OPINION: When you can’t keep calm and carry on

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I’ve got sweaty palms and hands that won’t stop shaking, my heart’s racing and the adrenaline coursing through my body’s actually making me dizzy.

It’s probably the same feeling you get before you leap from a bridge or a plane or catapult yourself across a canyon.

But it’s just a standard Monday and I’m at work.

Three years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about my ability to panic over nothing and everything, constantly – something I’d been able to do since the tender age of four.

It wasn’t until October, 2015, I realised other people have this ability too and it has a name: anxiety.

That made me feel better, actually.

But then, my friends, it got infinitely worse.

Eight months later, insomnia returned. I couldn’t eat or, at times, speak.

I shook constantly, my brain was spinning and my heart rate was through the roof, all the time, for no specific reason.

If you’ve never had anxiety or a panic attack, imagine being home alone and armed intruders just smashed their way into your house, or being in the middle of nowhere, walking alone at night and realising you’re being followed.

A bunch of us have that feeling all the time.

Anxiety’s an over-estimation of danger, and an under-estimation of your ability to cope.

While the rational part of the grey matter’s whispering ‘you’re being ridiculous’, Henny Penny’s giving an Oscar-worthy performance in the other part, flapping about and screaming like a banshee, on loop, ‘THE SKY IS FALLING!’

It’s not ‘if’. It’s ‘when’.

It took me until July 1, 2016, to get up the nerve to go to a doctor, and I had to take an amazing human, who I’ll forever be grateful to, with me.

Within 15 minutes I felt like a weight had been lifted.

A couple of weeks later I was having dates with a “talk therapist” (unsurprisingly I had a panic attack in the car before the first one) who told me what was happening, why, and different ways to manage it.

Over a few weeks I tried a bunch of different things to help keep it in check long-term and, bit by bit, I calmed down.

Just over two years later and, like everyone, I’m a work in progress.

There are times where I feel better than the old me ever did.

And there are times, like now, where my old mate anxiety comes back with a vengeance.

It’s not fun and it’s not easy, but it’s taught me a few things I’m really grateful for.

Like self-awareness – recognising situations that don’t help my top two inches and either avoiding being in them, or leaving as soon as I feel the need to.

I’ve learned it’s OK to be selfish, and I don’t have to apologise for putting myself, and my mental health, first.

And that it’s important to talk about it.

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about having anxiety and I’m not going to pretend I’m hunky-dory when I’m not because, quite frankly, it’s bloody exhausting and I’d rather just be honest.

Statistically, something like seven out of every 10 of you reading this can’t relate and three know exactly what I’m talking about.

There might also be some who are where I was a few years ago, thinking, wrongly, it’s just something you have to put up with.

For you, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice.

Take a bunch of big, deep, proper breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Make your stomach move.

Talk to someone – anyone – and share the load a little bit.

Exercise regularly, even if it’s just a little meander through the neighbourhood.

Definitely try yoga.

Sit, outside if you can, being quiet for 10 minutes a day and just soak in everything around you (that, by the way, is basically ‘mindfulness’).

Be nice to yourself. Do something, anything, that you enjoy every day … and limit your exposure to people, places or things that wake Henny Penny up.

Consider, just consider, visiting your doctor or going to a counsellor.

And know that you’re not weird, you’re not abnormal, you sure as hell aren’t alone … and you will be OK.

Tracey Roxburgh is a senior reporter for Allied Press