Put your phone down and ask yourself: are you okay?

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, just stop everything for a moment. How’s your breathing? Is it shallow and relaxed? Is it deep and pronounced? Or is it erratic? Do you feel any tension deep within? Now, what is on your mind? There’s so much haze to navigate: sensory stimuli all around us, worries and anxieties, tasks that need completing; then, when the fog of our daily lives has cleared, there’s the little voice we have nestled far away. How is that voice sounding today?

Something I’ve come to realise very recently is that in our present day, with the prevalence of social media, it can be easy to begin giving our attention to a great number of apps or conversations in short bursts, leaving us scattered and unfocused, but tired, also. If you, like me, find yourself swapping through apps- responding to conversations, putting the phone down, then starting all over again in ten minutes, you might start to feel a bit fatigued. Very recently, I’ve noticed that my use of apps like TikTok and Instagram has increased. I can sit and scroll for a while through discovery pages, seeing familiar accounts that I enjoy; I can do this for some time. I may then respond to a message, or a few messages, then scroll again, and before I know it I’ve lost half an hour of my day. I haven’t read my books anywhere near as much as I normally would. Most interestingly, when I’m playing video games, I take more frequent pauses, as if I need a break from focusing for longer than ten minutes. What I have come to realise is that my attention is split between too many little tasks and not on what sustains healthy patterns of living: meditative time to pause and bring balance, longer, more rewarding tasks like reading, and not putting the phone away for a while.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and written more than a few sentences before letting my attention go elsewhere. Because my attention has been constantly shared to quick bursts of social media use, I’ve somewhat lost the ability to focus for protracted periods of time. Not only this, I haven’t been able to keep a check on my mental health in the way I normally would do. Just in this past week, I’ve allowed myself to become completely overwhelmed and have found myself acting out. I should have taken pause to understand the source of what was going on. Instead, I allowed my attention to expand, to fragment, and to become hollow. In essence, I ignored my own inner turmoil, or failed to spot it. Either way, it got the better of me. It is extremely important that when we notice we’re spending too long scrolling, too long cycling between apps, taking in too much information, feeling the need to withdraw, that we stop and take a step back. We breathe and return to the basics. Once we have control again, we take steps to rescue our attention and to refocus it. If need be, we reduce how accessible we are to others by establishing and communicating healthy boundaries. Myself personally, I’m going to bring back a cut-off time for phone use. Some time ago, I would use my phone’s ‘bedtime’ feature to go into an enhanced form of ‘do not disturb.’ When this happened, that would be my cue to stop using the phone and to begin other evening routines, like reading or listening to music. I’ll bring this back, probably starting tomorrow now since it’s rather late on.


Letting go of anxious guilt

Anxious guilt is understood as excessive, even obsessive. It leads to depressive episodes, high levels of anxiety and generally isn’t a very pleasant thing to feel. If you suffer from anxiety and have done something to induce a sense of wrongdoing, you may experience anxious guilt. It’s something quite new to me, yet familiar at the same time. I’ve felt anxious guilt at different points in my life. I’d often stew about past mistakes for weeks or even months at a time. If I’d upset someone, that would drive me to the point of despair. Now older and somewhat wiser, I’ve come to develop some awareness about what this feeling is and where it comes from.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts or have spoken to me in the past 9 months or so, I am going to apologise now because I’m going back to my last relationship again. To cut a very long story short, I really cocked it up with a wonderful human and spent months obsessing over it. My anxious guilt was consuming- parasitic and unending. It would wash over me in huge waves that stayed for days or weeks at a time. ‘What ifs’ were very common thoughts that would crop up and then easily dominate my day. Obsessive looking at old pictures, of her social media, the whole thing. I would reply what happened over and over, thinking about what the new version of me would have done differently. Whilst its true that a little bit of guilt can be good for developing our understanding of right and wrong, repetitive self-flagellation and constant revisits to past events do little other than to hammer you further into the ground.

I started to finally learn and move on when I began accepting my mistakes. Extremely fearful of people running away at the sight of the slightest negative, I found it difficult to truly accept that I am a flawed person with a couple of possible toxic traits if left unchecked. Thing is, it’s perfectly natural to have these flaws. Instead of hiding from them, I began to embrace them. I still have a way to go, but I’ve found much more peace since treating my flaws with kindness. I’m a human being who is bound to have flaws. This is okay. You’re working to overcome them and that’s what matters. How you talk to yourself is so important. Practise kind self-talk deliberately and eventually the present you will begin to feel emancipated from the guilt of your unalterable past. I say unalterable because no matter how much you improve, the past cannot be changed. This needs to just be accepted.

