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Lover: Panic attacks and the downside for me of Christmas parties

*big "can't believe I am actually posting this on the internet" breath*

I wanted to write a slightly different post today, partly because it might help me, but also because maybe it helps someone somewhere. I often google about this when I am in a panic, and I just want to read a message board or a blog or something that won't make me feel like the only person in the world who feels like this. But I never find one, people's problems are always much more serious. They worry about their boyfriend at a Christmas party because they have cheated on them 8 times, because they are an alcoholic, because they have a newborn baby and their husbands still don't come home until the next day. Maybe if there is someone else out there with this exact problem it will help them feel less alone, but to be honest sometimes I think sharing your specific panics and worries, helps anyone with any specific panic or worry. Since dipping my toe in bloggersphere a little bit for these past couple of months, blogs by wonderful, normal, funny, interesting fashionable women about their mental health quirks have really comforted me with mine. Blogs by everyone from unknown ones like Following the Orenda to bigger bloggers like Hannah Gale and Zoella, have just made me feel a tiny bit better about my anxiety that I guess I've been struggling with all my life, but has definitely worsened in my 20s. Reading Sprinkle of Glitter's "I hate new places" gave me the nudge I needed to write this. Hopefully it is cathartic. I don't hate new places, I love them, but I totally empathise with having a problem which seems so small and seems like something no one else has, and seems like it should be totally easy peasy to get over but just isn't. Having said that, a bit of me reads something like Sprinkle of Glitter's "I hate new places" and just thinks, "I don't understand, you won't die, stop thinking like that" but I know from experience that however unfounded your worry is, it can still be hard to stop having it.

If you've read to the bottom of my about page (well done for getting to the bottom of that mahusive essay btw) you'll know that all my life I've been a bit of a worrier. But when I was 23, my worrying spun out of control, I was constantly nervous, and always on the verge - if not having - a panic attack. It was mainly spurred on by people not being able to get in touch with people. I had to basically have regular updates from all my loved ones telling me they were alive, for me to be sure that they were. If they didn't reply to me for half an hour, I basically wrote them off as killed in some horrific accident. Even if it was 2pm on a Monday, and I'd heard from my boyfriend at 11am and knew he was just at work, if he didn't reply to my next message I'd assume he'd had a brain haemorrage at his desk, and have to go and cry for 10 mins in the work loos until I half pulled myself together, but even then I'd sit at my desk, my eyes welling up and not being able to do any constructive work until my boyfriend got out of the meeting he was in (as obvs he was in a meeting, not dead) and replied to me.

Something minutely scary happened one day, at the height of my anxiety, when I hadn't yet really started any therapy (I've never had anything long term, but I have had some sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - CBT - and hypnotherapy, which have helped a bit) and didn't have any methods to control my panic attacks and anxiety. 

My boyfriend and I both had our office Christmas parties on the same night. I'd told my boyfriend he could stay at my flat, just a 15 minute walk from his work party rather than trekking back across London by taking a zillion night buses.  My work party started at 5:30 on the dot in the work canteen, and there was a limited amount of cheap bottles of wine dotted around. Thus by 11pm I was blottoed and tucked up in bed with my Happy Meal. When we spoke then, my boyfriend was only just leaving work. A stock market had had some technical problem or something that was really really bad, so my boyfriend had to stay and fix it. I told him not to worry, I would go to sleep, but he could just call me when he got to mine. He told me he reckoned he'd only go for an hour or so. He'd be back in my bed between 12 and 1. At some point half way through my McChicken nuggets I predictably nodded off, and I woke up and my alarm was lit up: 2:58. Dread hit my stomach. What if my phone was on silent, and I just hadn't woken up? I scrambled around amongst the chips, and found my phone but nothing. No missed calls. No text messages. I called him. He didn't pick up. I called again. Nothing. And again. Nothing. And again and again and again and again, bawling down the phone to just his phone ringing and ringing. I rang my sister, living with my parents at the time. She woke up my parents. I cried down the phone and they tried to calm me down. Maybe he had just gone back to his own house and had fallen asleep in his own bed? Maybe he was still there, having a good time? I tried to calm myself, help them calm me down, tried to stop the heart thumping so much against my chest, my palms and feet going sweaty, me feeling sick, my mouth getting dry. Me being overwhelmed by the horrible deep down bad feeling I had all over. I wasn't worried he'd cheated on me, I think I could cope with that (I'd be mad and we'd probably break up, but I am not worried about it). I was worried he wasn't safe, that he would be gone forever, get killed or go missing. 

