Day 22 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. When anxiety takes hold full force, it can be a terrifying and crippling experience. Today, Jack boldly shares his experience with a period of acute anxiety.
Acute Anxiety Attack
I had got to the place where I accepted that mental health issues affect people, but I wasn’t ready to believe that I would be one of them. Third child in as many years and we were not sleeping well. I was run down and had a virus. It was February 2015 and I was not prepared for what happened next.
As I drove home after a “pushing-through-the-pain” kind of day at work, I realised that I was dozing off at the wheel. After repeatedly slapping my cheeks in the hope that my eyes would get the message I made it home. My arrival at home was usually trumpeted with squeals and competing shouts chronicling the day’s successes. Today, I could not muster the requisite energy to respond. An early night beckoned.
Dinner, done. Bath and bed, still to go. Whilst pathetically drying off one child I told my wife that I was not feeling well, at all. She kindly suggested that I feed the baby her bottle while she put the older two to bed.
My consciousness was fading in and out and I was running a fever of more than 40°C and for the first time in my life I wondered if this was what dying felt like. I’m no hypochondriac, but this felt different to just feeling ill. During the usual chaos of bedtime I tried to tell my wife something and realised I couldn’t string a sentence together. I think I managed two words. I took my daughter to bed, prayed with her and then collapsed on the floor outside her room.
I came to, and managed to get downstairs. I began to consider what was happening to me. I reconciled that if I was dying, I had made peace with God and knew that I would be OK post-death. I felt bad for my beloved family though; what would happen to them? Should I communicate that I want the kids to have a father if I die? Then I felt that this was some pyscho-spiritual thing so I prayed and tried to focus on scripture. A plethora of theories bombarded my fragile mind.
I then became overcome by stress. I had been stressed before but never like this. I later articulated that it was like my to-do list had grown teeth and was chasing me. Not only that but I was due to teach that evening and my student would already be on their way! In addition to all this I was aware that I was freaking my poor wife out but I couldn’t snap out of it. I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t reassure her.
She called my mum who came straight over by which time I was walking an empty buggy up and down the kitchen which was bizarrely therapeutic! Mum took me to the local hospital after speaking to the NHS direct people and the doctor said she thought it was an acute anxiety attack. I didn’t like this conclusion. If I’m honest, I would have preferred something more physical, a brain tumour, a virally-induced stupor. Anything but anxiety, that’s for other people. Weak-minded people.
During the consultation two things happened, my speech came back, in spades. It was like my whole vocabulary was easily within reach. Secondly, I become overly-observant, hearing things in other rooms, noticing things at wrong angles. It was as if I became a horrendous hybrid of Jason Bourne and Stephen Fry. What a thought!
The doctor gave me something to help me sleep which I eventually managed on the sofa back at home. I then stayed with my parents for a few days. I had a few relapses of staring into middle distance and struggling to get my words out. I had one more episode of euphoria which I concluded by saying to myself “Oh great, I’ve got ruddy bi-polar disorder!”. I felt really low because my identity as father and husband was taken away from me, and my identity as son felt like wearing really tight pants filled with deep heat; that is to say, uncomfortable! Great friends came to visit, one even flew over from America! Friends and family helped out at home and after five days I was back with my family recovering, eyes blinking and getting used to the light after emerging from the weird ghost train I had just been on.
So, in conclusion: what the hell?
I mean, if I knew precisely what led up to this ‘crash’ I could mitigate against it ever happening again. There was a great deal of loss of control which Katie’s post communicated very eloquently. I don’t know if this will ever happen again, or what I will do if it does. One thing is for sure, if it happens to you and I know you, I will be first in line to help and last in line to judge.
No fairytale ending for me, but here are a few helpful things I’ve picked up along the way are:
1) I need to keep physical; doing exercise
2) I need to keep creative
3) I need to have a challenge
4) I need to focus more on fewer things rather than be bamboozled by many
5) A Loving community is vital, and in our individualist culture I’m blessed to have one
6) And humble pie is very nice with compassion custard!