I strongly believe that no human is truly good, nor is a human truly bad. You simply cannot look at people in such dichotomous terms. The blacks and whites of good and bad merge and blend, argue and wrestle, at myriad points to produce our many idiosyncratic greys. You will do bad things in your life. You will upset people. However, you can also sort your shit out and show up for people in ways you didn’t earlier. You can grow and evolve. You can love better, communicate more effectively and honestly, respect yourself more and become more fulfilled. You also, despite the bad things, have a lot to offer. You are not just your mistakes; you are your successes and aspirations, also. So, just like anyone else, you are deserving of kindness and love.

Lastly, if you’re feeling anxious guilt about something, disconnect from it as much as possible. It’s easiest for me to talk about relationship guilt here. In that case, remove them from all social media and block them if you need to. Blocking isn’t an act of hatred, it can be the turn away from guilt and towards healing. Delete phone numbers, delete pictures. Purge. Sever yourself from the poisonous roots taking hold in whatever way possible. You’ll never move into the present if you’re feeding on the guilt of the past.

I guess all I can say here is even if you’ve fucked something up really badly: lost a job, failed at a relationship or friendship, failed to meet some obligations, you’re only human. You’re not a failure. You deserve happiness just like everyone else.


Change is the only constant. How many times have you heard this, or something along these lines? It’s a truism, a fact of life, as certain as the sun rising, as guaranteed as the rising and falling of your chest. Yet, for something so certain, why do we hide away from it so much? Change is scary. It’s the unknown. It’s a new venture: moving house, changing jobs, meeting a new partner or starting a new challenge. It’s also an unwelcome loss: a death, the end of a relationship or friendship, an accident or injury. Many changes we have a degree of control over, only to be presented with the disappointment of stagnation should we choose not to tread new ground. Some changes though, we can’t control. We don’t willingly let these things happen. In many cases, letting a partner go is a very difficult change to embrace. Any negative change feels like a rope being tied around us, dragging us toward the bleak unknown. Yet, love it or hate it, change comes for us.

Why should we embrace change?

As scary as change is, it is the vehicle that moves us forward. Once you find yourself in uncharted territory, you also find yourself in a place of opportunity, with chances arising to learn new knowledge, become a different person, meet new people, experience exciting places. Even those nasty changes bring opportunities of their own. A lost partner prompts us to reflect on why this happened, leading to a change to expand your self-awareness and to begin changing behaviours and thought processes. Accidents and injuries can prompt us to reflect on our own mortality, giving us the motivation to do things we never once thought possible or even desirable.

The opposite of change is stagnation, but as I’ve already established, change happens whether we like it or not. You could be the most habit-driven, monotonous person going, but there will still be change in your life. The opportunities that come with it aren’t always grasped by everybody. Not everyone looks inwards at their behaviours and thoughts when they’re confronted. Some turn down exciting new career or life opportunities, not stopping for a moment to consider what it is that’s causing them to shy away.

Change, whether we like it or not, brings an opportunity to grow. We’re fools if we don’t take it. If you accept and embrace change, you open the doors to being a more complete version of yourself. If you find yourself reluctant to embrace change, you have the chance to go inside and look at what might be causing these feelings. Ultimately though, change is a vehicle for change; possibly, it’s the best one we have. Where you see an opportunity to grow, evolve and improve, take the leap and just see where you end up.

Some personal experience

I’ve been inspired to write this blog by the changes I’ve experienced in my life over the past few years. Originally from Manchester, I made the decision to move to Essex in 2019 to complete my teacher training. Within months, I’d gone from a fairly quiet life to living in London for four weeks, with strangers who I now call some of my best friends. After that initial period, I moved into Essex. I met lots of colleagues, went to new places, and embraced a radically different way of life to the one I was used to, due most in part to embarking on a new career. I even managed to find a partner. Though she is unfortunately now in the past, the gift of having her in my life, and the hard lessons learned from her loss, meant I have grown massively and deepened my self-awareness more than I thought possible.

