My panic attacks were getting worse. It was no longer just the train, but lifts, a busy room, the back-seat of a car were all becoming impossible. Even leaving the house was getting harder.
When I went outside I’d feel that I was in some dark fairy tale where I’d never find my way home. Should I leave a trail of bread crumbs? With each step I took away from my flat, I got further and further from safety and the sky might fall in on me. Has it always been so high and wide?
In work, The Chief called me aside and said he was taking me home. I wasn’t fit to be here.
‘But I can’t go in the car,’ I said. ‘In an enclosed space I want to rip all my clothes off.’
He shrugged. ‘I’ll not stop you.’
On the journey back he ordered me to phone my GP and get signed off sick.
I shook my head. ‘You know I can’t.’
‘Look, we’ll deal with that when it comes. If it comes.’
He was talking about my job. I had been on a long-term secondment for the past five years. If I went off sick and crazy, the company could drop me, without notice, and I’d be relegated back to their call centre, with a cut in salary too. I was already struggling to pay the bills, and the extra £90 per month the secondment gave me was precious as gold dust.
The Chief scowled at me. ‘You’re getting a sick note. If I see you in work tomorrow I’ll belt ye, ya hoor.’
Ah, management speak.
My GP signed me off for six weeks and crammed me chock-full of pills. Now that I didn’t have to force myself to go to work I stopped leaving the house completely. I had attempted a trip to ASDA one day, but had to turn back at the car park because I was convinced the sliding doors would jam and I’d be trapped inside the shop. There was no point explaining to me about fire exits etc. I simply could not go inside so returned home empty-handed and surveyed the fridge: tomato ketchup, a trickle of milk, some drooping spinach. Ach, I’ll be fine. Who needs food?
So I stopped going out. It was like a curtain had dropped over my life, dividing me from the ‘normal’ bit. Was there a time when I used to go out and buy milk and go to work? I don’t know, I couldn’t see past the curtain. There is only this time, where I flinch when the phone rings, and hide when the door goes.
The worst moment came when there had been a game on at Hampden and the crowds were queuing along my street to get into Mount Florida train station. The pavement under my window was solid with singing, chanting, shoving men. Police horses pounded past. A loud speaker ordered everyone to stay off the road. A bottle crashed onto the path. I thought I would scream with this massive press of people outside my window. I retreated into the hall, and pulled all the doors closed. I sat on the floor, pulled my knees up to my chest, ducked my head down and tried to breathe. I had one rational thought - you look like a crazy woman – and then I must have passed out, because suddenly it was dark and the street was empty.
Shug came to the rescue. He worked at the college beside my flat, so came round on his lunch break every day, bringing me bread and milk and lentil soup and ginger cake. For about three weeks he was my only connection to the outside world. He wouldn’t stress me out with questions and advice. He’d just feed me and then let me lie in his arms and cry. Oh, it was such a relief to cry with Shug! When we were together I was always afraid of seeming ‘girly’ so I had never cried in front of him. It was such a luxury to drop my guard and howl.
After a fortnight of getting my strength up with lentil soup, he suggested a wee walk in Queens Park. It was sunny outside, and all the brats were in school, so the park would be nice and quiet.
I was nervous about venturing out so I grabbed handfuls of my pills and stuffed them in my handbag. I could all too easily imagine a panic attack under the wide open sky.
We opened the door and stepped out into the street. Oh god, the air smelled divine! So damp and luscious! Is this what it always smells like? I drew in big, wet, healthy breaths.
In Queens Park we walked along the paths, nice and slow. Shug gave me his arm and I clung to his side, my head down, repeating we won’t go too far.
I must look like an invalid, I thought, thin and pale and nervous, out taking the air….then I realised I am an invalid. I am sick.
Now that I was getting stronger, Shug suggested I go with him to the theatre on Saturday. Nothing fancy, just a wee jaunt to Clydebank to see his friends in an amateur production of Oklahoma.
‘I’ll need to sit on the aisle,’ I said. ‘And in a seat near the door!’
Shug put up his hands. ‘Leave it to me. You don’t need to worry about anything.’
On Saturday evening we went for dinner first and I downed three brandies. I know I’m not supposed to drink on my medication (and neither should I drive or operate machinery) but I was so nervous I needed to smother it with the heavy muffle of brandy.
Shug watched me, and raised an eyebrow. ‘Careful with the drink.’
I scowled at him. ‘Don’t stress me out.’
When we started the drive out to Clydebank I was fine. The brandy had silenced a lot of my anxiety. So when the panic attack hit me, I wasn’t prepared. Shug was about to turn onto the motorway and I saw all the cars queued up to enter and I realised once you’re on, you can’t get out. You can’t just stop. I’ll be trapped in the car. I wanted to grab the steering wheel.
‘No I can’t!’ I shouted. ‘Pull over! Pull over!’
Shug stopped the car. I opened the door and nearly tumbled out. We had stopped at an industrial estate. I grabbed the railings and pressed my forehead to the cold metal.
When it had passed, Shug helped me back into the car and we went the long way to Clydebank, avoiding the motorway, which made us late for the performance. The idea had been to get there early and secure nice seats by the door, but we arrived about three minutes before curtain up and the auditorium was packed.
Shug peeked in and said there were seats free, but not on the aisle. I shook my head. There’s no way I can sit in the midst of a crowd. I made him go in as he was here to support his friends and I said I’d wait in the bar. He handed me his wallet and told me to order whatever I liked, and he vanished into the theatre.
I sat quietly and corrected the grammatical errors in the programme. I enjoyed my drink, fingering Shug’s wallet and thinking he is indeed a friend with benefits.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.