The Anatomy of An Anxiety Attack

Hello,

Long time, no see.

So, yesterday we were supposed to go and see Frank Turner at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.  We got to Cardiff fine and then it all spiralled downhill.

We got to the barrier at the entrance of the car park and my driver side window would not lower.  I got panicky and tried to open my door to get the ticket, all the while traffic was queuing behind me.  Having nearly throttled myself with my seatbelt, my wife got out of the car and walked to the ticket machine.  Barrier went up, she got back in the car and we wound our way up until we got to a level with parking spaces available.

It was an innocuous event which lasted no more than a minute, if that. No harm, no foul.

However, this triggered my first anxiety attack for a while.  I thought now was the perfect time to describe my perspective of an anxiety attack whilst it was fresh in my memory.

So, having parked (after the usual back and forth so that the car was near perfectly aligned in the space), we walked to the lift area which had about three other couples waiting for the lift.  The first lift arrived and it was rammed full of people, as was the second one.  At this point we decided to go down the stairs.

As we entered the stairwell I noticed there was a lot of people making their way both up and down the stairs.  This, in turn, resulted in every pore of my body expelling sweat as if they were bailing out a boat.  I felt highly uncomfortable as my t-shirt started absorbing this moisture.  My mind started thinking about the scenarios if the window doesn’t work after the concert when lots of cars would be exiting and people just wanted to get home.  This thought ricocheted around my head, stopping all other thought.

We exited the stairwell and walked into what can only be described as a scrum of people.  The shopping centre was properly bustling with people.  It was Saturday night, of course it was going to be.  At this point my vision become overwhelmed with the sight of people, like someone had opened my pupils to their maximum diameter.  Colours glaringly brighter, my field of vision reduced to near tunnel vision.  The noise just cacophonous in my ears. This, in turn, caused my heart to start racing.

We got to Pizza Express and it was pretty full.  Sensing my discomfort, Trev (my wife, a long story which I will tell at some point) asked if I wanted to go somewhere else.  I agreed, trying to keep any external clues of the terror surging through my body hidden.  My breath was very shallow, as it always goes when my body basically goes into fight or flight.  This lack of oxygen then causing me to panic more.

We wandered aimlessly and stopped sporadically at restaurants to have a look at menus.  My brain was incapable of making any decisions at this point, so we just walked and walked and walked. We exited the shopping centre and re-entered.  Finally, we found a half empty food shop and went in.

After choosing my food, I went to sit down.  My right leg started bouncing and continued to do so no matter what I tried.  Now, I can normally get my anxiety back under control using tricks like listing 5 things I can see, 4 things I can smell, etc.  Or my usual go to remedy is putting headphones in and doing some of the SOS modules on the Headspace app.  Can you guess what I had forgot to bring with me?

We ate food (not that I tasted any of it) and just sat there.  We also had our friend’s tickets with us and the time to meet them was getting closer.  Finally, being unsuccessful with any coping methods I said, “I want to go home.”  Without a beat, Trev said, “OK.”  She went to meet our friends to explain and to give them their tickets and ours (in case they knew of anyone who would want them).

At that moment I felt like utter crap.  Frank Turner is one of my wife’s favourite live acts and my mental health once again foiled an evening we should have been enjoying.  Trev returned and we made our way back to the car.

By the time we got to the car, it was over.  Rational thought returned, physical symptoms stopped.  By this time, though, I just wanted to go home.  We started the 60 mile journey home.  As we always do after something like this happens, we discussed how we could have better dealt with it.

Firstly, any event on a Saturday night in Cardiff from now on, we will book a hotel.  This stops the stress of travelling, parking and any issues getting away at the end of the event.  Secondly, T will carry a pair of headphones in her bag so even if I forget mine, there will be a pair available.  Alongside this the rest of the items I have in my crisis kit; a fidget cube, water, change of t-shirt and downloaded SOS modules (in case we are somewhere without a 4g signal).

To me, an anxiety attack is like the anticipation when you’re on a rollercoaster (hence the image for this blog post) and it starts to move.  It is that feeling but it feels like it never will stop.  But it always does, it’s just that I don’t believe it does when I am in the middle of one.

Anywho, hope you are all well.  I promise to write more this year.

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