Panic attacks are a frightening experience and involve feeling faint, heart palpitations, nausea and breathlessness. These symptoms can become so strong that a person feels like they are going to lose control or even that they are having a heart attack and are going to die.
Panic attacks can be triggered by stressful situations, such as taking an exam or a packed tube train but they can happen for no apparent reason at all.
Talking about them can help, there are breathing exercises that can help calm a person down or using distractions like ‘I Spy’ on a busy commute or listening to music. Talking therapies and medication can also be very effective in managing panic attacks.
As cliche as this sounds, I can honestly say that I would not be alive if it weren’t for music. Music has got me through the good times, the bad times and everything in between. I will never forget getting up in my hotel room and listening to ‘I’m on top of the world’ by imagine dragons whilst getting dressed before my appearance on BBC Breakfast. I will never forget listening to Meatloaf in the car on the way to the airport before we flew to Rome. That’s the funny thing about songs they hold memories and that can be a double edged sword. Whenever I hear ‘moves like Jagger’ I am plunged head first into the memory of sitting in the lounge in a psychiatric hospital whilst a patient dances around the room. Hearing ‘cake by the ocean’ will always remind me of the cold,hard days spent in utter boredom in the secure unit. There are Ed Sheeran songs that remind me of ex partners and no matter how much I like Ed Sheeran, I cannot hear these songs without feeling like complete rubbish. Music can be therapy but there is also a danger of music being harmful to the mind so be careful.
So, music and recovery. I use music at the moment to get me through my feeds as I’m currently being treated for anorexia nervosa and am being fed through an NG tube. I have a specific playlist named ‘Feed’ which consists of:
- I’m yours-Alyssa Bernal
- Boom clap-Charli XCX
- Learn to live-Darius Rucker
- Starman-David Bowie
- Survivor-Destiny’s Child
- On top of the world-Imagine Dragons
- Cold in Ohio-Jamie Lawson
- Living in the moment-Jason Mraz
- Breathe in, breathe out, move on-Jimmy Buffet
- Little me-Little Mix
- Scare away the dark-Passenger
- Superheroes-The Script
- Let it go-Demi Lovato
- Heroes-David Bowie
- Chocolate-The 1975
- Love my life-Robbie Williams
All of these songs I either find relaxing, recovery focused, feel good or they hold positive memories. I find feeds really distressing and I know a lot of recovery can be distressing, that’s why in DBT there’s a whole module called ‘distress tolerance’. For me, music is my distress tolerance. ‘Cold in Ohio’ always relaxes me whilst ‘living in the moment’ reminds me of mindfulness. ‘On top of the world’ is a proper feel good song and also reminds me of the positive memory when I went on BBC Breakfast. ‘Little me’ gives me the reminder that I want to make 4 year old me proud. Maybe I won’t be able to listen to these songs again once all of this is over but for now they are getting me through and that’s what recovery is about, getting through.
Getting better terrifies me. I have struggled with eating since I was 5 but officially anorexia was diagnosed a decade ago. I’ve spent the past 6 years in and out of hospital. I’ve only lived in Wales for 3 years and I have spent nearly all of that time in one hospital or another.
I am the girl who brings her own food to people’s dinner parties. As my extended family tuck into an Indian takeaway, I shiver over a bowl of soya porridge. As my grandparents enjoy their Sunday roast, I nibble on raw peppers, carrots and cherry tomatoes. That is what has become expected of me. I don’t just have anorexia, I am anorexia.
Hospital has become my home. Everyone knows I’m in hospital and I am used to being here. I’m used to living in this little bubble away from the real world. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to go to the supermarket, or the cinema, or anywhere for that matter. I’m used to spending all my time with nurses and support workers instead of friends and family. I think nothing of having two people watching me whilst I go to the toilet or shower or sleep or do anything. This has become my life. Whilst other people my age go out on a Friday night, I lay in bed with a member of staff on each arm. This is the norm for me. This is my life.
I have become my mental illness. It has become my identity. People follow me on twitter and instagram because I’m ill and my whole accounts centre around my illness. My blog and it’s successes are because of my mental illness. My media work, my speeches…they have all been about my mental illness and that is what I have become known for, for being mentally ill.
So how am I supposed to get better? I don’t know who I am without all of this. I don’t even know if it’s possible to be without all of this. Will I ever wake up and be glad I’m alive? Will I ever tuck in to an Indian takeaway with my extended family and not want to kill myself with guilt afterwards? Will I ever go out with friends on a Friday night? Or have conversations that aren’t about illness or recovery? Who will I be if I get better and this is no longer who I am? I’m scared I’ll become a nobody but I’m even more scared that it isn’t possible. That I am a mental illness and I will always be a mental illness.
