I’m not sure when, why or how I first became afraid. I remember when I was in the 1st or 2nd grade I was involved in a school performance. It was the most random thing, I was called into a classroom one day and asked to sing a song that I had never heard before. I still remember every word to that song by the way! Anyway, I got the part, had my own solo on stage and we performed at what I think was a local RSL. It’s hardly Broadway sure, but when I look back at how tiny and brave I must have been I am in awe of my rad little self. I vividly remember standing there on stage, I was frightened but I just kinda did it. And then my five minutes of fame was over.
The next year there was another performance, I remember it being kind of ‘expected’ that I try out. The first time was so easy, someone chose me and that was that, when I sang for the teacher I had no real knowledge that I was ‘trying out’. It didn’t feel like I was being tested, I was asked to sing and so I did. This time though it was so different, the class was full of my peers and those above me & you were supposed to stand up and sing in front of the whole room. I was absolutely terrified. I sat there feeling the anxiety build up until I couldn’t stand it any more, so I asked for permission to go to the toilet. And that is where I stayed.
Looking back on it I cannot even believe that as a tiny little primary student I was essentially wagging class. I wasn’t trying to be naughty, it was just that the fear of singing in front of that room was so much greater than the fear of getting in trouble. I don’t have any idea how long I sat there, but when I finally ventured out of the bathroom the tryouts were over and I had escaped my fate. At the tender age of five or six I learned that when expectation (whether real or only perceived) got too much for me, I could hide. The relief was palpable. I don’t remember my teacher’s name that year but by golly I remember how relieved I felt when I realised that I wouldn’t have to sing. I think I have been hiding in bathrooms in one way or another ever since.
I wish I knew what it was that started it all, I truly do not have any idea of what could turn me from a child who could stand up and sing in front of a crowded RSL, to a child that hid in bathrooms. I’m not sure if anxiety disorders develop that young, whether it was a simple developmental change or whether something significant happened in that time that changed everything, it’s a complete mystery to me.
I had my first diagnosed panic attack in my early 20′s. Though I think I had experiences leading up that were milder versions. I remember my first attack vividly, it was at a time in my life that was chaotic and full of change, I felt the heavy burden of adult responsibilities and the confusion of adult relationships. I felt lost and out of control. I have had bouts of dreadful insomnia for as long as I can remember so I had decided to see a Dr about it. Who sensibly prescribed me medication. When I tried to take one of the pills I had a panic attack. True to form I didn’t scream or cry or draw attention to myself. I just sat quietly on the couch beside my boyfriend quite literally feeling like I was about to die and then I went to the bathroom and threw up. That’s always sexy.
And it passed, as they always do and I was left wondering what the hell was that? Part of me knew I think, but I took the very typical route of someone pre- anxiety disorder diagnosis & took myself off for all the medial checks and tests. Because how on earth could something that felt so hideous & physical be psychological in origin? I had to be dying of something! Thank goodness I didn’t really use Dr Google back then because I would have been in a world of trouble. Or maybe not, maybe I would have found help sooner. I had panic attacks intermittently for a few years after that, but they were easy to deal with because whatever activity precipitated an attack, I would just stop doing it. I can’t even begin to verbalise the relief that comes when you ‘escape’ a panic attack. You find yourself hurriedly excusing yourself from any number of social events that get too difficult and rush home to ‘safety’. And while it feels like pillow-soft comfort at the time, what you are really doing is building a 50 foot high wall between yourself and the rest of the world.
I know that some of you will be nodding along with every word of this, and others will be a little confused because they have ‘panicked’ before when they locked their keys in the car or got up 2 hours late for work or something, and it’s not really that big of a deal. But maybe some of you have been in the car before when some jerk off pulls out in front of you without indicating, and as you slam your foot on the brakes and hope to hell that your car can slow down in time before you hit, and time seems to be moving superman fast and yet in slow motion all at once, and you wonder to yourself if this is really it and will you ever see your husband, mother, child, best friend ever again, are you wearing nice underwear and will your ex-boyfriend rock up to your funeral?..
It’s sheer ice-cold, terror, your thoughts move at 100 miles an hour and your body is in sensory overload.
That’s what a panic attack feels like. Except there is no car. You could be anywhere doing anything. Your body is relentlessly bracing for near disaster 24/7 and you just can’t escape the terror because it is being created within you.
So you can see why a person might try and avoid it.
Thankfully those days are long gone and I don’t often have panic attacks anymore and if I do they are manageable. Cognitive behavioural therapy and self-care have been a literal life saver for me. But hitting the big 30 made me realise something. I’ve spent a good portion of those 30 years hiding in bathrooms, both literally and metaphorically. When something frightens me, my instinctive reaction is to panic and hide. When I fear that I might fail, I cease to try. I’ve lived a black and white life, do it perfect or not at all. I’m terrified to put myself forward, I find it near impossible to speak up and ask for what I want/need so I stay silent. I lack courage.
I took some time off recently to work out which direction I wanted to take Little Lou Lou. I needed the free time to clear some space in my head. And you know I still don’t have it all figured out. But I made a promise to myself. I promised myself that I was no longer going to allow fear to influence my choices. I am blessed with so many things that give me all the potential for success, I have time, space, resources, passion & a firm support network. What I need to develop now is courage. Courage not to worry so much about what other people think or do, courage to create with abandon rather than within the confines of my comfort zone. The courage to ask for help, and accept it when it is offered. The courage to use my voice. The courage to forge my own path and dream bigger dreams.
So I did what felt like a crazy thing at the time. And it was the easiest and the hardest thing in the world for me to do. I entered a mini competition/giveaway thingy at Forming Circles. All I had to do was mention what 3 things I would change about my business if I could, and what I would specifically need to change them. Choosing was easy, I had been thinking about it for a while. I want a new logo, a professional photo shoot and a website update. All definitely within my own reach but all not really within budget for a while yet. Actually putting my hand up to be noticed, and expressing those needs was soooo much harder. My face was hot and I was mortified as I wrote down the dreaded ‘numbers’. I find discussing financial matters difficult at the best of times, in front of such a large audience it felt near impossible! But I thought to myself what is the worst thing that could happen?
and guess what did happen? I won!! I actually won! Forming Circles has offered to fund my new logo and business cards! I put my hand up to be counted, expressed my wish and it was granted. Just like that! It was completely exhilarating! Liberating! I spoke up, put myself forward and the whole universe didn’t collapse! I can’t even express my gratitude, not just for the prize but for the experience and the lesson learned. It’s given me such a boost to my confidence and inspiration for my work. I feel motivated to truly ‘earn’ Renata’s investment, to make her proud because I admire her & believe in her vision so very much.
So I guess my point is, when the universe offers you an opportunity, say yes. When a door is opened for you, step inside for at least a peek. I’m still terrified, still not completely sure where I am going but I am moving forward with my heart open.
I’m no longer hiding.