The following conversation with a Dad took place last night…
‘…Bob, can I have a word? It’s a bit embarrassing”
I listened – but had a strong feeling that I already knew what I was about to be told.
The man in question went ahead and spoke about his recent onset of panic attacks. “I think I’m going to collapse…I tremble…I get really scared…” The phrases he used were all too familiar. They come straight out of the panic attack lexicon.
I listened and then went back to his use of the word “embarrassing”, and decided to take an opportunity to fess-up about how I too, find attacks debilitating, ‘embarrassing’, and leave me feeling…what’s the word?… humiliated.
I suggested he talk through what happens to him, with the reassurance that there was no need to be embarrassed when talking to me. The language was again familiar. “like a hurricane entering your head, a feeling of dizziness…panting for breath, odd heart beat…and overwhelming fear”.
“I tell you what Bob – these attacks – they shrink my f***ing dick!”
I perhaps need to add that I have known this man for years – he’s the bloke in the pub with the one-liners. Mostly inappropriate, but always apt. He’s the man that makes you snort beer out your nose!
We talked further about the emasculating effect of panic attacks. Our stories were almost identical. I too choose my bedroom (at any time of day or night) as the place of recovery while an attack subsides. I pull the curtains and sit on my bed with my knees pulled under my chin. I try (like the text books tell me) to concentrate on my breathing – but I’m not too good at doing that. Within half an hour or so of an attack I have this unerring and unwanted need to really look at myself.
I see two things:
First of all I see a Dad. A director of www.onlydads.org with its role of being on the ball and insightful and knowledgeable for others. A man with a house to run, an organisation to run and much parenting to do.
And then I see the reality (albeit temporary). I see a man tucked up on his bed, out of site of the world. A trembling man. Scared stiff of…well who knows what!?
Yep…I admit it. At such times I’m half a man. It’s an awful feeling. Panic attacks are ego-wreckers!
I get off my bed. I take a deep breath – well probably half a dozen – and I’ll pick up some laundry from the basket and get down stairs and put a wash on. Within five minutes I’ll have the kettle on too, and the radio. I’ll go and find the peg bag, get twitter onto the computer, respond to some emails…an hour or so later life will be functioning again. I will be a little bit weaker, and yet in an undefined way, a little bit stronger too.
I have in mind the analogy of stalagmites and stalactites – the constant drip of panic attacks leave a mark. But so too, as more and more come and go and you find yourself working through them, well you may in time, find yourself being built-up again.
This morning, I felt the need to phone my pal. I reassured him that things will be OK…and told him that the best thing of all was that he still had the balls to talk to somebody about these attacks.
The more us blokes can do that (without embarrassment), the better!
Mind campaign for better mental health and have a wealth of information about panic attacks and other conditions on their website.
…and for any men (or women) reading this who are suffering in silence…my advice is go and talk to your GP. They are the gateway to a range of support options.