My legs feel heavy, I can't move.
My face feels hot, my head is going to split in half.
I can feel my heart pounding in my head, and why is everyone shouting at me?
My hands and feet feel tingly, I think I'm going to die.
Fight or Flight is a serious business, though I jest, because I'm giving you as the reader permission to laugh because it's also funny.
Though it's very serious.
It's a horribly confusing, painful, desperate, horrendous feeling but I always learn in hindsight that the cause is something that actually just needs laughing at. This is why I write about my experiences with a such a brutal, raw kind of humour. Because however painful and terrifyingly real an anxious thought feels at the time - it's utter bollox. Its capacity to grip, to convince, to wrap itself so tightly around your neck, to make you think you might actually crap yourself (soz) is utterly shit and needs to be talked about. Normalised. (I realise I have used the words bollox, crap & shit here, and I'm sorry if this offends but these are the sort of profanities that this thing called anxiety deserves. Actually it deserves worse, but I think I've gone far enough.)
My first experience of this thing professionals call 'Fight or Flight' was when I was working in a daycare setting many moons ago. I was working with adults who had learning disabilities. The job warmed my heart, and even now when I think back to some of the treasures I had the pleasure of caring for I can still hear one of the ladies calling me 'Memily'. And another squeezing my hand so tightly as we walked along that it actually hurt a little bit but I didn't want to tell her because I knew she was doing it because it made her feel safe. I recount two happy memories here. One not so happy was a time some actual human poo was flicked onto my lip. This was a low moment and resulted in some rather frantic alone-time with some bleach and a cloth. I was a little bit sore for a few days, but I made sure I gave Ben a nice big kiss when I got home.
I loved that job. I was good at it.
I remember reading an article about Hepatitis B, the 'Silent Disease' (which, by the way, is the worst kind of disease for someone with generalised anxiety, as was my diagnosis at the time).
It is worth pausing here for a moment to check that you are sitting comfortably, without distraction. For what I am about to say requires every single ounce of your attention. It will be the most life-changing information you will ever read and challenge every perspective you have ever had on life. Brace yourself, for I will write it as I heard it. Ready?
This life threatening disease rarely has symptoms but slowly and silently damages your liver to the point of liver disease and eventual death. It can be passed on through a microscopic amount of blood that might not be even visible to the human eye, and can live outside the body for as long as two weeks, perhaps even up to six in certain environments. It can live on inanimate objects and requires only a minuscule opening in skin or membrane to enter the bloodstream. It doesn't die in hot or cold temperatures or with anti-bacterial/alcohol based products but can only be extinguished by a solution made of 10% bleach to water. This disease is a lot more prevalent than one would think, and many many people do not know all these dangers.
O.M.G(oodness) - just incase my Dad is reading this and thinks I have become a Heathen.
Could I have watched anything that was going to be more harmful to me right now?
Here began my Hepatitis B obsession which I now know would rear its ugly head during periods of vulnerability over the next 15 years of my life.
So as the new expert on this disease it was now my job to do everything within my power to both educate and to stop it spreading. My internal monologue became quite incessant. A mantra on repeat that varied only in tone. 'All it takes is a pin-prick of blood' was my song, which during moments of control sounded somewhat poetic. What a good job they had me! Imagine if I hadn't read that article? We would have an invisible blood bath on our hands! Sheesh, this care home has got lucky, big time. On other days this song would sound quite different. The accompaniment wouldn't be a frenzied smile and a perfectly tuned flute. It'd be a rush of hysteria and a flute just out of the loft, played (loudly) by a 6 year old boy.
I quickly ascertained that the only responsible thing to do was to assume that I, along with everyone in the home, had it. Therefore my cleaning process needed to be painstakingly thorough, with even the slightest bits of open skin on my hands covered (as per the pin pricks of blood too small for the naked eye to see). If I were to be put in charge of creating a health and safety booklet about the care and prevention of this disease it would read a little something like this:
HEPATITIS B: GUIDELINES
> ANY CRACKS IN SKIN (EVEN IF YOU CAN'T SEE ANY BUT THINK YOU MAY HAVE SOME) SHOULD BE COVERED AT ALL TIMES
> STAFF ARE TO WEAR A PLASTIC FACE SHIELD AT ALL TIMES WHEN DEALING WITH BODILY FLUIDS OF ANY KIND
> IF YOU HAVE NOTICED ANYONE BLEEDING, EVEN IF THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF BLOOD ON ANY SURFACE OR OBJECT AROUND YOU, THE IMMEDIATE AREA SHOULD BE EVACUATED IMMEDIATELY AND SCRUBBED WITH A 10% BLEACH SOLUTION
> ALWAYS ASSUME THAT ANYTHING REMOTELY RED OR BROWN-ISH IN COLOUR IS BLOOD AND ACT ACCORDINGLY
NEVER BE TOO CAREFUL AND ALWAYS ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION. THIS IS PEOPLE'S LIVES AND LIVERS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT.
A period of bleaching the bath between clients began. But not just bleaching: bleaching then rinsing with lots and lots of water. Because although I was doing the responsible thing and protecting them from permanent liver damage, obviously I couldn't allow 3rd degrees burns as an alternative. As I'm sure you can imagine, my desperate attempts to protect them from all harm meant that the bathing routine took some time and it didn't take me long to realise that I maybe wasn't very well. Routines and rituals went from mildly ridiculous (what could have been considered 'quirky') to utterly insane and came to a head when I found myself putting gloves on to do the most menial of tasks, then scrutinising both the gloves and my fingers for evidence of holes or blood.
My eyes then began seeing things that weren't there...
My body began to feel like it was reacting to situations before my head got there. The sensations of my body were so strong, so unquestionable, that there was no doubt it was all real.
This felt catastrophic, therefore it must be.
My attempts to neutralise these feelings spiralled out of control with one action giving way for a new anxiety to snake its way in.
What am I going to do? How am I going to tell my manager what has happened? How could I be so irresponsible?
It wasn't long before I was at the doctor's. Signed off. Medication in hand. Diagnosis given.
I have never been brave enough to go back to care work.