Whilst here, I have learned so much about myself. Some of those lessons haven’t come willingly and have been quite painful. Much of my experience here, though, has been incredible. I still remember the call that led to me taking the training post down here. I was sat in Exchange Square, Manchester. I worked for Apple at the time and was on my lunch break. It was quite a sunny day in March. My training provider called and said they’d be delighted to have me. The position that they had ready was at a primary school in Thurrock, Essex. I’d applied for secondary education with a preference to stay in Greater Manchester. I was absolutely terrified right from the moment I tentatively said yes. It doesn’t even bear thinking about what would not have happened if I had said no. I wouldn’t have the incredible friends I do now. I wouldn’t know the South of England like I do now, nor would I be able to say London- one of the greatest capitals in the world- was on my doorstep. I would never have started that relationship, would never have been to the places it took me, nor learned the lessons it brought. In short, had I have said no, I simply wouldn’t be the person I am today. Change is terrifying, but what’s even scarier is the thought of saying no.

The sunshine after the storm: how panic gives way to calmness.

There’s something most people don’t quite understand about panic disorder. Days can become intense- completely dominated by panic or the fear of panicking. Although somewhat dormant, the anticipation that the latent panic within might erupt at any second brings about an atmosphere of unease in your daily life. It’s actually a defence mechanism, believe it or not. Anticipating disaster goes someway towards mitigating the real thing. The fog of panic looms then, omnipresent and overbearing, making the simple act of getting through the day just utterly exhausting.

Fortunately, every storm abates. It can take minutes, hours or days, but every tumultuous episode of panic eventually calms and melts away. For a person with panic disorder, the calming of the storm brings a unique serenity. This is the something that most people don’t understand. I struggle to explain the feeling even now, but I’ll try. When you spend a period of time feeling like you’re in constant danger- perceived, yes, but very real at the same time- relief feels like a thousand chains bursting off of you all at once. You can breathe without worrying about it being too deep or unregulated. No longer suffering from tremors and the myriad of physical symptoms that panic brings, a stillness begins to take over which brings you into a state of connectedness with the world around you. You’re no longer bound to the obsession with intense fear. You might even feel that life begins to slow down, allowing you to drink up the world and its many rich flavours. You may think of this as something akin to mindfulness, which isn’t actually untrue, but to transition from a world of perceived danger to a world of peace brings a relief that mindfulness can’t touch. If you know or support someone with this disorder, give them a combination of space and reassurance: Space to feel the panic and to move through it. Reassurance that the world around them is still very much real; maybe even a reminder to touch that real world and absorb its many grounding sensations. I can’t stress enough that panic detaches the sufferer from their senses. They may need gentle guidance to reconnect. This could include holding someone’s hand, perhaps squeezing it rhythmically; press their hands against an unfamiliar surface, like the cold floor beneath them; talk idly about something, giving the sufferer a chance to listen to something outside of their intense world; let the sufferer talk if they feel the need to, it may be a cathartic release which helps to keep them grounded.

After the storm has passed, thanks to your gentle support, a person suffering from a panic attack will experience the most beautiful sort of serenity. A calm day is relaxing, but the sunshine after a storm is euphoric.

Never be ashamed of messy recovery

I’ve had a panic disorder since 2014. After doing a lot of hard work, 2017 to now has been more or less stable. Panic attacks were relatively few and far between, and those extremely invasive thoughts that brought about my panic cycles were pretty well-controlled. There have been many dips on this road- periods where old intrusive thoughts have started to take root in my mind again. Killing those roots takes time, deliberate mental work and lots of patience. As hard as it is, I’ve done it many times now.

Recently, my panic disorder has been at its absolute strongest. Following a totally random attack in December 2021 that saw me in the back of an ambulance, intrusive thoughts have rooted themselves very firmly in my mind. I’m in a different position to where I was in 2014. I’m a teacher, so time isn’t anywhere near as sparing. External (and sometimes internal) stressors are much more abundant and that adds difficulty to recovering again.

