My Father had a Heart Attack - Handling Anxiety - a guest blog by JayOct 28, 2016
My name is Jay and I’m going to tell you a little bit about the last couple of weeks of my life. Before I do you need to know a little bit about me.
I’m 22, a full time school teacher.
I play quidditch.
I’m a massive geek but I love sport.
I’ve always been confident and happy to go out and be silly.
I’m a geek but I’ll happily indulge myself in being a lad from time to time.
Recently my father had a major, life threatening, heart attack.
I was told the news while I was at work, in the middle of teaching my class during a time where we were having parents in to observe what their children are learning.
I left the class, went to the toilet, cried for a minute and went back and finished my day to the best standard I could (and actually received excellent feedback).
Now this event did two things, led to me evaluating every life decision and interaction I had ever had with my father, and also led me down the path to confronting the big A.
I’ve always prided myself on being a confident, exciting, funny person, I enjoy attention and love helping shape the social sphere I am in. Surely someone like me, an active, sports loving, loud geek couldn’t be struck down with something as silly as anxiety?
Of course I could, I’m an ideal target.
I felt, I feel empty, no motivation to do anything except sit indoors and play my xbox because apparently unlocking a new character is the closest I get to some sort of achievement.
I have no motivation to do any exercise or throw a ball, I don’t want to see or talk to anyone and the last thing I want to do is go to a Halloween party.
When I visit my father in hospital I can talk, I can chat but there’s only an amount of time before anxiety strikes me and I’m searching for my phone.
I know this is wrong and the guilt destroys me but I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to eat right, I can’t sleep and I can’t concentrate.
All of this would be fine if it wasn’t accompanied by a persistent feeling in my chest and head, like someone has overinflated my chest and is holding me up by a stick. In short, I feel pretty awful.
When I announced about my father to my friends I had all of the same “Thinking of you” and “Here if you need it messages” and while I appreciated them they didn’t change how I felt. Then one of my friends, a wonderful lady, offered to come and visit me. I accepted immediately because that’s what I thought was expected but deep down I had no idea if I could handle it. This lady is a good friend of mine and someone I care about a lot and while I knew she could make me feel better I didn’t know if I could handle her seeing me in such a mess.
She arrived and my only stipulation was that we tried to have as normal of a day as possible. We laughed, we chatted and for the first time I felt confident I could have a life that wasn’t dominated by worrying about my father.
We went back to my home and watched the American Football, the Dolphins won, (what a result!) but after I found the big A creeping up again, picking away at me. The pain in the chest and the constant worry. I turned to my friend and asked her for a cuddle and then said the words I’d had on my mind since the start:
“I don’t know how to feel.”
This moment was a revelation in many ways but mainly this was the first time I’d allowed myself to be vulnerable to someone since having the news and I’d finally spoken, even just a little bit, about what was going on in my head.
Did I feel weak, pathetic, stupid? No.
I felt sad of course but the thing I most felt was comfortable. In my friend’s arms, sharing my actual emotions rather than trying to cover them up or suppress them finally made me feel like I’d done something.
My friend was extremely understanding and accommodating, I talked about the feeling of emptiness, of not really knowing what emotion suited the moment and the guilt of being so concerned about myself when my father was lying in a hospital bed with only half of his heart working.
At this point you might be asking yourself: “Jay, what is the point of all this and are you just fishing for sympathy?”
The answer is no, I don’t want or need sympathy, just support. The bigger takeaways from this is that anxiety can happen to anyone and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
I was bullied a lot in school for being fat, dorky and not very good at sport but the feelings I have now are so much worse than the feelings I had then.
It doesn’t matter who you are, how confident you are or what you do anyone can feel anxiety. It’s a human defence mechanism and nothing we should be ashamed of. I learnt I could only deal with my anxiety if I talked to someone about it and the reasons behind it, bottling it up just made me feel worse, even for a few days.
As soon as I talked about it, I could confront it, I know the talking is the hard part but it’s a matter of feeling awkward for 5 minutes or ruining the next year of your life. I know which one I’d take.
There seems to be a lot of shame associated with anxiety, like millennials have made anxiety cool but the truth of the matter is that if you feel anxiety, real anxiety you have to take steps to solve it. The biggest step is finding the root of what is making you feel this way, for me I was so caught up thinking it was the event of a heart attack that caused my anxiety whereas it was actually not knowing how to react.
You have to talk to someone, anyone about how you feel.
I was lucky to have an amazing friend but honestly, baring your soul to anyone can really help you reflect on yourself and how you feel. The sooner you know why you feel how you do, the easier it becomes to confront it.
If you are lucky enough to have a strong support network then you have to be open with the people that care about you, everyone wants to support and help you if they offer but they can’t do that if you aren’t willing to be open and honest with them about how you are feeling.
Dealing with anxiety is not about making it disappear in a day, it’s about understanding what is causing it and accepting that.
Some things we can’t change, other things we can and as soon as we accept that and try and change the things that actually matter we can finally deal with what is causing stress, guilt and a low feeling. It isn’t self centered to want to look after yourself when you are struggling most.
Is it gone?
My father is still ill and my anxiety won’t go away tomorrow. It will go away when I am ready. I might not be out partying and playing my best sport but I may go out for coffee with a friend and play catch.
After paradigm shifting events in our lives it’s not about racing to get back to normal, it’s about slowly reintroducing ourselves into situations we are comfortable in.
The world still turns, the clock’s still tick and if it want to or not, hearts still beat.
Jay is raising money in aid of men’s health of all kinds through Movember. You should donate whatever you can afford.
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