Freya went to a fourth birthday party at the weekend – the first one she’s really been old enough to take part in.
The excitement had been mounting for weeks, even though she’s not really sure what a party involves (apart from cake). It doesn’t matter, she thrives on new places or experiences. Nothing phases her. It makes me smile to see her throwing herself wholeheartedly into some new adventure.
There’s no fear, no question that she’s not going to love it. She gets right in the middle of things and just goes with the flow. New people? A different set of social rules to learn? Bring it all on. Even new, possibly a bit confusing, games such as pass the parcel are treated with gusto – especially when she eventually, delightedly, won.
I used to be a little bit like her.
Back in the day.
As a reporter, I often didn’t know what stories I would be asked to cover. I liked that uncertainly each day; the chance to learn something, go somewhere different, meet someone new, tell a different story (or sometimes the same story in a different way). I could be sent to a building site to see them “turning the first sod”, off to magistrates court for the morning or dispatched to interview a visiting politician, actor or singer. Later in my career, there was occasionally foreign travel, sometimes at short notice to far flung places, seeing and doing things that I would never have imagined. There were obviously some jobs I liked better than others but I wasn’t phased by any of them. I took it all in my stride.
Somewhere along the way, I changed.
I couldn’t take the car through a car wash this week because I was worried I’d have a panic attack while trapped inside.
Before that, last week, we’d had a lovely morning in Ipswich and we were all tired but happy as we clambered on to the bus home. Freya wanted to sit on the back seat (already a rebel) so my parents and I all followed behind her. As I sat down I noticed the driver get out of his chair and put his coat on.
“Where’s he going?” I said to no one in particular.
“Off to have his lunch, I expect.” My mum answered, just as he got off and closed the door behind him.
I tried to distract myself by looking at the new party dress my mum had just bought for Freya but I could feel my heart start to beat faster, my breath quicken and my throat start to close up.
“I get funny when I feel trapped,” I said to my mum. I normally try to hide my fear.
“You’re not trapped,” she said calmly. “There’s a button next to the door you can push and they open. They wouldn’t be allowed to lock you on a bus.”
Even through the haze of panic that made sense. I’m going to have to push it, I thought, but she kept talking and I eventually started to calm down. A few minutes later a different driver got on and away we went. Even though I felt shaky I called it a win because I didn’t get off. I thought, maybe I’m finally getting over the claustrophobia, which started when I was pregnant with Freya.
Then the car wash happened.
And I realised, I’m actually getting worse. The fear is spreading.
Thankfully, because I freelance now, it’s not impacting on my work but in other small ways (not going through a car wash is hardly the end of the world and probably better for the environment) it is affecting my life. I really really hate lifts now. If we have the buggy and Mark is with me I will always leave them to it and take the stairs (I realise now I shouldn’t be letting fear win). Even a small toilet with no windows in a coffee shop had my heart rate increasing. I refused to go to London for my 40th birthday because I thought I’d panic on the tube. I worry about all sorts of things, particularly that I’ll find myself in a difficult situation without realising and panic (like the bus).
I don’t understand why I’m like this. I’ve never been an anxious person.
I know the continued lack of sleep isn’t helping but talking to Mark made me realise that while I’ve pinned this change on being trapped in the car one of the hottest days of the year while heavily pregnant, it actually started long before that, after I lost the first pregnancy.
I definitely felt like I didn’t have any control over that situation, like I was trapped.
Afterwards I couldn’t cope with stress in the same way as before but I thought, after counselling, I was actually doing well – especially getting through a stressful pregnancy and then that tough first year with Freya. Now I wonder, thanks to my psych degree from the University of Google, whether those things just masked what else was going on.
So, I’ve recognised that I’m getting worse. How do I fix it? From what I’ve read it’s very much a “feel the fear and do it anyway” rather than avoiding things (combined with some coping mechanisms should the worst happen).
I’ll keep you posted.
Anyone else have any experience with this sort of anxiety? All tips appreciated.
27 thoughts on “Finding the real me again – feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”
That’s a truly honest account. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for reading.
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You’re so incredibly strong to admit that there’s something that makes you panic. So many people fear the stigma of saying that they have a phobia and they hide it.
I’ve had General Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia off and on since I was 19 (that’s 23 years) and I too found that my anxiety/panic increases after stressful events. I hadn’t had a panic attack for over 10 years and then Bubs was born at 32 weeks and my panic levels went through the roof.
For me Graded Exposure has been the most successful treatment alongside talking therapy. It basically boils down to exposing yourself to fearful situations but (and this is a big but) at a very slow pace. The idea being that lots of little victories helps to flick that switch in the brain from panic to I can handle this. So for example don’t jump straight into going to the car wash but maybe park up outside for 10 minutes and just watch the cars going through, that sort of thing.
Your GP should be able to refer you for talking therapy and CBT where you’ll learn about Graded Exposure. In the meantime go easy on yourself. You’re doing brilliantly!
Thanks for reading and commenting, Vickie. Blimey, 23 years is a long time to go through this. It’s only been four-ish years for me and I’m already finding it so tiring. Thanks for the info on graded exposure, that certainly sounds doable. I think I might talk to my GP about it. It’s not a massive deal (I mean, it’s probably better for me to take the stairs rather than use the lift anyway) but it just feels like it’s growing and that’s what worries me. How are you now?
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This past year I’ve been fine thankfully. The previous year i did the CBT and talking therapy. Although being stuck indoors getting over pneumonia is making my anxiety levels ping a bit. Good luck with your GP visit. I’m always here if you need to chat too by the way. Vx
That’s really kind of you, thank you. I might take you up on that. I really hope you feel better soon. It seems to have been one thing after another.
