I've recently decided to add this post to the blog schedule to address something close to my heart and which affects each and every one of us. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and many of us will experience a problem at some point in our lives. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be broken, and the only way that will happen is by speaking out.
So that is what I am going to do. I'm going to be opening up about my own bouts of mental illness so that hopefully I'll be able to help others, the same way I want to help budding writers refine their craft.
I suffer from mental illness. Namely, anxiety disorder. It doesn't sound like a big scary thing - after all, everyone gets anxious from time to time. But there is a difference between being anxious and having anxiety. And for me, everything has the potential to be a big scary thing.
Anxiety is horrible. It's not an excuse and it is not attention-seeking. Believe me, when I'm in the middle of a panic attack, the last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself - and the conundrum is, I know the panic attack is drawing more attention. So that makes me more agitated, which turns more heads, and a vicious circle begins which can quickly get out of my control. Panic attacks are not a pleasant experience, and if you've ever had one, you know you don't decide to experience it. I wouldn't wish these things on my worst enemies.
But there are tricks which I've learned to help me bring myself back under control when an attack does hit. I hope these three can work for you too if you experience them.
1. Hold onto something
When you have a panic attack, reality and your own body can become distorted. For me, the floor moves like a liquid and I am terrified I will fall through it. So when that starts to happen, I grab onto an object to use as an anchor. Holding my arm or clothes doesn't really work, because they are a part of me, and I'm not too aware of myself when an attack is in full swing. So I always have a small stuffed toy in my bag or pocket for emergencies. It's firm enough to ground me, but still malleable enough to not push me away. A beanbag works well too, as well as stress balls.
2. Get out of the situation, but safely
Panic attacks are essentially the fight or flight reaction gone wild. So many sufferers will either strike out blindly or bolt when one gets a grip of them. I'm a bolter. Once the initial attack starts, I'll begin wildly pacing or going round in circles before I run for cover. And this is a defence mechanism for a reason; it's always best to get away from the situation if you are able to. But when you leave, make sure you do it safely, and stay aware of your surroundings - you don't want to run into a busy road or into a rough part of town!
3. Don't forget to breathe
An obvious one, but an important one. It's so easy to hyperventilate during a panic attack, and that will only make things worse, because you'll cut off your oxygen supply and could make yourself faint. Even though it feels your chest is collapsing, make yourself take regular deep breaths. Concentrate on each inhale and exhale; count to three for each one to help get them under control. This is one of the quickest ways to lower the panic, and remind yourself that the attack will end.
I hope these were helpful! If you do suffer from mental illness then please know you are not alone. There is no shame in it, and we will break the stigma.