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.