My big anxiety lapse came back after almost 10 years’ respite.
For me, it was like the Tories coming back into power after two general election defeats.>8 things you should never say to someone with an anxiety disorder
You settle into life without the drama and then it explodes again, like a volcano that lay dormant before spewing hail and brimstone onto an unsuspecting public. Where the hell did that come from?
Of course, during my decade of relative calm, there were ups and downs.
We can never protect ourselves completely from the anxiety demons, which is the same with life generally when you think about it.
In 1997, D:ream told us that ‘things can only get better’. And they did for a while. Better in some respects anyway.
But we still fought a war. The s*** still hit the fan. We just had a slightly different perspective on it – we were more forgiving.
(At this point I should say, if my political bent doesn’t sit quite comfortably with you, just turn it around – change can have the same impact whatever side of the fence you sit on.)
Anyway, back to anxiety.
Sure, I still had fits of panic if I felt a lump or a bump. I still googled every symptom and found myself among the doom and gloom hypochondria forums where I felt very much at home.
Fear was my norm. But I’d kept it fairly under control for some time.
Then one night, after a couple of beers at the comedy club with my mates, I went to bed only to wake up at 3am. I had a dry mouth, so I drank water from the tap. But I couldn’t quench my thirst.
Then it hit me like it did all those years ago – a full-blown panic attack of catastrophic proportions. In panic attack terms, it was about a nine on the Richter scale.
I was shaking, my mouth was dry, all I could see was death.
I couldn’t take my mind off it by watching TV downstairs because nobody would know if I spontaneously died from dry mouth disease.
I would be left alone, unconscious, while the shopping channel continued to demonstrate the benefits of a new remote control vacuum cleaner.
So I woke my husband up and, after almost two hours, I started on my welcome ‘come down’ journey. He gave me strength by telling me that the panic would pass, that it couldn’t kill me and by saying ‘here, watch these YouTube videos of cats pushing stuff off tables’.
But by 7am I was baffled.
Nothing had happened to make my brain go into overdrive. I hadn’t overdosed on caffeine, I hadn’t found a lump, my husband hadn’t been driving down the A1 when I’d heard rumours of a pile up.
No. I was unconscious when my brain decided, without prompt, to attack itself.
It left me feeling deflated, concerned. I didn’t go out that night as planned. I worried that it was all going to start up again. The major panic attacks from my youth were out to get me again.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
You see, you might feel as though you’ve let yourself down, that your illness is back at its peak for another 10 year stint after just as long in remission, but you don’t learn all those tips and tricks for nothing.
This time I was armed and dangerous. I knew how to kick anxiety’s butt.
Of course, this isn’t foolproof.
We know that when Harry Potter goes to war with Voldemort, it’s not going to be an easy ride. But the more we learn, the more we experience, the stronger we become.
I did experience a few months of major anxiety, but I wasn’t as lost and isolated as I was all those years ago when I first experienced it.
I knew what it was for a start, I could describe what was happening and I wasn’t afraid to tell my workmates.
‘Lucy – get yourself out in the fresh air for a walk,’ they would say. ‘Fancy a quick break and a cuppa?’ they would offer.
I no longer fuelled it further by trying to sit on it and keep it quiet. I was able to let it out a little bit more. And somehow, that weakened it.
And I knew that CBT worked. So I refreshed my skills – by having a little bit more. This time, I had sessions by phone so they didn’t eat into my day too much. And I always had a new perspective at the end of the half hour chat.
I could sit down with my CBT exercise sheets and work my way to rationalisation. I could talk myself out of the idea of having motor neurone disease because my thumb had been twitching.
It wasn’t instantaneous, but it wasn’t as overwhelming as it previously might have been. And besides, at least this time I was panicking over something that did exist.
In the 90s, I remember having a panic attack because I thought I had the stigmata. How can you rationalise that belief?
But perhaps the biggest trick is not to be too hard on yourself. It’s not like you’re having to go right back to the beginning. Seeing it for what it is and remembering you can deal with it is a huge help.
Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings, explains: ‘As anyone who has ever experienced a panic or anxiety attack will know, it can be very frightening indeed. Very often the first time is the worst – simply because you have never felt anything like it before and it feels intense and terrifying.