Sometimes all challenges can begin to merge into one, which is why I wasn’t sure whether to write about my most recent one, however after asking a lot of people suggested it would be helpful so here I go.
The challenge seems quite easy, but for me it was quite tricky. I’ll set the scene…
My girlfriend is part of a musical theatre group, and last night was the first night of her first performance with this group, so asked me to go and see. Obvs I wanted to go and support her, but the typical pre-prep played a huge part in making the whole evening an anxious nightmare.
The only route was the M1, and I’ve been struggling with negative thoughts and triggers recently which makes motorway driving so hard, never mind sitting in a room watching a play thinking I can’t get out. I wasn’t sure how I’d do it but I knew I wanted to go and support her.
The day rolled round and after a long day at work, I came home, quickly ate, got changed and began looking for a back route. In short, there wasn’t one (great). I knew what I had to do, so in that moment I decided ‘this is it, I’m doing it’. This all sounds really confident – I was absolutely bricking it.
I grabbed my keys and jumped in the car, popped the address in the sat nav and off I went. Living quite close to the junction, I was soon approaching a fear but I knew I had to do it. I had the air con on to combat any hot flushes, blowers facing away to not to irritate me, my favourite music on to sing badly to and that was it – I had joined the M1. I was fine to start, but negative thoughts began playing a part. I’d brush them off, sing louder, get myself in the slow lane. I then broke the journey down into segments. Each junction was my segment, where if it got too hard I could pull off and figure something out. Junction passed, I knew I was OK to carry on. I was struggling but nothing bad happened. I was shouting at myself, talking to myself. If a negative thought popped in I’d instantly tell it to go away and leave me alone. Sure enough, I began to ease into it. I wasn’t great, but it got easier and soon I was exiting.
I got to the venue and pulled up, having a steady walk to the entrance. The hard part about the venue was not having any idea what the room was like, where I was sat or what I’d be doing in there. I got in and it was chairs around tables, which I was OK with. What I wasn’t OK with was being positioned smack bang at the front completely open. I began to worry, looking for an alternative but in the moment there weren’t any – and I knew the night was going to be tricky.
And sure enough the negative thoughts crept in, I was trembling, my legs shaking, fidgeting and looking for the exit. This was happening constantly for around 15 minutes and I felt at breaking point.
That’s when I realised what was happening, I knew what my brain was doing to my body. I knew anxiety was taking over and it was my choice as to whether I let it or not. I steadied my shaking and concentrated on slowing down my breathing. Panic can’t exist without slow breathing. I focused. I took control, and although anxiety was there, I was no longer having an attack. I began to focus on the play and try to keep up with what was happening and suddenly began to feel calmer. It hasn’t gone but it subsided. Soon enough the interval came and I popped to the toilet and felt somewhat accomplished as I looked in the mirror.
When the second half began I felt OK, anxious but manageable – I was beginning to enjoy it. My legs weren’t trembling as much and I felt good – then as they do, like a bat out of hell the negative thoughts came flooding in, only this time I was going to take control. I just sat there. I went hot, my heart raced and my legs had a slight temple but that was it. I sat and stayed in full control. I knew it was thoughts, I knew it would pass, I knew it was my choice and strength that would change what was happening to me both physically and mentally.
Slowly, it subsided and I was able to get on with watching the show, enjoying what was happening. It was only after did I realise I’d actually sat, completely untouched, having an anxiety attack, yet staying completely calm because I knew in that situation I was OK, I wasn’t in danger, it was my body and brain making up stories. Well, In that particular story I was the good guy with a big white horse and a sword, and basically beat the crap out of it.
Now all I had to do was make it home back down the motorway…but I’ve been there, done that and I was wearing the t-shirt, so bring it. Oh, and not remember any of the god awful songs from the musical. The girlfriend was brilliant though!
You don’t have to succeed. That doesn’t matter. We just have to fight, we have to. Keep going, keep pushing. There is something better.