Everything is fine but I'm not okay.
Believe it or not, in this moment I am having a panic attack on national television:
I never had a burning desire to be in front of the camera. The hours are horrible, there’s 90% standing around and I’m not great with catered lunch on account of my inability to process most foods. But mainly, the thought of LIVE TV makes me launch into an anxiety spiral before you can say Cash Cow.
My first recalled panic attack was four years ago. I was alone in my apartment in Dee Why and suddenly felt extremely hot, had a shortness of breath and my heart hurt. My arm felt numb and I couldn’t breathe. The symptoms of a panic attack have been likened to that of a heart attack, and as each one intensifies you become very aware of each beginning until you can’t distinguish if you're feeling each symptom or creating them with your mind.
I had been living with OCD and anxiety for years so I had several coping mechanisms that I struggled to implement now. All I could think to do (which has weirdly now become my panic-attack-evacuation plan) was play reggae really loud and walk to the beat. So I grabbed my headphones, cranked the choons and walked in time to Three Little Birds out the door and down my street. I must have looked like a bunch of activewear lemmings walking down the cliff towards the water.
Whats a lemming in activewear called? A Lulu-lemming.
I eventually got to Kate’s house and could not go up the stairs. It was a real Romeo/Juliet situation except mainly full of “huh?” and “I can’t hear you” and “just come upstairs”. I had to call her and explain I was having a Level 10, full-blown panic attack and she came down to help me/assess damage/appease her neighbours. She knew it was serious on account of my actually calling another human-being when it was 2013 and text message was available.
The trip from my house to Kate's:
As you can see we lived either side of the shitty Coles in Dee Why. The fancy Coles is in Dee Why Grand. Our Coles never had snap peas. They probably saved them all for the Grand.
(Oh, and a group of lemmings is a slice. I Googled it.)
The strangest thing about my first panic attack was nothing stressful was happening at the time. I was sitting in my apartment and probably making lunch or folding clothes. The attack was signalling something much deeper wrong in my life and my body was obviously sick of my brain ignoring it and sent a wrecking ball to Miley Cyrus me into understanding I needed help.
Since then, I have had quite a few panic attacks and recognise them well. Laying in bed at night if I think about death I will literally work myself into such a state that I've been known to run through my house screaming. This has happened since I was 11-years-old and has meant that not only have I slept in my brothers' rooms countless times; I also have slept with a television on since I was 11-years-old. In fact, for many years I slept on my parents' couch even though I had a bedroom.
Last month I had a panic attack on a flight to Hobart because my brain convinced me that I wouldn't have oxygen once the plain took off. (I did.)
Last week Melbourne Victory player Mitch Austin suffered a panic attack during a live interview on the ABC. Oh man, do I feel you Mitch. I sat across from Tom Williams as he asked me a question I DEFINITELY knew the answer to and stared blankly at his perfect face with absolutely nothing happening in my brain. I felt the warm fuzz running up my arms. I felt the buzzing sound in my ears. I felt the feeling like my heart is leaving my body and I froze.
"Marni. Answering the f*ucking question" said my brain but it took everything I had to just keep staring at Tom and not run out of the room and a million miles away. For what felt like seven hours in my head was likely a second in the real world and I bullied my mouth back into answering the question. I have no idea what I said and I have no idea if it was clever or eloquent or even answered what he had asked.
Tom waiting for my answer like:
See, anxiety doesn't discriminate. It doesn't decide when you can handle it and when you need your game face. It doesn't care if you're an athlete, a singer, a writer, a mum. It comes on like a ton of bricks and doesn't leave until it's finished. You can train yourself to speak better, face fears, speak in public but anxiety can still come for you when you aren't looking.
How can anyone look at these symptoms and describe mental health as being any less important as physical health?
This week is Mental Health Week. Every year one in five Australians will suffer a mental health issue. I am that 1 in 5 and have been for many years. We need to create a dialogue around occurrences like these so people know they're not alone and ANYONE can be affected by mental health issues.
When I first felt the symptoms of a panic attack I had an amazing friend who knew what to do. I'm happy to be that friend for you too, even if only virtually. So take a deep breath and remember to exhale. Let your heart return to normal and your pace slow. You're okay, and you're definitely not alone.