I spent the early hours of the new year with an old friend.
So, not much of a friend. And thankfully, we're not that close anymore. There was a time though when I never left the house without Valium.
I have a long history with depression. I was formally diagnosed when I was about 24 years old. I suspect I suffered for several years prior to that. But anxiety was never a part of it. I had the market cornered when it came to sad but even though I could get wound up and uptight, I never panicked in that debilitating way that only a fellow sufferer can understand.
My anxiety was triggered by accidentally taking too much of a medication designed to stop me feeling sick while flying. One of the side effects of doing so is panic attacks. And boy, did I have one. I was at the airport preparing to fly home after a business trip. Missed the flight and ended up in a hospital Emergency ward with a psych nurse who patronised me like I was a schizophrenic in the middle of a psychotic break. It was seriously the most awful experience of my life.
Unfortunately, once you've had an anxiety attack, the experience is forever imprinted in your mind. And then, the vicious cycle begins. Because now, you're afraid you'll have another attack. Which is, of course, enough to make you have one. So I linked anxiety with airports. With flying. With a big night on the booze – the reason I had originally doubled up on my anti-nausea medication that fateful, pre-flight day.
For a long while, I was afraid to stray outside my usual, routine life. I was afraid of having an anxiety attack. But even more, I was afraid to have it away from the safety of home, in front of people I didn't know. Again.
Long story short, I got on top of that shit. I had some head shrinking, I had some Valium. I had the beginning of an attack and successfully talked myself down from the cliff edge. I got on top of it.
And becoming a mum just solidified that. In this new role, my sense of purpose was strong. I felt together and in control.
So it's a very rare occasion now when that familiar terror starts to send adrenaline flooding through my veins.
But I knew I was going to have a panic attack sometime during the New Year celebrations.
It was a busy day in which I was rushing about trying to get everything done and knowing full well we would not get away on time. I had (stupidly) planned to make not one but THREE desserts to take along to the small party we were invited to – as I finished the FIRST dessert roughly half an hour before we were due to depart, I knew the plan was falling apart.
We would be drinking at the party. We would be staying the night. The conditions were favourable for a meltdown. Hell, the conditions were PERFECT. And that very thing occurred to me as I beat egg whites and sugar into stiff, glossy peaks.
Alas, what with my perfect mental health of late, I had recently discovered and tossed a bunch of out-of-date Valium.
It was a balmy evening this New Year's Eve. The party passed merrily by and it wasn't until I lay in bed a few hours after midnight, just on the precipice of sleep, that the not-so-familiar-now surge of adrenaline bolted me awake.
Here we go, I thought.
It was dark and quiet. And my heart raced.
The hours passed. I kept checking my phone for the time. Looking for a hint of daybreak through the bedroom blinds. I listened to my children softly breathing. This helped. I listened to the chainsaw of my lover's snoring. This didn't. I talked myself into a relaxed state and drifted close to sleep before adrenaline flooded my veins once again. This happened in fifteen minute intervals. For about three hours. I should have been tired. But the body has a way of perking up when it is in a suspended state of fight or flight.
At 5.30am, I heard Zee stirring. I rejoiced. I put him to the breast and this calmed me immensely. My sense of purpose was strong. I felt together and in control. But he finished feeding and I reluctantly returned him to his cot.
The panic resumed.
I got up and wandered out to the backyard. I brought my stereo inside, gathered up CDs. I tiptoed around the house aimlessly. I had a shower, grateful that the previous owner of the house was an elderly woman whose concerned family had installed approximately fifteen handrails on the shower walls.
Finally, at around 6.30am, my little family stirred.
With no questions, B helped me load up the car. Busy with this menial task and perhaps knowing that we would soon be heading to the safety and familiarity of home, I realised I was starting to feel better. I was preparing to write a note to our friends (who were still sleeping off a rather large night) apologising for sneaking out at daybreak when LD came to me.
"I want to go to S and S's" he said.
"Honey, we're at S and S's," I replied.
"Yes," he said, "And we not going home".
It was not yet 7am and my kids were playing delightedly with their friends. There was a hefty after-party clean-up required and it was, bottom line, just plain rude to fuck off without even saying goodbye.
I started cleaning. My sense of purpose was strong. I felt together and in control. I put bottles in the recycling, I washed one thousand wine glasses and then, when I was done, so was my anxiety.
My dear friend, Saucy (remember her?), wandered out looking dishevel-haired and adorable in her glasses and I was eating a piece of toast and feeling like a fucking superhero.
I'm okay. It happens, I wish it didn't. But I'm okay.
Bring it on, 2011. You KNOW I can take it.