Feel the Panic and Carry On

The first time I experienced a panic attack I was standing in a hotel foyer, as a teenager, in Lisbon. It was completely overwhelming. I felt distressed, my heart was racing and I felt lost, afraid and tearful. I frightened the person I was with and it took some hours to feel normal again. The exuberance of youth, however, allowed me to push it to one side and move on.

The first day on a new temping assignment when I was just married, was my second one. It crept up on me during the day. I felt a tingling around my mouth and a feeling as if someone was stroking my leg. Eventually, I had to ask to leave and on my way home I was convinced I was dying. I felt weird for the rest of the day and frightened that it would happen again.

After having seen my GP, I realised I had suffered a panic attack. We were planning a move to Portugal at the time and subconsciously I think I was worried. But this panic attack completely rocked my confidence. I became anxious about being outside in public places. My heart would race and I would feel light-headed.

As I went through my twenties I learnt how to deal with them. They always crept up on me unawares. And often when I was alone. Pins and needles, tingles, lightheadedness . Once back in a familiar place with people I knew, I would gradually feel better. By my thirties they had become so infrequent I no longer thought about them.

Recently, having gone through menopause, I suddenly feel vulnerable again. I worry about losing those I love. I am feeling my age. And with that those familiar feelings of panic have reappeared. . When this happens I feel I want to pull a blanket over me and hide. I cope with work – if anything it is a distraction. But days off bring over-thinking, which is exhausting. I lack motivation and a sense of purpose and forget how to be my own best friend. Instead, I accuse myself of not doing enough, not stretching myself and I have to make do with achieving the bare minimum. Sleep is my friend. It puts my scrambled thoughts into order and quietens and soothes any distress.

But on the good days I remind myself that the bare minimum is ok. It is keeping the show on the road. It is being Claire. That’s who I am. An over-thinker, a worrier, a frequently disappointed , yet continuing optimist. I will find my sense of belonging again in this new chapter of my life. And until then I will just be.

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I’m sorry but it hurts !

The pain was excruciating. It hurt so much. I had to tell them to stop. She hurt me. He hurt me. I was in tears when I left. All from the mouths of women who have had bad experiences at gynaecology clinics. Today I had yet another conversation with a friend who felt they had been hurt and had their request for anaesthetic seem an annoyance to the clinician.

Why does this happen ? Why is it ok to think that it isn’t painful for women to have their reproductive organs examined or treated ? Is it because the access to them is a well-trodden route ? Sex, tampons, coil insertions and of course childbirth, when 3-4 kilos of baby is released into that superhighway, the vagina, all take their toll. Surely such a used, sometimes scarred and weathered place must be able to withstand significant pain ?

But the fact is – for all the vagina’s traffic, it doesn’t mean that you can prod and poke around at what is at the end of it. without it hurting. It isn’t fair to make women feel as if they are being fussy and causing trouble to ask for an anaesthetic. Many times a local anaesthetic isn’t even offered unless it is requested. Women are just frequently expected to put up with invasive and painful procedures with nothing but gritted teeth.

Females are generally hardy, with an exceedingly high pain threshold. But are they really ? Is it just that they have been conned into thinking that pain is normal – for them anyway. From personal experience it is interesting that you can have an operation on your hand and be deemed worthy of having your meals brought to your bed, yet the local hospital post-natal ward is a self-service affair. Women who have endured hours of painful labour, shuffle along the corridor in dressing gowns, wincing with each step, like something out of a zombie movie. No special treatment for them – just another day at the reproduction office.

Sadly it is the elderly women, the shy and the ones who don’t like to make a fuss that get the worse deal in all of this. They are the ones who won’t ask for pain relief, who won’t say no to the student audience, who will walk away in silent, painful acceptance of whatever happens.

It is a nonsense that women should have to endure pain. Discomfort admittedly – but not pain. To my fellow Eves, don’t suffer in silence. Ask for pain relief – decide who can watch or accompany the procedure. And if you feel that somehow you have been treated uncaringly or made to suffer unnecessary pain, then make sure you report your feelings to PALS – the Patient Advice and Liaison Service.