The real elephant in the room here is a particularly pernicious group of thoughts I’ve been having: what’s wrong with me? Why have I gone backwards? Will I find my way forwards again? For a little while, they had some very strong roots too. That’s because those thoughts elicit a feeling of shame. I’ve worked so hard on my mental health, and now I’ve “failed” and I’ve “gone backwards.” I start comparing myself to other people who are hard at work on themselves and because I’m not taking great leaps forward, this must mean I’m fucking up. I have perceived a mental downturn as a failure and something to be ashamed of. However, this isn’t the case at all. This is something I’ve hard to learn all over again. The resurgence of my panic disorder has taught me some valuable lessons already. I’ve learned some more of my limits, have better understood where my triggers come from, and I’ve even seen the foundations laid by previous successes. I went for a run yesterday. Picture this: I’ve just spent the last fortnight wrestling with the concern that every heart palpitation, every flutter, every sensation at all, must be a sign that I have some undiagnosed heart problem. So I go for a run and thus experience the most bizarre mix of feelings. I feel euphoric because I haven’t died (and my 5k time hasn’t really changed that much) whilst also feeling full-on panic because something might go wrong at any moment. This brought back some old therapy lessons for me, which have actually worked a treat and have helped me to begin unrooting my intrusive thoughts. I’ve also got the experience of doing this many times. I’ve been through it before, so I’ll come through it again. All of these realisations come about through deliberate reflection, which is a skill I’ve been working on for a while now. My past experiences have given me supports to work through a difficult period, but the constantly evolving person of right now is developing new ways of using those experiences. I challenged myself deliberately after taking time to work with and rationalise my intrusive thoughts: it is literally the combination of old and new. Having a downturn, then, isn’t a failure. It’s a part of the journey. You experience the downturn as a different person, with different thoughts and outlooks, and different methods for coming back. Downturn is a chance for further growth. It’s an opportunity. It doesn’t always feel like that though. It feels like shit. It only feels like this because I’m deliberately reflecting on it right now. So it’s essential to make sure you do take a step back. Pause and remember that downturn is just natural as the sunrise; you have a growth opportunity in front of you, so long as you hold firm to the knowledge that you will pull through.


Self-inflicted heartbreak

In the films, heartbreak is understood as something done to someone, right? It’s outside of their control entirely. Mine isn’t. It’s entirely self-inflicted. I had someone who loved me, truly and deeply. She knew who I was, got all my little caveats, and despite even the strangest amongst them she still took me as her partner. She communicated with me and wanted to grow constantly with me. She saw us both as we were: imperfect humans who could come together and build something beautiful. Only I didn’t do that. I withheld my feelings from her about how I found the more difficult parts of our relationship. That caused me to feel pressure, caused me to act out, and made her feel like she was causing damage. I wasn’t honest about who my friends were: I have female friends, but because I was worried about how that might come across I kept it a secret. I didn’t cheat, but Christ I may as well have done, keeping information like that away from my partner. Safe to say by the end, I not only broke her trust in me, I also ended things by saying that it was all too much for me- i.e, I couldn’t handle her. Imagine that: suggesting your own partner is intolerable. I can’t even imagine the damage that caused her. I have apologised. I wish I could a thousand times over, but we’re apart now and doubtless she’s moving on with her life. I was probably wrong to reach out to her after four months, but I never apologised when we broke up. I owed her that. I had a glimmer of hope that there would be some sort of reply to the letter I wrote her, but how selfish is it to hope for a reply from the person whose heart you broke?

I find myself now having waves crashing against the weakened barriers of my soul over and over again. Grief for the relationship I lost. The love I still hold for her. The regrets over my behaviours at the beginning, middle, end and aftermath. The dishonesty, the hiding of feelings, and so much more. After our relationship ended, I threw myself into work and the gym as a way to soothe my feelings. Ultimately, I didn’t spend enough time processing my emotions and really acted out. I went onto dating apps just for the company. I had a void to fill, but nothing seemed to work at all. Only over time did that cycle of pain and reacting poorly to that pain lead me to where I am now: heartbroken all over again, shackled to regret, and so completely convinced that I am a terrible person who doesn’t deserve love.

Like I said, in the films heartbreak is something that’s done to you. Mine is so completely self-inflicted and I’m not quite sure how to move through it. Writing, I guess, is a start. Catharsis. To anyone who has ever ruined a relationship: we’ll get there.


I was about to start with “where do I even begin?” 

It’s been a fair while and there’s a lot to say, but talking is bloody hard. I guess I’d better just plant my flag and get started.

I’ll put the flag down on a big spot: the end of my relationship. I was in a relationship with a wonderful woman from March 2021 to mid-October of the same year. She really was great. She knew me, she adored me, and she wanted a future with me. We had a good thing going, with plans to see her home in Australia and to eventually move to the seaside town Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. It was without doubt the strongest romantic connection I’d ever had with somebody. We’d started dating virtually during during the second lockdown that began shortly before Christmas in 2020, eventually going on to see each other physically when I returned to Essex from Manchester. That was a really special time. She once kitted out the back of her car to turn it into a makeshift home cinema for us both. To showcase just how well she knew me and cared for me, she she made an ‘open when’ set of envelopes for me. I still have all those things sat about a metre away from me. Honestly, I thought I’d found that elusive ‘one’. Unfortunately, despite all the amazing things we did together, it didn’t work out because I pissed the whole thing away. 

