A few blogs back I spoke up and told you all about my nervous breakdown. One day I was fine and the next day I was a broken man, collapsing in supermarkets and going 3-4 days without sleep. There were no tin-foil hats and only small amounts of dribble. It truly was an unpleasant experience. I’ll be honest with you; I get annoyed when people say they have been through it when they haven’t got a clue or that they understand when quite clearly they don’t. Just because someone has had a pop at you and you cry because it’s made you upset does not make it a nervous breakdown. That’s just something that happened. We all have testing times and it doesn’t take a genius to decipher whether or not you’re just in a funny mood and you’ll be ok in 10 minutes or that your body is letting you down.
Today I offer advice to everyone, not only to those in the UAE, but world over, on how to deal with breakdown. First of all, how does it all start? Well, I hate to sound vague but it could be anything. A past trauma, the realisation that your life is not as you wanted it, unhappiness or not speaking up and keeping your feelings to yourself. These thoughts eat away at your background nervous system. You have 2 by the way. One of them is the one that makes you aware that your porridge is too hot and the other is the one that works in the engine room, controlling your heart beat, making you blink and keeping you breathing. You can’t turn it off, it will always be there, but it can get worn out. That’s basically what kicks the whole thing off. You start to focus on your breathing, thinking that you control it. You don’t. Hold your breath, go on. You’ll puff and breathe again shortly. It won’t hurt.
If you are suffering from anxiety, you know that horrible taut feeling in your chest or you feel an overwhelming rising sense of panic then the first thing to do is to…embrace it. Yep, sounds a bit mad but really, a panic attack cannot hurt you in anyway. There are 2 options that are well known within in anxious circles, “Fight” or “Flight”. They stem from natures rawest emotions. My doctor (in the UK) made me think of it as meeting an equally sized man to myself. This mirror-me is an assailant, do I stay and fight him? Or do I run away (flight)? In the mind either way it doesn’t matter because I always win. This mirror-me simply cannot harm me in any way.
For some, at the onset of a panic attack, sticking it out and ripping the arms off the chair and sweating works just fine. For others, particularly if they are new to the club, prefer to run out of the room, to just get out. Either is fine as the whole horrible feeling is temporary anyway. Afterwards it is common to feel physically drained and to experience an overwhelming sense of relief, it’s not uncommon to cry regardless of how big and macho you think you are. It’s the release you’ve been waiting for. Think of the tears as the finish line. Tell those around you so they will be aware if you have a funny turn as opposed to running you through the gossip mill. Never feel embarrassed by it.
It’s all fairly simple. The body basically thinks that it is under attack so it releases more adrenalin. Of course if you were competing in a motor-race this adrenalin would be expected, you’d feel the rush. Only you’re not in a motor-race, you’re sitting at your desk at work deleting meaningless emails. The adrenalin rush has come at a dull moment and you are led to believe that you are in trouble. You’re not, you’re dandy. It is not uncommon for the adrenalin rush go to your head, as a result you feel light headed, that you are about to start floating off the floor, or that there is a band around your head getting tighter and tighter. It’s just tensed muscles. You have to ride it out but don’t worry, you won’t get hurt.
Don’t be a fool and think that you can make it all go away by yourself, you will need help, or a crutch as I like to call it. You decide what roll your crutch will play. My crutch was my dad. I was fortunate in that he went through it too when he was younger so was able to answer the phone from 4000 miles away whenever I needed him. Whenever I felt that I was having a moment I would call him, just to talk to him. What he offered was a combination of moral lifting support and – most importantly – distraction.
Distraction is an important element. A panic attack fuels itself. The more you think about it, the more you panic, it’s a nasty cycle. The trick is to distract your mind in the simplest of ways. Dust down a copy of Jeremy Clarkson from the bookshelf, or stick a DVD in the machine. Maybe get the cookbook out and throw together some of the weird looking stuff that Gordon Ramsey makes. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it will make.
At first it isn’t fun. You feel like you have lost the use of your legs and are confined to bed. You can’t bear to face the day. You become agoraphobic (fear of being away from a place of personal safety, not a fear of going outside as is usually thought). And then you associate places with past attacks and they become triggers. I was shafted because my three main trigger places were home, work and my favourite bar. The only 3 places I went to, and Al Ain is a small town and it took a hell of a lot of guts to go back to them.
You will notice that with each wave of panic the intensity lessens and the time between them increases. It starts off being hours apart, then days, then weeks, then months and finally years. After 6 months you will deal with it without batting an eyelid. The recovery period varies person to person; it took me about 6 months to feel half normal again, 9 months before I had a firm control and 14 months before I had all of my confidence back. So don’t worry about that…it will be ok in the end. Just remember to refrain from making any big decisions whilst going through a moment, wait for a return to the rational realm.
In the UAE there are places you can go. I went to my highly rated local hospital and all I was told was that I needed a beer…seriously that’s what the guy said. I later found (but have never visited) the German Neurology Hospital in Dubai. On their website they lay it all out and if you are ever in trouble over here, get your ass down there.
Of course I didn’t know about that place at the time. What I had was a book given to me by my dad. It is an old orange book published in 1963 and was rented by my dad from Wimbledon library in the 70’s (the late fee for that must be huge). Self help for your nerves by the late Claire Weekes. That book will literally cure you; it stopped me doing something very stupid. It saved my life.
And how am I now? Alive, well and unquestionably happy.