It wasn’t until I was having an anxiety attack in Asda, over a box of ferrero rocher, that I realised something was wrong.
I’d tried to convince myself to get something else, to stay, that this was ridiculous. But I’d had to get out of there asap. Being a therapist, I knew that my body had gone into fight or flight. (Asda in Bristol’s Bedminster can seem like a strange environment at times, but it’s not generally a hostile threat!) So I sat in my car, breathing, and slowing down. Realising that I had to admit that I was going through something.
It took me twenty-four hours to work out what it was. At first, I assumed it was stress. At the end of 2020, who wouldn’t? I had already made the usual new year resolutions to work less, and experience life more in the coming year. Kindness was already on the agenda, so I didn’t really understand why I felt I couldn’t breathe in Asda that morning, or why I was suddenly losing my temper and bursting into tears, just because a website link wouldn’t work!
So, this story is what I did, and what happened. Twenty-four hours later, I feel restored to my usual human, non-erratic, self. I feel my usual 90% confident, with hope and trust that good things are possible. I’m sharing this with you, not to encourage you to do what I did necessarily, but because it might help you.
If you get sudden unexplained bursts of emotion; anxiety, fear, worry, grief, sadness, tears, irritability or anger, this might help.
This is what I did:
1. I listened to my desire to get out of Asda.
As I mentioned, my body had gone into a mode of perceiving that there was some kind of threat, and alarming me enough to get me away from it. It didn’t matter that the threat in this case was that I couldn’t have the exact amount of the right chocolate at the right time. This physiological fight or flight response, once begun, cannot be overridden. So, the best thing I could do was acknowledge it. Even if I thought it ridiculous.
If you’re scared, you need to find safety. So I found it.
2. After collecting myself and calming down a little, I went to the ‘safe’ supermarket.
I think this might be some kind of rewrite, or taking control and restoring balance. Anyway, it worked. I felt a million times better, just for doing what I wanted to do.
3. I’m not going to lie, I ate nutty chocolate and crisps, and didn’t eat dinner.
In the back of my mind I knew I might regret this, but part of me was angry. So I ate because I didn’t yet know what was wrong with me, or how to deal with it. Despite being compassionate with myself, I was still triggered. (More on this in my other articles about what emotional eating is).
4. I hinted to a friend that I was struggling.
This was genius! With all my therapy skills, I didn’t come straight out and ask for help, or express how I felt, because of course, you can’t do that when you’re in a full-blown child- reactionary state! So I casually mentioned it!
5. My friend called me.
What a good friend, eh? Within seconds, I felt like a normal person again. She, too, felt the urge to lose it when the toilet broke, or the fire-stick stopped working. We vowed to talk to each other more.
6. I connected with my soul sisters.
I’m lucky enough to be part of a group of women who seem to speak the same language as I do. It took me years to work out that some people do, and some people don’t. Putting it simply, I now thrive best if I have more people who do, in my life.
This time we did a meditation around what we see for ourselves in 2021. This was so helpful for connecting me back to the other parts of me. The parts that are ambitious, dynamic and empowered.
7. I watched TV with my cat.
She’s such a healer! I’ll never be sure, but it seems she gets sick when I’m fraught, and is happy when I’m calm. So I reconnected with my desire to look after her, and in so doing, got the best furball comfort money can’t buy.
8. I slept.
9. I woke up with period pain for the first time in months.
My lingering background migraine headache was gone.
That’s when I realised what was going on. I gradually concluded that this had been a hormonal surge.
10. So, then I did some research into my problem and possible solutions.
I read about hormones, meditation, confidence, public speaking, chakras, and losing your metaphorical voice. Pretty soon, I felt back to my ‘normal’ self.
I read that if you’ve had these symptoms in pre-menstrual syndrome, they could be worse in perimenopause.
I’ve had PMS since I was 12, but I’d forgotten what it was like when my periods became erratic last year. PMS had taken years to diagnose in itself! Perimenopausal hormonal mood surges are insidious. They didn’t announce themselves as something that had changed in my body. It just felt like it had always been this way. I began to wonder whether I had ever been any different. It’s like a personal form of gaslighting!
So, it’s such a relief to realise that I’m not having a nervous breakdown, am not an awful, angry anti-social person, don’t have to cancel my life, and can find ways to cope.
My hope with writing this article is that you find some comfort and normalisation. If you take nothing else from this article, know that your Sisters are out there anyway, coping as best they can. And that this too shall pass.
Happy New Year!