I’m hesitant to share the parts of myself that I think people won’t like. I’m deeply frightened of conflict, so much so that I tend to freeze up and completely disengage when it does arise. So, I didn’t communicate anywhere near as much as I should have done. If something bothered me: a conversation we’d had, feeling a little too tired to do something, I didn’t say because I thought these things would lead to a problem. I wasn’t always honest, either. I talked up a good game at the start, setting out not just who I thought I was but also what I wanted to be. I didn’t hold up to those ideals very well because I hid a piece of information that I thought would damage the relationship, which immediately damaged her trust in me. I was dishonest again, later. That fear of conflict and of causing damage eventually caused way more damage in the end. She did communicate. She was honest. she was committed to growth within the relationship and to working on the more negative aspects of ourselves together. For me, this was scary and overwhelming. I didn’t have the maturity to recognise that the person in front of me was willing to accept me as I came, just as long as I was up-front. The worst part of this is that I made her feel in the end that she was a bad person, that she’d put me under pressure and held me back. She never did any of those things. Were there tough moments in the relationship? Absolutely. However, I didn’t recognise the growth that was going on and didn’t accept myself as I truly was. I was working against the grain, failing to see that she was trying to reach out, connect, and grow.

If you were to ask me right now if I missed her after these mounting months I would say yes, I miss her enormously. There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought about her. I didn’t recognise it straight away because I threw myself into work and the gym as soon as we broke up, but around mid-December it hit me. Right now, I’m just doing what I can to move through it. I’m holding myself under a microscope and I’ve started the messy business of deliberate self-improvement. I’m proud of myself for doing that. I hope it leads to a happier life, makes me a better friend and eventually makes me a better partner. I often wish I could go back in time to change how I went about things in my relationship. That however, is the curse of hindsight, isn’t it? We can only work with what we have in front of us and must commit to constantly being a better version of ourselves instead of wishing we could make our past selves behave and think differently. That being said, it would be nice to see her again someday. I hope she’s doing well, still making music, still doing her morning pages, pulling good cards, enjoying her new school and having plenty of adventures.

Time to put the flag down on the shaky isle of mental health. Sounds like a nightmare land from a Lemony Snickett book. About a month ago now, I was en route to London to have Christmas dinner with my friends, when I started having a panic attack whilst crossing Tower Bridge. For anyone unfamiliar with what panic attacks are: these are severe bouts of intense, sudden fear. It could be a fear that you are about to die, faint, lose your mind or about something generally catastrophic. Panic attacks are psycho-somatic, so terrified thoughts are often accompanied by strong physical symptoms. These two feed off each other: the more intense your physical symptoms, the more you panic about them, which leads to your symptoms getting worse in-turn. By the time I had arrived at the pub, I had completely dissociated from the world around me. My friends were talking to me, and I could hear them, but I felt detached from reality. Sitting down in the pub, I think I had so much adrenaline coursing through me that I could have filled a few pint glasses. That adrenaline causes so many problems, not least of which are intense rushes across your chest that makes you feel like you’re about to die. Flash forward about 15 minutes and I’m sat on a street corner, my (obviously very concerned) dad on the phone to me, my friends around me- holding my hands and offering reassurance that I wasn’t dying. I had pins and needles in my extremities, my breathing was deep and laboured, and wave after wave of crushing fear just kept pummelling me. Eventually, I found myself in the back of an ambulance. Check-ups confirmed I was okay, but letting go of that trauma is so very difficult. 

I’ve had a short break in writing since the end of this last paragraph. Fortunately, I’m coming out of a bad spell with the panic. It was really rough for a few weeks. Random panic attacks came up at literally any time! I was even teaching and felt one rising up in me. God knows how I got through that. 

So, this is where I’m at right now. I lost the person I loved because of my own immature actions and thought processes and went seemingly back to square one with my panic disorder. Oh, I had covid again as well; exactly a year since the first time, actually. You might say I’m at a very low point and I’d agree. I’m finding my way without her whilst rebuilding my mental health from the ground up. It’s not easy-going, but something I’ve learned recently is to focus on one thing at a time. In the end, those small wins mount up. I just know one thing: I want to be better.


Relapsing: why it’s so horrible, but doesn’t have to beat you.

Just before I start, a couple of trigger warnings: Panic attacks pop up, and I refer to someone experiencing suicide ideation.

To anyone smart enough not to read this blog, I’ll just give you a very quick origin story: I have a panic disorder. I was diagnosed with it in 2014, recovered mostly by 2016/17, and from then on it’s been kind of an up and down story. For those strange folk who actually read these, firstly… Why? Secondly, I’m sorry for mentioning I have a panic disorder for the 20th time this week.

