Block. Delete. Forget.

Block. Delete. Forget.

Two of my worst panic attacks have taken place in the air, on a plane. The first was following a major panic attack I had whilst on a weekend away in Madrid.

My panic attack in Madrid was triggered by a bad experience I had whilst I was there. I’ve never written about this before, and have only told those closest to me about it, but one year on I feel I need to put it out there. It’s long, but please stick around.

I was in Madrid with two people I believed to be my friends, however whilst drinking in a bar, they questioned me on being a lesbian. It’s hard to describe what they said without using the actual words, but it was along the lines of me going through a “phase”, that it was a choice, and how hard they found it to accept me as gay. They told me they believed that I would “go back to men”, and that they wouldn’t want their daughters to stay with me for any length of time in case “they came back as lesbians”.

Now, this was not the first time I had felt singled out like this in their company. There had been many occasions where I wasn’t invited to nights out or in, because it was them and their husbands. Many times, their partners wouldn’t come out if it were me and my partner because it was “too girly”.

My so-called best friend treated me as a bit of a joke, and I am sure she still thinks of me that way. My mental illness was growing for years as I found it hard to come out initially, and incredibly hard to deal with the pressures of telling family and friends that I was gay. It was crippling, and I found it hard to be at peace and love myself again. I am only just getting there now after my near breakdown in December of last year. There was little to no support from these friends. Although lip-service was made, they were not supportive and I could not talk to them without being subjected to another lesbian joke.

Following what was said to me in that bar in Madrid, I fought my corner as best I could, given that I was in a strange environment and it was two against one. I’d never done this before. I asked them why they were adding another layer of guilt and pressure to me for coming out as gay five years earlier. I genuinely believed of all the people in my life, my friends would understand and realise that it didn’t matter who I was in a relationship with – I was still Ellie. Apparently it did matter. They said it did alter things, and that it wasn’t the same now I was in relationships with women. This broke my heart, as I could not imagine how or why this would change anything at all.

Still, I questioned myself. I asked myself if I was being unreasonable. I asked myself if I was being harsh on my friends to expect them to accept me as gay. I left the bar and went back to the hotel room.

Waking the next morning, my friends acted as if nothing had happened. One of them said that we should laugh off what happened the night before, and I shouldn’t be so sensitive about things. I sent a text message to my girlfriend, and one to my friend in Edinburgh telling them what had happened. Both were horrified. Both said they couldn’t believe what had happened the night before and I shouldn’t have friends like that. What a relief to know that I wasn’t over reacting and that what I believed about myself was right. What a relief to know that I had such amazing people in my life who loved me back home.

I spent the rest of that final day in Madrid quietly, only interacting when I had to. I was miserable and trapped and I couldn’t wait to get home.  My flight was at 8am the following morning, so I was counting down the minutes.

At 2am, the panic attack started. I text my girlfriend and she talked me through it. I have a fear of vomit, but I had to be sick in the toilet; there was no choice. I couldn’t avoid it. I lay on the bathroom floor convulsing until I had to force myself up to get dressed and get into a taxi. Still, my girlfriend was texting me through it, encouraging me to just take it minute by minute, not to think about the future just to concentrate on what was happening around me. What did the floor feel like? What could I see around me? How many colours? I made it to the airport in the taxi, but had no WiFi connection so couldn’t stay in contact with anyone until I landed back in Scotland. I checked in to my flight using a machine, and everywhere I went I stopped in the toilet for respite. I always knew where the nearest bin was in case I needed to be sick. I waited in a toilet until I had to board the plane, listening to music on my headphones which reminded me of home.

I boarded the plane, and sat at the back by a window. I was breathing fast but had to concentrate on that to keep calm. A couple were sitting next to me. I turned away from them, held a sick bag and concentrated on my breath. We took off. I was OK, just. It was about 30 minutes into the flight when panic set in again and I had to ask the couple next to me to grab a flight attendant. I was definitely going to pass out. The couple moved to other seats and I lay down over three seats. I passed out, and woke again to the attendants offering me sugar water. It was so welcome! I had zero energy left and one sip brought me back a little bit. I lay back down and slept the rest of the trip.

We landed. The relief was so immense that I cried. A text message came through from my girlfriend saying she was waiting for me, along with my friend who had driven her there to pick me up. I managed to get off the plane and over to Arrivals, where I burst into tears at seeing her, and couldn’t stop. She carried me to the car, and my friend was there – I cried. They had brought me a blanket, hot water bottle and water to make me feel better in the car. They took me home, and I vowed never to leave ever again.