It’s that time of day when my feed is normally due. The nurse is doing her medication rounds and I don’t know when she is coming to me. I am on edge. Distracted. Distant. Every time I hear footsteps outside my door I am thrown into panic and my heart races. I don’t want to do this. I’m so uncomfortable in my body as I am let alone with more calories being pumped into me. I need the control back, I wish they would give me some. I have no choice, I can drink the ensure, or have it put down my NG tube willingly or I can be restrained whilst the thick, calorific liquid is pumped into me…but I don’t want it. I don’t want it at all. I’ve had enough today and I feel that as an adult I should be able to control what goes into my body. I’m just so scared. I want to be left alone.
I have no idea what I look like. People tell me that what I see isn’t what everyone else sees but it’s so hard to believe that when I can see with my own eyes and physically feel the fat on me.
I hide under my blankets and dressing gown so that people can’t see how fat I am. I feel as though everyone is judging me and that they must be thinking she’s too fat to have a feeding tube. She doesn’t have anorexia. Everytime my feed is due I get in a state of panic and anger…why are people feeding me when I’m this big, the nurse giving the feed must think I’m a joke. I’m not thin enough to struggle this much with food.
When I look in the mirror I find my reflection disgusting. I don’t see a clinically obese person staring back at me but I see thick thighs, a double chin and sticking out belly. Physically I can feel the fat on me, I get physical feelings like a warm, tingly feeling in my fat places.
I’m told that I feel fat instead of feeling an emotion but I find this rather difficult to believe. The feeling is just so real to me. How can you disagree with something you see and feel?
Okay so it’s been a while, I spent 8 months in a secure unit with my weight dropping and my mental health declining, then in December an eating disorder nurse from my home team came to see me at 8am in the morning. I remember being woken at 7am and having a shower on a chair because my legs would not stand and then being whisked off to the relaxation room to see her.
The nurse wanted to admit me to a general hospital for refeeding but I refused as it was so close to Christmas and I just wanted to be where I felt settled for the festive period. That night I was driven back to my home county and admitted to a general ward. I felt like I was living in a nightmare. I had an NG tube inserted and was started on a feed straight away, drips were in my arms and blood tests taken.
A month later, here I am, still in the same bed, still being fed through a tube and struggling enormously. I feel fatter with each day, the sips of ensure are getting harder and not easier. The plan from here is to go to an eating disorder unit in London which I’m super scared about. I don’t know any more. This battle is hard.
I need you to know that I have a personality disorder, it is the diagnosis that I don’t speak about publicly and rarely talk about to anybody because I’m scared that telling you what I have will make you think I am a bad person. I desperately need you to understand what life with a personality disorder is like. It isn’t an excuse for the way I behave, it’s an explanation.
My personality disorder makes any kind of relationship difficult. No one seems to stay long in my life and I often find that I am ‘too much’ for people as I am vulnerable and dependent. I feel inadequate a lot of the time. I struggle to fit in and often my efforts lead to me embarrassing myself. I have powerful relationships and a lot of love to give but they are full of terror and fear. I fear abandonment and rejection so much that it normally leads to the relationship breaking down. Being close to me is a challenge and I find myself constantly asking for reassurance in relationships but in the end the mistrust and need for reassurance pushes the other person away. The slightest change in a relationship feels unbearable. I find it hard to believe peoples’ excuses for not seeing me and I take it as rejection. I often end up attacking those who are close to me ensuring the very abandonment I fear. I can’t control myself. I’m like a tornado destroying everything in my path. Personality disorders are destructive. Never think that I don’t care about others, my struggles with relationships make me think I should be alone forever and stay away from everybody. Self-hatred is always with me and the hurt I’ve caused plays on repeat. I’ve lost so many people because of my personality disorder and it’s agonising.
I struggle with my identity, I don’t really know who I am, and neither do I understand myself. Things can change dramatically one moment to the next. In two minutes I can go from being full of hope to completely hopeless. I can be motivated to change the world one minute and the next not have the motivation to wash myself. I am impulsive which leads to me spending money I don’t have and getting into a financial situation that I need help to get out of. I struggle with bursts of anger that take over me and often lead to me self-harming. I struggle with suicidal tendencies but no wonder death is appealing, my world is very confusing and painful. The mood swings, paranoia and delusions on top of the confusion and anxiety in relationships is exhausting. I’m terrified of the future, what if I’m always like this? Will I ever be able to have normal relationships and get married and have a family? Will that ever be a reality for me?
I can explain my personality disorder to you but I can’t make you understand it. I just hope that somehow this piece of writing helps you to understand how complicated life with a personality can be and I hope that the people in my life that read this can give me their time and patience to remain in my life.