I wanted to write a short ramble about relapsing, why it’s not going to be the end of your journey, and why you’re an absolute boss and you’ve got this.

You don’t need to have suffered from a mental illness to experience a relapse, though usually to relapse means you were already at a pretty low point once before. Relapses can be mild, right the way through to severe, depending on the starting point/ the catalyst etc. The main thing is is they can quite easily represent what feels like a personal failure. You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are now mentally that when a relapse occurs it really does feel like you’ve just slipped on the Bowser’s banana right before the finish line. I’ve wrestled a little bit with this recently when my panic attacks started to become more frequent and random again. I usually experience them at night but lately the physical symptoms have popped up at random points in the day. I even felt a surge of adrenaline across my chest the other week while I was doing the dishes. It really is a jarring experience and it has made me question the efficacy of the strategies I’ve used to keep my panic at bay. I rationalise my symptoms, attempting to box them off as something non-threatening. This removes their power over me, and whilst they’re still there I begin to feel a degree of separation. It’s like sitting in a cloud above the storm, watching it rage but feeling mostly unaffected by it. Lately that hasn’t been the case, I’ve been caught up in that storm more often than I’d like to be. Not only have I questioned how powerful my strategies are, I’ve even allowed myself to wonder if this is a permanent decline. Note the language there. Decline? Permanent? Relapse can conjure up a malign, vampiric mental narrative that attempts to persuade you that you’ve reached a point of no return. It’s your job when you experience it to push back against that thought.

Let’s have a look at what recovery actually looks like, and this will lead us into the next part of this ramble.

There you have it. My definitive, infallible representation of what recovery looks like. I drew it myself and I’m really proud of it.

Recovery can be seriously messy and it looks different for everyone going through it. Some people, amazingly, experience lots of nice ‘up’ curves on their recovery journey, maybe a few little downturns or plateaus, but generally they stay good. Me, my recovery curves look a bit like the French Alps. Recovery happens over time, but don’t let the linear aspect fool you into thinking that time=constant, steady improvement. It doesn’t. All kinds of changes happen to us over time, like moving house, starting a new job, gaining and losing people, going through an unprecedented global pandemic that’s forced you to stay indoors all the time, you name it. All these changes produce reactions in us, and that’s okay. Sometimes you might start a scary new job, end a friendship, experience major changes to your daily routine, the list goes on. I hate to bring Covid-19 into it, but one thing I’ve really struggled with is the change of routines. I don’t adapt very well to change in the short-term. Another one for me is that I currently have quite a stressful living situation, so much so that it has triggered a lot of anxiety and panic for me. All these variables can come in and impact your life. I’m very fortunate in that I am actually okay. I am very thankful for the amazing people I have around me. The support and gentle challenge they give me keeps me on-track and I am still mostly in a good place. I am just experiencing a lot more anxiety and panic than I would usually. However, these things currently impacting me will eventually fade away.

Sometimes, relapse occurs just because something has changed mentally. Different currents of thought or perhaps new triggers can shift the mental dynamic around, causing an imbalance and then a relapse. I think those are particularly scary because it feels very internal, under your control and as a result, your mistake. But as I said earlier, relapses can bring about all kinds of horrible mental chatter. I want to talk about someone I find really inspiring. He’s a divisive figure and I understand why, but Tyson Fury really epitomises what I’m trying to say here. Take a man, make him heavyweight champion of the world, then see him sucked into a such a relentless void that there seems to be no escape. He sank into heavy drink and drug abuse, lost his titles and even contemplated suicide. To get back up to where he is now required a huge effort, like literally having to push through mental walls with rigorous routine. He’d walk, then run, then got the gloves back on and slowly started to re-build. Slowly.

The world is very intense and will hurl triggers at you daily. It’ll also try to wear you down in far more ways than I have time to go through. You mustn’t see a relapse as a personal failure, and you definitely can’t let yourself see it as a point of no return. Your recovery journey is long, possibly lifelong, and as with any journey you have to learn how to stay on the path you’ve chosen. If you go too fast or hard, the wheels come off. If you go wayward, remember where you started and be proud of just how far you’ve come. Yes you might be struggling right now, you might feel like you’ve just taken two steps forward and three steps back, but you’re further than where you were to begin with. At the very least, you’re wiser and more experienced in your personal journey. To quote a very wise master:

“The greatest teacher, failure is.”

– Yoda

Be kind to yourself. You’ll find your way back again with time, rigour, and patience.

