Survival Level


Do you feel like you’re climbing out of your own skin? Can’t breathe? Feel that if you relax and try to fall asleep you’ll suffocate? Throat closes up when you try and eat or drink? Having another go at climbing out of your own skin? Hands shake so much that carrying a cup of hot coffee risks serious burns? Dizzy? Legs weak? Still climbing out of your own skin in a manner that the average shedding snake would describe as “taking the piss”?


If you’re unlucky and deeply stressed, they go from an occasional issue (like a particularly unpleasant sneezing fit), to being the centre of your existence. You reason that if you are afraid, you should go stay where you feel safest (family, friends or otherwise). But the attacks continue. You may have travelled the world previously – now you can barely walk down the local high street. Inoffensive and common things – meeting someone for coffee, going round the supermarket, attending a fitness class…..become impossible. Health professionals suggest you try yoga or pilates classes to calm down…you couldn’t spend more than 30 seconds in a room full of strangers rolling around on mats without an attack starting. And you cannot ignore it. This is your Fight or Flight response. It is meant to override everything else, because as far as it is concerned, you are in immediate danger. From lions. Or bears. Big, big, drooling-fanged hungry bears*.

It physically pulls you up and tries to take you somewhere else, anywhere else, anywhere, to run, to hide, to go somewhere because as far as your body is concerned, it is trying to protect you from serious physical danger.

And it is not amenable to logic, argument, discussion or the traditional British cure-all of large amounts of tea. It may decide to haul you out of a work meeting so you can cower in a corner somewhere, even though the most terrifying thing in the meeting might have only been the chairperson’s ego, or whatever frightening excuse for coffee the caterers may have provided. It may kick off in the middle of a children’s party (and even the blank-eyed stare of the average Bratz doll doesn’t merit this kind of fear). It can hit you in the middle of a snow-covered playing field, with no other human within 300 metres of you. It is teeth-grinding, stomach-churning visceral existential fear.

Survival guide

  • Seek medical help. If your GP et al isn’t helpful – find a new one. Seriously. I was lucky enough to have a GP that takes these things seriously and worked with me on managing the situation. I shudder to think what might have happened if I’d been dealing with someone dismissive. You may well be prescribed anti-depressants or other drugs. You’re not weak to take them. You’re trying to override a rush of adrenaline – one of the strongest chemical reactions in the body.
  • Keep the basics going. Can you cope with your normal work routine? If not, try and arrange working from home if possible, or going in very early or very late for a couple of hours so you don’t have to deal with other employees (not possible in a lot of jobs I know, but if you have a bog-standard 9-5 you may be able to sort something out).
  • Shower/bathe every day.
  • Wear clean clothes every day.
  • Do your laundry.
  • Eat three meals every day.
  • Try and go to sleep and wake up at the normal time.

And whilst the above might sound like patronising nonsense, when you are in the grip of continual and acute attacks even the real basics like this are a struggle. A serious struggle. But it provides a platform of normality that you can then try and build back on – when you lose even this, then you might struggle to regain a normal life full-stop.


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