I can’t face going to the hairdresser since my Dad died, my hair one above my ears is now quite long! You Tube videos on putting my hair up are my next coping step. I like to think that I will look quite chic with a French Pleat
So you’re more ‘facing the fear and doing something else’ instead? That quite often works for me too. I always like the idea of putting my hair up but never find the time or inspiration. I hope you managed your French pleat 🙂
I’m sorry that you are feeling this way Tara, I can imagine it feels restricting. As I’ve gotten older I have definitely become more risk-averse (which I know is not the same as anxiety but I mean to illustrate that these things have a tendency to build over time). My thoughts would be to try to do small things that challenge you and with someone else you can trust to support you, baby steps as they say, and try some meditation to learn to have more control over your body’s response to stress. Overall it’s only a small part of you, you can deal with it. Xxx
Thanks, Alice. I definitely think meditation or at the very least working on controlling my breathing is going to be key. How are you doing now? I saw a photo of your extension recently, it looks like it’s moving forward?
I want to come back to this when I’m feeling well, because this is something I, too, experience.
Sorry you experience it too, Deb. I hope you start to feel better soon. You always (from your blogs anyway) seem so busy.
Hi Tara, anxiety isn’t nice. It can be stressful and sweat inducing. It was my son’s therapist that looked at me one day and told me I suffer from anxiety. I can’t remember the last time I went in a lift, I always take the stairs, my family know it’s because they stress me, I tell other people if they ask I’m trying to stop my bum dropping too far South. I get twitchy in a crowd, hate attention (I’m fine walking and talking, just don’t expect me to relax in a confined area) and seriously dislike shopping because of the people. As soon as I leave the situation I can feel my whole body relax. … Removing yourself from the bus isn’t letting your anxiety win, it’s about doing what makes you feel comfortable. By not getting in a lift, the lift isn’t winning, you are doing what you have to do to avoid stress, and don’t forget that stress is a big killer, so is best avoided at all costs!
Thank you for linking up to the #MMBC.
I can see what you’re saying but they feel like such daft things to worry about, especially as I was perfectly fine before and, in my end, I know I’m not going to die if the lift suddenly stops. I might start using the bum excuse for a while though 😉
After years of not feeling panic, I had my own moment this week. The difference with my anxiety now is that I know more of my triggers — chaos/stress, being overwhelmed, etc. Knowing what caused it this week means I can deal with it better.
I have fears of the elevator, too, and getting stuck in traffic, too. I feel what you’ve felt. Even if you got off the bus, it wouldn’t have “won.” When struggling, you do what you can and if you have to retreat, that’s OK. You’ll try again.
Some days I can handle more than on others. When it gets to me, I remember to breathe and focus on coping techniques and know that it’s all OK.
Hang in there!
Thanks for sharing, Tara. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it’s nice to know that you understand. Thinking about it I’ve almost had a moment stuck in traffic too! I’m definitely going to work on my breathing. I’ve been doing in for five/out for five in the last few days and it’s helped.
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Well done for facing your fears Tara. There’s nothing worse than anxiety, I used to suffer from it, but luckily managed to overcome it with time. As for claustrophobia, I also hated lifts. I would avoid them at all costs. But one day I decided that I was going to be in control and just get in. I’m certainly more comfortable using them now.
Good luck on taking control! You can do it xx #MMBC
That’s great to hear, Jayne. Thank you so much for sharing your positive experience, it gives me hope.
I think talking to someone about your anxiety might help, maybe it’s time to seek medical help? I know with some things facing your fear can be the way forward, but sometimes you need to avoid the stress you are feeling, it’s not good to think of it as a battle as such, although it probably feels like it. I hope it gets better for you soon, but it’s good to admit something is wrong as it’s first step to fixing it. x
I think you might be right. There is an NHS online course I can access if my GP agrees so I might see what they think. Thanks for your best wishes.
Sending so much love. It’s so hard to feel anxious about things especially when they are out of your control. My dad left – just walked out of the door when I was 17 – and although at the time it didn’t have a huge impact on me, when I got married I very quickly realised it had left me with issues which I needed to tackle. Now years later I’m more or less sorted – there are bad moments – but on the whole I feel more in control of my life. You will get there, and talking about it is the first step. Thank you so much for trusting us enough to share your post with us at #PostsFromTheHeart
Thank you so much. Sorry to hear about your dad and the impact he had on your life. I’m glad you feel better about it now but I can imagine it’s not easy to just get over it.
Tara I suffered anxiety and panic attacks myself several years ago when my eldest was just starting at secondary school. Like you enclosed spaces became a feature – it took me years to go in a car wash again. There was a lot of stress in my life at the time and I discovered that sometimes these anxious states are just your body’s way of saying it needs help. I overhauled my diet and exercise regime and had CBT. The latter went against every grain in my body. I am not a therapy person but I found it really helped me to make sense of what was happening to me. There is also a lot of willpower involved. I found I could recognise when these attacks were about to happen and managed to control them through good breathing techniques that my CBT counsellor taught me. I hope you find something that works for you. The most important thing is not to close down any avenues and to find something that works for you. Good luck. #PostsFromTheHeart
I’m sorry you went through that Jo, although it’s comforting to hear you had a fear of car washes too (that one really didn’t make any sense to me). I think you’re right, it probably is a response to something else. I’m hoping to speak to my GP about some support. Thank you for sharing you story, it really helps.
Such an honest and well described post, it must be horrible to have it impacting on the every day like this, but you are so brave for acknowledging it and being open. Wishing you the best on your quest to tackle it, small steps and all that, you’ll get there x
Thank you, Yvette. Very kind of you to comment. It seems a small thing but I didn’t realise quite how much of an impact it was having.
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