The British initiative ‘Time to Change‘ does some pretty damn amazing stuff when it comes to challenging the stigma of mental health and their new campaign called Get the Picture, is working to dispel the notion that people with mental health issues look cray-cray at all times.
At the mention of mental illness the classic image of a Bedlamite will often spring to mind; a cloud of wild, untamed hair, crazed wide eyed stare , hands grasping at their skull in shear despair. This idea that a crazy person looks a certain way or could be picked out of the crowd is honestly utter shite. At any time other than the peak of a panic attack when I might be wringing my hands and screwing my eyes shut to try and calm my mind, you would be unlikely to pick me out of a line-up of slightly uncomfortable, fed up, pissed off or hangry (hungry-angry for those who are unaware) people.
The new campaign is inspiring but has also brought up many questions about social visibility and understanding. I began to wondered what I looked like when I was panicking. Is it obvious to people around me?
So this is me, during a panic attack, hiding in the petrol station bathroom yesterday.
My agoraphobic panic attacks make me feel like I am the most obviously crazed mother fucker in the whole of existence. Anxiety and social phobias in general make you feel as though you are walking around with a massive flashing sign over your head reading “BEWARE! CRAZY BITCH!”. I wonder if the people I encounter during a panic, when I am right at the well-edge of my misery and perceived oblivion, even realise that I am out of sorts.
Yesterday morning while trying to drive myself to work, my body threw a spaz because I’d left earlier than usual. I had a very close call while waiting in traffic to get on the motorway and ended up in a dead end (thankfully) by a refuse park on the water edge. I went back in the evening and took this image. I realised how lucky I was to have found it empty.
The privacy was my saving grace. At the time no one was around while I flailed about trying to breathe and get the swell of panic to lower so I might be able to get to a bathroom a mere 30 seconds away. It took everything I had to not walk straight into the water and hide somehow, god knows why I thought that would fix it but it wouldn’t have. I would have just ended up wet and panicked. The bathroom and safety were so close but mentally so far. It involved traversing the panic-stricken agoraphob’s worst enemy, traffic lights. Four sets to be specific, none of which were phased in my favour. So I wandered around my car, on the gravel, with the ducks and pukeko’s wondering what in the fuck would I do? Would this be the worst case scenario that I have up until this point narrowly avoided? Would I be so far gone that I wouldn’t make it to work and have to call in sick, sobbing and feeling like the least capable person ever because I couldn’t do something as simple as drive my car to my job?
In this case I did manage to calm myself enough to make the gargantuan drive across the over-bridge, to the safe confines of the petrol station bathroom.
While hiding I wondered what the guy at the till thought when I rushed past without buying anything or pumping any petrol to lock myself in their facilities for 15 odd minutes. Did he think I was a drug addict getting my morning hit? Did he think I really needed a wee or that I had some stomach bug and had the shits? I doubt there was any way in hell that he could guess that I was in fact in the murky, stinky depths of a panic attack. It seems my crazy bitch sign is invisible to all but myself and my closest loved ones.
I have in the past lied about why I had to rush away from a postal queue, a meeting in a bank or an oncoming bus. Just to be clear I am a fucking terrible liar, the worst. My lie? Morning sickness. No one has negative feelings towards a pregnant lady and I am after all a bit fat right now. I could easily pass for 3-4 months pregnant. The one time I did use this lie, in a bank in London, has stuck with me for years since. Could I not have just told the truth?
Why is pregnancy a more acceptable state to be in than admitting I am having a panic attack? As ever, it is the prejudice I discover in my own mind that surprises me the most. Would you pick this girl out of a crowd and say she looks mental? On the verge of some kind of breakdown or just about the cry and hide under a towel in the back seat of her car? Personally I don’t think so.
I think she looks like a girl who ordered a coffee which came tasting burnt because the barrister was badly trained. She is too polite or too chicken shit to ask for a new one so instead suffered quietly but passive aggressively and drinks it anyway because caffeine, the nectar of the gods, is the most important thing.
Maybe she is also a bit tired.