Soon after I was diagnosed with anxiety and had started on the medication I was at a very low point. We had gone on holiday to Barcelona, but I was too fearful to leave the holiday apartment for the first few days. I felt dizzy – I thought I would fall over. My chest was tight. I was sweating, even though the temperature was quite mild. I couldn’t go in the lift to the apartment because it was too scary, so I walked up to the fifth floor. This didn’t actually help as it made me more out of breath and added to the lightheadedness.
My wife didn’t know what to do for the best. We were a long way from home, in a foreign land. All I wanted to do was sit on the sofa and keep warm under a blanket. We nearly hadn’t got to our destination as I refused to get on the Eurostar at first. I’d developed a panic attack at Waterloo station and the “impending doom” of a train journey under the English Channel was too much. Or nearly was too much.
At the point of it was either get on the train or we would be heading back home and give up on the holiday I gritted my teeth and went for the train. I didn’t want to let me wife down and have her miss out on our holiday.
The train journey was quite miserable. I didn’t want to sit in our seats, so we sat at the end of the carriage on the temporary seats next to the luggage. I listened to my mp3 player – lots of worship songs. It felt better to escape into worship. In fact listening to worship songs on my mp3 player was what enabled me to cope with the whole holiday.
After a few days of this hellish existence I gradually plucked up the courage to leave the apartment and explore the city. It was all about confidence building. I would tell myself that after I had managed to walk to such and such part of the city I had survived and nothing terrible had happened. So the next day I could try it again and maybe explore a bit more. Day by day my confidence grew as I taught myself simple things like walking around, going on the metro, going into museums and churches and shops.
During one of my more rational moments I tried to analyse what was going on. It felt like information overload. Instead of tuning out background noise and only focusing on the task in hand, all my senses were taking in the sounds and smells and sights all at once. My brain had too much to handle and this made me fearful.
Fearful I would be ill. Fearful something bad would happen.
Barcelona has a lovely big department store – El Corte Inglés, but it took a few goes over a few days to enable me to venture further in than the ground floor. I needed to know I was within 10 minutes of an exit. So to go up or down an escalator was too much to consider at first. Eventually I grew in confidence by telling myself I had managed so far the day before, I could try a little further today. So by the end of the first week I had enough confidence to have a coffee and cake in the top floor restaurant.
The second week of our holiday was quite a contrast. Confidence was returning. I had relearned basic skills like sight-seeing. I was able to tell myself I had managed to cope with this yesterday, I could try that today. I started to enjoy being on holiday.
All this was nearly three years ago, and it is hard thinking about it again. Hard because of how restricted I had been. What kind of life is that? Hard because of the impact it had on my wife. She is such a treasure and has helped me tremendously. It was a far from enjoyable time of life, and I felt that the anxiety was robbing me and my family of joy.
I am no longer the same person that struggled in Barcelona. I’ve been on many holidays since then. I’ve been on the Eurostar and other trains lots without the same sense of panic.
It was also a time of trusting in God. I prayed loads. I listened to lots of worship. I felt God was close. It wouldn’t be true to say that He took all the anxiety away, but I did know his presence with me while I was going through it.