Read this if your mental health deteriorated in lockdown

It’s day 1000 of the millionth week of lockdown. The last time you wore jeans was to buy snacks from the supermarket. In fact, you already had heaps of snacks at home but you needed desperately to get out of your joggers and to feel normal again.

You’ve woken up today with this inexplicable sense of malaise. No matter where you go in the house, each room brings with a sense of annoyance. When was the last time you went for a walk? What did I even do for myself before all of this?

Despite the fact it’s Saturday night, you’ve turned your phone over to ignore your friends. You haven’t properly seen any friends now for days, maybe weeks, but you just can’t summon the energy to reply to anyone anymore.

You might have experienced some of these, or not. You might be sitting wondering now if your mental health has declined during the lockdown, and if so, what has it looked like for you? Begrudgingly, I’ve had to accept a lot of losses throughout this period. From 2017-2019, I’d really gotten into shape. I’d held a talk on mental health at my university, and to a lot of people on the outside I must have really looked like I’d cracked it. I myself probably perpetuated this myth by only ever sharing the wins on social media. During the lockdowns of 2020-21, I’ve slowly come to realise that there’s no more running away from the losses that have come my way. You’ve probably already guessed it but all three scenarios at the top have happened to me at some point during all this.

I look at myself in the mirror a lot more than I used to, aware that my body is a reflection of my mental state. I don’t much like what I see. I build myself up to start a positive routine again, but my mind right now would rather grapple with the weight of my excuses than grapple with actual weights. Plus, there aren’t actually any weights to grapple with these days. I view myself at one and the same time as a victim of forced circumstances and a shadow of what I used to be. Instead of taking action, it’s easier sometimes to contemplate where the blame lies for my own stagnation.

Then again, how do you take positive action for yourself when the world feels upside down, nothing makes sense, and the pubs are still bloody closed. My situation is markedly different from some of my wonderful friends and family who have made great strides for themselves during all of this. And there are people worse off than me, too. As I go further along, I’ve began to see this as a journey. Previously, I’d seen my recovery from panic disorder and subsequent revival as a linear path. I’d been at the bottom, built myself back up, and surely I would just stay there? Absolutely not. I haven’t hit bottom again, far from (luckily), but I’m definitely not where I was. Sometimes I pick up again, building momentum until Boris Johnson comes onto the TV to blunder through another reminder that life is really shit at the moment. Sometimes I genuinely just lose the motivation to do anything, purely because I’m tired. You see how I can’t pin the blame for my stagnation on any one thing? I’ve given up trying now. I now try to take it one day at a time, embracing every success that comes my way. My success for today was waking up at 5:45am and doing 10 minutes of skipping in the cold.

Everything is a mess, nothing makes sense, and it is absolutely fine if you’ve suffered a decline in your mental health during all this. You might look at yourself now and wonder ‘why can’t you be this person again?’ But that person lived under a totally different time. If, like me, you’re a bit unsure where to start again, just do one thing tomorrow that you couldn’t today, and then you’re back on the right path… just this path is on fire right now and is covered in spikes so don’t be too hard on yourself if you jump off sometimes.

And your friends still love you even though you’ve been a bit distant.

How to deal with a panic attack

I’m pretty sure I’ve already written something along these lines before, you know? I think we can agree this means I must be out of ideas, since I’m now resorting to a 2020 remake of something that was probably better the first time around. Ah well, I can justify the existence of this blog post with two excuses:

  1.  I’m bored
  2. I’ve learned a fair bit about my mental health since 2018, and I can hopefully offer more advice for someone looking to manage their panic attacks

This one is going to be quite specific, yes. I’ve noticed in previous posts that I can spread myself too thin trying to address as much as possible in my posts. This post is just about panic attacks and how I manage them. If the title didn’t tell you that already, then this certainly does. If this doesn’t then I’m afraid all hope is lost for you. 

If I do discuss having panic attacks, it’s purely to establish some context. If you’re here reading this then I presume you’ve had a panic attack before and absolutely don’t need a reminder of what they feel like. 

Accept that it’s happening

As humans we are pretty much hardwired to resist anything negative that’s happening to us.  After all, you wouldn’t put your hands down in a fight and happily let the other person beat you up would you? Having a panic attack is quite different to having some external shitness imposed on you in that it’s quite outside of your control for the most part. Your natural response when this happens is to get worked up because no matter what you do you can’t stop the rush in your chest, you can’t stop the trembling, nor the sweats or the feeling of impending death when shit really hits the fan. The thing is though- and you probably already know this- but getting angry and worked up at the fact it won’t stop is just going to make it worse. Panic is cyclical. It begins with anxiety, then physical symptoms, then worry about those physical symptoms comes and before you know it, you’re locked in a very deadly cycle. Stress, anger, and resistance towards what is happening to you will keep you in that cycle for much longer. These emotions can lead to your heart rate staying up, they keep your breathing deep and strained, keep your jaw clenched and generally do a good job of keeping you in a state of tension. 

