The Ice Maiden – that was my nickname in years gone by, given to me by ambulance staff attending the Emergency department (ED) I worked in near Liverpool (UK.) I was clearly a dichotomy; as to most (not all) of the junior staff I was “one of the nice ones”.
The Ice maiden (also wolf eyes and my personal favourite, the one with the “dead eyes”.) I was known for taking no shit, for grilling the ambo crew handing over a patient as to what and why had been done. (Why do you have a patient in a cervical collar sat up at 90 degrees?).
I’m no longer proud of my behaviour; it could be construed as bullying. At the time it was part of the culture. To survive in ED you are hard, fast, capable and regarded by those still getting to know you as a bit scary. All part of the act, part of the armour. If we let all the pain, suffering, and emotion in, it slows down decision-making times. That can literally be the difference between life and death. Better to deal in cold hard facts and let the fluffy stuff be dealt with later.
In order to get stuff done quickly, you need junior Doctors to trust that you know what your doing. You are assertive, authoritative and confident. A chink of fallibility means a 30-minute delay whilst they go up the chain of command. Meanwhile your patient languishes in the corridor rather than getting up to the ward and another 5 have arrived and need triaging, undressing, assessing, reassurance, intervention and found somewhere to be parked whilst they wait to see the Doctor.
My roar was loud ensured that if you challenged me, you had better have thought it through and be armed with facts.
Some years later;
It wasn’t my first panic attack. It was the first time I wasn’t able to shut my office door and pretend. Fighting hard to put my rational brain back in charge. To convince my body that I wasn’t under attack, that there was no need to run, vomit, hide or choose which to do first. I had no need of the tsunami of adrenalin coursing through my body.
It was daylight, birds singing, I was safe, the warm sun on my face. Breathing slowing. Pounding heart no longer trying to exit through my mouth. This morning’s camomile tea could stay put. Okay getting back in control. Move back towards to the door, re enter the room.
NO! RUN! ATTACK, YOUR UNDER ATTACK, get out, get down, get rid of anything that may slow you down. Its UNSEEN but its coming, GET AWAY, GO. Can you feel it? The invisible hand tightening, clutching at your throat?
Squeeze the air out of your lungs, because you know that the desire to gasp, GASP more air is panic. You need to get back in control. Your ok, squeeze out the air. Slow the next intake, count to 5.
I call my husband to talk me down in between gasps I assure him I’m ok, I’m having an anxiety attack. The first he is aware of.
HELP ME I can’t get back in control. Talk to me, talk me down.
He reminds me of the sun on my face, the sounds of the birds, the heady scent of jasmine petals in the air.
I can’t return to class. I walk, half run, back home. Praying that I don’t meet anyone, trying to appear that it’s all ok. I make it back through the door and sink to the floor. The cold floorboards reassure me, 100 years of people have passed over their old musty calmness. I’m safe, I’m calmer.
I make an appointment with the GP. I call a friend to police me; ensure I get there this time.
Back in control.
I sat on this post for a while, not sure if I’m brave enough to put it out there. Gilly points out, that’s its important.” Let people know you are fallible, let them know we are ALL fallible.” I worry about what people will think, but I know it shouldn’t matter.
This is part of who I am now, and weirdly I can see anxiety as a gift. Allowing me to forge trusted deep and honest connections with friends and family. Enabling me to be more empathetic. Reminding me that everyone has his or her shit going on. Be kind.
Happily the anxiety diagnosis has also provided access to some awesome drugs. I no longer wake with concrete on my chest and a brain so soaked in irrational unease that I can’t untangle my thoughts. Instead I’m more of the person I was before but without the armoury. I laugh more easily, I stress less. I still shout at the kids a lot. (They don’t alter my personality). I am not so afraid of being fallible. I recognise there is strength in vulnerability.