It took me three days to get over the panic attack. I couldn’t eat, was too anxious to talk to anyone and couldn’t go to work. I was also too scared to sleep in my bed as it took me right back to the bed in Madrid. I had to sleep on the sofa with the television on all night, and my girlfriend set up a bed on the floor so she could be with me. We woke up in the night, watched random films and fell back to sleep. Finally, I was able to eat a rich tea biscuit and things returned to relative normality.

What of my terrible friends? I have never spoken to or seen them again. I cut them out of my life completely, because poisonous people do not deserve anyone’s time. It took me a while to come round to this way of thinking. My girlfriend, Mum, sister, aunties and friends convinced me that people who make you feel inadequate are not friends. I haven’t missed them once in the year since it happened. In fact, I feel better about myself and my life since they’ve been away.

A month later, I was diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder and PTSD as a result of the incident in Madrid. It affected me deeply, and I was ill for a while. I am now in a completely different place mentally. I am still on medication, but I love myself, and I am not ashamed of who I am or what I have been through to get here. I work on bettering myself daily, and will never be afraid to disconnect with people who dull my shine.

I’m now happily married to the woman who helped me through all of this, have real friends who love me for who I am, and a family that have my back whatever I choose to do with my life.

I’m still afraid of flying, though. More on that next time!

no-longer-anything

This blog post is dedicated to Sharon, Louise, Alice and Marilyn who told me to tell them to “Get tae f**k”.

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The Dreaded Phone Call

The Dreaded Phone Call

This blog post in no way reflects or refers to my current place of work. The following has been gathered from personal past experience, and by speaking to others who have had, or still have, the same experiences.

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So you’ve woken up, you feel horrendous, and you know you can’t make it into work. But not going into work means you have to phone in to work. Talking to someone on the other end of the line and telling them what’s wrong is a terrifying prospect. For many with a mental illness, this also means lying about what’s wrong; an added layer of anxiety.

So you go into work and are ineffective because you are unwell. Or you phone in, and spend the rest of the day feeling guilty, questioning what you said and whether or not anyone believed you. You then return to work sooner than you should do, and sometimes worse because of the effects this has had on your anxiety.

I’ve emailed and text into work before, and been pulled up for not phoning in when I should have done. Why do I email? Because I am already feeling physically or mentally ill enough to be off sick, so I’d rather delay speaking to anyone until I am fit enough to do so. At the point of being well again, I am strong enough to explain my reasons, particularly if they were related to my mental health.

In 2016, why aren’t places of work more flexible with this, particularly with those who struggle with mental health? I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Trust, or lack of it. Phoning in lets the manager hear the employee speaking, and explaining why they are off sick. Managers may gauge from this phone call whether they believe them or not.
  2. The phone call can discourage people who are not genuinely unwell from phoning in.
  3. Open conversation can develop, to discuss any support needs or to reassure the employee.

My question is, should employers offer an alternative way of contacting their managers should employees request this due to a mental illness? I believe so.

I asked some social media followers what they think.

Female, 26:

I consider myself to be a trustworthy, hard working employee; yet I feel severe guilt when I need to phone in to work sick. The stress and anxiety would be greatly reduced if I were able to text my boss, and if she understood why I was contacting her this way.

Male, 34:

I feel physically sick at the thought of phoning my supervisor. Not because we don’t get on, or she doesn’t understand my [mental] illness, but because when I am having a dark day, the last thing I want to do is explain it verbally. I just go into work, or invent a physical symptom.

Female, 32:

I mainly feel OK phoning in sick, but there are days when my anxiety runs too high and I feel like I can’t do it. It goes one of two ways: I either just go in and am completely unproductive, or I phone in and then criticize myself for the rest of the day on what I said. Being able to text would be awesome for my anxiety.

Female, age not given:

My worry is that if I text in, people would think it was too easy for me to take a day off and I would [take advantage]. Which isn’t the case, but do other people know that?

So, what do you think? In this age of technology, should we embrace other forms of communication for situations where using the telephone can cause someone with anxiety more harm than good? Should this be open to all, or just to those who specifically request an alternative means of communication due to a mental health condition?

I think I would feel far more comfortable knowing that if I was having a bad MH day, I could text my line manager and have an open discussion when I was back at work and feeling stronger. I would love for some employers to embrace this way of thinking, and I firmly believe better working relationships based on trust and understanding would develop.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Keep being mindful, and please don’t be hard on yourself if you have to phone in sick. We all deserve the time it takes to feel better again.