Part Two...The girl in the mirror...
On our last night in Alice Springs we met with some people from our tour for drinks, dinner and to relax and cement the friendships we had built up over the past three days. My friend disappeared early on in the night to another part of the bar so he could smoke but which was out of sight to our table which wasn’t really a problem, for him. But for me it became a different story because he doesn’t know about my personal torment...not many people do. I am not a very social person, especially when I don’t know people very well and so I left early in the evening under the excuse that I was tired, and that we were leaving the next day. The real reason I left was that I felt uncomfortable. I felt like the only person in a room full of people....I felt abandoned. I know that if my friend knew this he would be devastated...but this was definitely a problem I had with myself, and most definitely NOT a problem I had with him. He was faultless.
To understand a little more, I need to back up quite a few years...30 in fact...to when I was a teenager. Due to something that had happened to me as a child, I started to suffer from panic attacks although I never knew that was what they were called back then. I would put them down to nerves because that was the closest thing I could relate to how I felt. A nervous disorder. There were two things that would trigger my attacks....getting close to a boy I liked....and eating with other people outside of my home. Adrenalin would start to course through my body, my hands would get sweaty, my heart would beat alarmingly fast, I would feel nauseous (and on some occasions I did actually throw up) and I would feel absolutely terrified. This could go on for hours on and off...depending on the situation and circumstances. It made dating difficult although I did still manage to have boyfriends, and it made eating out on dates impossible for me...I just didn’t do it. I got very good at making excuses. My self confidence was battered and at an all time low.
When I met my later-to-be husband, the qualities that I liked most about him were the ones I was lacking in myself....the confidence, the self assurance, the ego. As we grew as a couple and we headed into our twenties, I no longer suffered attacks that related directly to him, but I was still very much troubled by panic attacks when eating out – no matter who was present. Restaurants were a nightmare, eating at someone else’s house terrified me. Eating at his boss’s house threw me into a string of attacks in the days leading up. I thought there was something mentally wrong with me so I went to a psychologist who explained about conscious and sub conscious thoughts which was helpful and prescribed an antidepressant which was not. My partner forbade me to take them even though they were a low dose – he never understood or tried to understand what I was going through...or why. But I still didn’t have a name for what I was experiencing so I thought it wasn’t important....that perhaps I wasn’t that important. I started to realise that I was beginning to use coping techniques to get me through the attacks; things that I felt helped me get through without embarrassing myself or without having to explain. I was very self conscious and far too hard on myself. I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone about what I was experiencing. I thought I must have been the only one as no one else seemed to have any of the same issues. I felt too embarrassed to talk about it.
I began to realise that it was all about control. When I felt in control, the attacks came less and weren’t so bad. If we ate out, a smorgasbord or help yourself was the best option as I could pick and choose what I wanted and nobody really took any notice of what I ate. The control was in the choice of food and how much. I would fill my plate with salad which was easy to eat and took up lots of space. I rarely ate red meat and still don’t. The food of choice being seafood or chicken as they are lighter meats. The worse scenario was if I had to eat at somebody’s house and they piled my plate with food...food that I had no control in choosing...food that I felt obliged to eat...when really I just felt like throwing up. There is only so much “pushing food around a plate” that you can get away with until someone notices. It truly was a terrifying and awful feeling and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I felt trapped with no escape.
I was well into my thirties before I made the connection between what I was suffering....and panic attacks. Finally, a name...a disorder...an explanation. By this stage I had children and so the focus was much more on them than me, I was starting to feel more in control and my self confidence started to climb. The attacks were coming less and less and this bolstered my confidence more. I knew what the triggers were and how they felt so I could launch into damage control and keep my reactions to a minimum. In a strange twist of karma, my husband (now my ex) started to suffer panic attacks himself when he needed to fly which was at least once a month for work. He went to the doctor who prescribed Valium and which he had absolutely no qualms about taking. He never once acknowledged that he had been wrong in his treatment of me and my attacks and never ever apologised for any of the harsh words or contempt he gave me. I suffered alone and in silence. But I managed to come out the other side almost unscathed and able to go out, socialise...and eat. I still sometimes get the odd twinge...but I know it for what it is and I doubt my panic attacks will ever have a hold on me like they did.
So, where does this leave me in a bar in Alice Springs??? Well...it wasn’t actually in the bar but when I was in bed early the next morning about 5am. I was lying awake tossing and turning and trying to sleep and thinking over the previous night and how I was a little angry with my friend for abandoning me when I had the second revelation on this trip....I was angry with him for abandoning me...but he hadn’t really cause he was still there, just out of sight....but I felt so increasingly uncomfortable...but he had every right to be enjoying himself, he didn’t have to sit with me just to keep me happy....he was having fun, letting his hair down....but he was my comfort zone...and BANG! There it was. I wasn’t angry with him for abandoning me...I was angry with MYSELF because I felt that he had to be near me to make me feel more comfortable. HE WAS MY COMFORT ZONE. Without him knowing, he had become my comfort zone so that when he wasn't there, I couldn't cope. So then I started thinking about all the things that had become my “comfort zone”. My children, having control of the situation, the way I keep people at arm’s length, my nonexistent social life, my job...all the ways in which I need to feel in control so that I feel comfortable in my comfort zone. I started to cry....I cried hot, hard, silent tears that burned down my face. The past three days had put me well and truly outside my physical comfort zone....but when was I going to let myself truly experience life and put myself outside my emotional comfort zone??? When was I going to let the bonds that had formed from years of panic attacks fall completely away?? Since when did I need a comfort zone to feel in control??
I think the time has come....I feel ready and renewed. My attitude since returning has been much more laid back and content and I am fiercely holding onto that feeling...guarding it and nurturing it...holding the small flame within and feeling it burn. Maturity and confidence has taken over from the terrified, nervous teenager I once was. Yet there was still one more revelation for me that related to this trip...another one I was not prepared for....TBC