By Eva Duncanson
I wake up nice and early, have a decent breakfast, bag packed and get ready to go to my 10 am class. It’s my least favourite class of the week but today I have done the reading and am feeling prepared. I even had plans to go to the gym afterwards. But then I freeze. My phone informs me that my bus was 5 minutes early and now I’m too late to catch it. My stomach contracts and I feel nausea creep up towards my throat. Tears fill my eyes and my boyfriend watches on helplessly as my body weakens and I start to breathe rapidly, chest trembling.
My anxiety mostly relies on time. Being late to anything or missing the time I set myself to go somewhere gives me the feelings of anger and terror in equal measure. I arrived extremely early to absolutely everything and I never mind waiting. If I need to wake up at 8 am you can bet my alarm goes off at 7, just to be safe. Going for coffee for my friends I will be so early that staff will think I’ve been stood up.
Today I was faced with my worst fear. Do I stay and gain control over the situation? Or do I run down the street for the bus, tears streaming down my cheeks as I face the November wind and rain? Fight or flight was described to me by a doctor as the feeling humans would get when confronted by a bear. To run or to stay and fight. My own curiosity got the better of me so I googled the right thing to do in this situation- don’t fight the bear but definitely don’t run, your best option is to play dead, lie in the foetal position and hope for the best. This is also my response to being late. Maybe I’m not being chased by a bear running at 40 miles per hour or being clawed to death but with missing my bus this morning my whole world stopped for a second. I curled up on the floor and sobbed.
For a few minutes all I could do was breathe and I was doing a bad job of even that. Breaths are so intense they were like I was breaking above the surface of the water close to drowning, gasps which burst from my mouth and made my heart pound.
Sometimes I am told to just ‘stay calm’ or to ‘toughen up’ but this is always by people who haven’t experienced the regular assaults on my dignity that come from anxiety attacks. People see me sobbing in the street because I wanted to get to uni half an hour early but I’m only going to be there fifteen minutes ahead. I’ve been sat on a park bench, head between my knees, fumbling in my bag for diazepam, my face blotchy and eyes filled with tears. This is me at my strongest. When I have a panic attack I feel as if my world has collapsed around me and for me to fight back the tears and take deep breaths I am pulling out every ounce of determination I have. I grit my teeth and try to hold it together. This is me at my toughest.