It sounds almost weird to say but the most immediate thing you should do when having a panic attack is to stop resisting it and just let it happen. It’s not your fault that it’s happening, unfortunately it just is what it is. No amount of added stress is going to make it go away, so be aware of any anger you’re feeling at yourself or towards the situation and try to let that go. The key I think to getting through a bout of panic is to eventually get to a place in your mind where you can become a spectator of your own thoughts. It becomes less about fixating on all that’s going on in your head and more towards watching thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky. That doesn’t mean you don’t still feel the panic, but you’re not as sucked up into it. This all starts with accepting that this is happening to you and that it’s okay that it is. 

Focus on your breathing

When you have a panic attack, 9/10 times you’ll be breathing quite deeply and irregularly. By doing this you’re going to keep some of the physical symptoms of panic going. When you take those big deep breaths you’re giving your heart a lot of work to do. Your heart rate will absolutely stay sky high, and that’s not a nice feeling at all. Not only that but taking deep breaths puts a lot of strain on the intercostal muscles between your ribs. That’s often where the bulk of the chest pain comes from during a panic attack. Myself personally I’ve found chest pain and an elevated heart rate to be the two most alarming symptoms. Their presence often leads to me catastrophise the situation, so there’s a strong case for working around them. 

It’s quite weird, but physical symptoms actually have quite a significant impact on your state of mind and vice-versa. Understanding this psycho-somatic relationship is quite important for managing panic attacks. Imagine how you might start to feel if your chest pain were to slowly diminish, and your heart rate gradually slow? Managing the physical symptoms can actually begin to temper the panicking in your mind. 

As soon as you become aware of your breathing, it’s time to make sure it isn’t so deep and/or irregular. I like to practice rhythmic breathing. It ensures that your breathing is steady and shallow. It also gives your mind something else to focus on. I would really recommend looking it up, but I tend to breathe in slowly for 3 seconds, and then breathe out for 5 seconds. Do this for as long as you need to. Over time, you’ll notice your heart rate beginning to slow down. Breathing rhythmically will relax the pressure on your intercostal muscles and ease those feelings of tightness or any aching going on. The process does take time, but it can help you to slowly release yourself from the panic cycle. If your body is in that fight or flight state, then surely your mind will be. However, if your body begins to relax then so the mind will begin to follow.  

Do a body scan

Now this one does apply more to when you’re indoors perhaps. Nonetheless, I find doing a body scan quite useful. During a bout of panic, you might notice that you seize up in some areas. For me, I notice that my jaw clenches down quite hard. Your body reacts in a similar way to how it does when you’re stressed, really. Areas become quite tense because you’re in the fight or flight state. Your body is ready for action even though you might be lay down trying to get some sleep. Doing a body scan involves actively thinking about each part of your body from head to toe, making yourself aware of any aches, pains, seizures, really any feeling at all. It’s just making yourself aware of it that is important. Often in the heat of it all you don’t realise just how tense you are. You’re likely more rigid than a wooden ruler, but that’s an afterthought when you’re focusing on not losing your mind really! All the same, it’s important to become aware of how your body is reacting to your panic state. Again, it’s worth doing some research into this, I think. By scanning your body, you can consciously relax areas that are stressed. For me this involves relaxing my jaw, and near enough instantly sometimes this can bring you some ease. By focusing just on the physical sensations, you’re also distracting yourself from what’s going on in your mind. Of course, you won’t always get this right. I often get to my shoulders and then get right back to business wondering if that adrenaline rush was the beginning of cardiac arrest or not. You just have to keep bringing yourself back to it when you can. Again, a large part of dealing with a panic attack is simply accepting what’s happening rather than becoming stressed that it won’t just go away. 

Anyway I hope those do help. Panic attacks are horrible, and even quite debilitating at their worst. There will be many times when the above tips or any other strategies you know of just don’t work at all and that’s okay. They definitely don’t always work for me either, because at the end of the day a panic attack is difficult to manage. Just be kind to yourself by trying to accept that this is just the way it has to be for a short while, and that it’s not your fault it won’t go away.