I kept hanging up on my parents every 20 minutes to check whether he'd called me back. He hadn't. And then after the third hang up, a bit after 4am, I saw a little voicemail. "Babe...I love you, I am so tired, I wish I was in your bed..." he slurred "I got on one of those things sort of like a car and sort of like a train [a bus, as sober people would call it] and I don't know where I am". I called him, he was standing on the edge of a dual carriageway trying to get a taxi, but he was too far out for Addison Lee, and this was before the age of uber. He had decided to get the bus 3 stops, but fallen asleep and stayed on until the end of the line, ending up in Essex. Bloody Essex. In the end, he managed to get a taxi back, so it all turned out a-ok, and to be honest falling asleep on a night bus is pretty much a right of passage for a twenty something living in London. I often tell this little story to people at a party trick, as if its a joke to me, but actually it isn't, it has maybe slightly traumatised me, and I manipulate situations to ensure it doesn't happen again. Many of my friends have had similar, woken up and their boyfriend still isn't back and answering their phones situations, and they've had a panic at the time but long term they've just gotten over it. Forgotten about it. But my brain just won't. When I moved in with him, the night of the Christmas party was the thing I was most worried about. I still can't go to sleep when he goes for work drinks and I've had to create a survival plan, which basically involves me crying down the phone to my parents and going for runs in the middle of the night. The other night I even had a nightmare. A nightmare over a Christmas party, gees louise brain. I woke up at 4am and I thought it was 4:11 and he wasn't home and it was Thursday night, but it was Sunday night and I just turned over and there he was snoozing beside me. I genuinely half considered food poisoning myself, so he'd have to look after me. How silly is that? I'd prefer to be throwing my guts up with him, than for him to go to a party without me.

Despite this, I know if I woke up at 9am on Friday morning and he wasn't there, it is very unlikely that is because he is dead or even hurt. I also know he probably would be there. But I can't stop. For me the difference between someone who just has every day worries and someone who suffers from panic attacks, is the worrying about worrying. Sure the foundation of my worry is that I am scared about losing a loved one, but who isn't a little scared about that? And I know the chance of my boyfriend being murdered on the way home from his Christmas party is 0.000000000000001% or something. But I know the chance of my boyfriend coming home later than expected or being unreachable is more like 50%, when he is out and drunk. And that if this happens I will have a panic attack. And by worrying about having a panic attack, I basically start having a panic attack. Silly silly brain.

There are a zillion things I hate about my anxiety, and if you are reading this and you have panic attacks or anxiety, I am sure there are zillions of things you hate about yours too. I hate that being like this basically makes me a hypocrite, as I have no problem with myself going out and my boyfriend staying in, but I manipulate every situation to make sure that where he goes to get drunk, I go too. I hate that it is definitely the biggest burden on our relationship, and I am a burden on my family and loved ones as well as Will, that everyone waits for me to go back to normal but I just won't, however much money and time I sink into it. I hate that I am changing Will from what I loved about him - that he was neither clingy, or distant, but cared about me and also liked to go out and be one of the boys. I hate also that sometimes it changes me, stops me from being as independent or as fun or say yes to things, as I'm worried about worrying. I am probably not going to enjoy my Christmas parties on Thursday night, but will approach them like they are my last moments on death row, watching the clock waiting for the panic attack to happen, waiting for Will to not text me back, not come home.

But there are things that I can see that are positive in my anxiety. Not in a way that I want to keep it, but I really do feel that I'll be a better more rounded person in the long run. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger ey? Trying to control my anxiety has helped me form good mental habits - like being mindful and being grateful. Sometimes when I am sitting on the tube, looking around at quite a few miserable, tired or bored faces I realise how happy I am - because I am aware that I'm not worried, it also makes me think of how many blessings I have, how comfy and warm I am, how healthy I'm feeling, that I am lucky to have my book on me, that I am lucky I can read books, that I am lucky I like reading books. And as many things I haven't done because I am anxious, there are things that I have done to help my anxiety too - new experiences - like writing this blog, that I'd probably never done if it wasn't something I thought would help me with my mental health in the long term. And finally it really shows you how amazing your boyfriend, family and friends are. Will has put up with this crap for 2 years now. He has offered to put a tracker on himself, he has got into a habit of texting me when he is coming home and telling me times he'll be back like he is my teenage son, and getting in touch when he is going to be even 10 minutes late. My Mum, Dad and sister have literally stayed up with me until 2am more times than I can count on one hand, sitting on the other side of facetime, making me feel less alone. Several of my friends have already asked if I have any plans for the night of Will's Christmas party, and whether I need them round for company, when they know full well their night might just be holding my hand whilst I cry and hyperventilate.

