, you expect me to be this pretty, witty, confident girl and SURPRISE... I have anxiety and had a panic attack. I mean it's true I couldn't keep this hidden forever, but on the first date. REALLY? It's so annoying, and do you know what scares me most about this? The fact that I am worried he'll judge me in exactly the way I saw myself in that moment: pathetic. A liar. That all the confidence was a lie. It doesn't matter how many people tell you that a panic attack isn't weak, or that it happens to the best of us, I still find myself sat here wishing the afternoon had gone differently, and hating my body for betraying my anxiety in such a public and humiliating way.

One thing I realised though is that FEAR IS NOT THE WINNER. I left the house. I am still standing after one of the most terrifying experiences to date. I also realised that I would never leave the house if I expected people to judge me in the same way I do... I need to learn to be a little kinder to myself and little more gentle with my feelings. But most importantly: One bad day doesn't invalidate your progress. I felt like I had fallen to pieces again. And yes, in that instant, I definitely had, but it doesn't mean I have gone backwards, or that my progress is invalid. It simply means the road is long and there will always be bad days. It is being alive at the end of those days that is actually the most visible display of strength. It is being able to raise a tiny smile, or even being able to breathe when life is at its toughest that means the most, and speaks the highest of our characters. So next time it happens, I don't plan to berate myself for weakness, but to be gentle and kind to myself, and love the strength that's got me this far.