I am not a counsellor or a doctor, but if you are experiencing an anxiety, panic attacks, worry or even if you just feel a bit down sometimes or often, here are some things that have really helped me, which I would recommend.

1. Exercise - for me the best exercise is running, it clears my head like nothing else. On Thursday night I'll probably end up on a post party 10pm run (on busy streets, safety first. No point in replacing one irrational worry with another real one). It is no surprise that one of the first thing doctors tell people with anxiety and depression is to exercise - the endorphins help, its a distraction, and it is also impossible to cry and hyperventilate when you are panting anyway.

2. Get more sleep - being tired makes you feel crap, and it makes you more likely to have a panic attack and panic about having a panic attack.

3. Drink alcohol more sensibly - because with a hangover, it is the same situation as being tired but a zillion times worse. And secondly, sure if I get off my noggin on Thursday I might fall asleep and it might be fine, but drinking myself into a stupor to get rid of my inside pain is super super unhealthy for my liver as well as my mind.

4. Do less in more time - get up earlier in the mornings, give yourself more time to get from a to b, don't have plans every day of the week, or every night of the weekend. All that rushing I think is like a drip drip drip effect making you always a bit heightened and stressed which makes panic attacks more likely. My boyfriend creased his nose up when he saw I was sharing so much of my personal life on the internet, but then said "well anxiety is everywhere now though isn't it, its the thing of the moment". A bit dismissive maybe, but he sort of has a point. But it is not because anxiety is cool or something, but because we all spend so much time hooked to our smart phones not having a moment of downtime. Waiting for a train? - no reason to not reply to a few work emails. Meeting somewhere you've never been before for dinner? - no point giving yourself contingency time in case you get lost now we have smartphones, just google map it and run-walk the whole way. 32 minutes walk my arse. I can do it in 25. Gone are the days of sitting in a restaurant strumming your thumbs at the bar, waiting for your table to be ready, now is the time you run in panting and sweaty, apologising to the waiter and hoping they've kept your table. All of it, from the expecting someone to come back to you straight away, to squeezing a zillion things into your spare 10 minutes because you can, it all drip drip drips. I think that is the reason anxiety is on the rise today.

5. Have a project - join your local choir, train for a competition, learn a new musical instrument, start a blog. Something that fills your mind with daydreams rather than worries when your mind decides to wander, a hobby that makes you feel like you've achieved something, that gives you a purpose.

6. Get professional help - from CBT to hypnotherapy to going on a meditation or breathing course, I'm not yet to find a therapy that can 100% fix me, but it has always made me so so much better, when I've dipped in and out of it, and I've tried to keep up the good habits its taught me.

7. Just accept it. The biggest turn around I've had with my anxiety is just accepting, yep I probably will have a panic attack, but it is not a disaster. A few months ago, my boyfriend went on a lads weekend to Leeds, the same weekend I had a low key hen do in Whitstable. I was so worried about not hearing from my boyfriend all weekend - him being killed in a motorway car crash (my second big fear, after him getting drunk and not coming home after a night out is of motorway driving) that I almost didn't go, almost told my friends I was sick, because I was sick in a way, right? I wanted to go home to my parents where I felt most safe and just watch some Teen Mom or Mindy Project to distract me. But then I figured, hey, so I might have a few panic attacks, but they won't last forever, and I won't die. Will won't die because I panic he has. And I did have one, but just one, on the Sunday, and it lasted for 20 minutes, and then I didn't feel fabulous, but I felt ok. I could see the fun in what I was doing. And up until then, I had a great time, and I look back on that weekend with fond memories and am so glad I went. Maybe being "a panicker" is like being an alcoholic, in the sense that however long you are sober, it doesn't stop you from being an alcoholic. However many weeks or months I go without anxiety, doesn't mean I'll never have a panic attack again - maybe it is just the way my brain deals with stress and sadness. I've put so much pressure on myself to "cure" myself of my anxiety, and probably I'll never be cured, but I'll work around it and minimise it, and it will open some new doors for me, and I'll try and make sure it doesn't close any, and that is ok.

Anyhoo, that is all for now - later this week I'll be back to waffling on about Bey and macaroni cheese.

Normally I point someone in the direction of one of my other posts at this point, but instead I am going to point you towards some great blogs and posts on anxiety.

The Anxiety Guru 
Hannah Gale - she is just great in general, but this recent post about anxiety is really comforting
Zoella's vlog about her panic attacks and anxiety, basically got me to Whitstable that weekend:

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