Now reading

When you want to run away

When you want to run away | After the Heartbreak
When you want to run away

This post is about FEAR. It’s about what happens when I need to run away…and I can’t. OK, that’s a strange way to begin a blog post and you might be wondering what I’m on about with that statement. Quite honestly though, the understanding behind it has been a recent epiphany for me! I’m confusing you though and I need to start at the beginning. 😏

I’ve been going through a very difficult time. Actually, that’s rather an understatement as I’ve been so stressed that the panic attacks I first experienced after Norbert died have returned. I hadn’t had a panic attack for ages and I thought they were part of a traumatic past….so it has been scary to go back there.

Sold sign

What has happened? You really don’t need all the detail but suffice it to say that since I signed the contract that signified the sale of my house, it has been a spiral downward due mainly to the fact that I haven’t been able to find another place to go, and the date I have to leave is looming closer. Add to that some upsetting issues with agents and buyers and a houseful of stuff that needs sorting, packing and boxing….not to mention the whole pandemic thing which has prevented family being able to come up and help.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I found myself standing in the kitchen with my heart pounding, hands shaking, sweating and trying not to be sick. I was feeling scared, and very, very alone. Unlike the first time after Norbert died when I thought I was having a heart attack, this time I at least knew that it was a panic attack. Full on….like I was back at the beginning of the nightmare.

THE SCARINESS OF SPIRALLING DOWNWARD

During the time I have been writing about my life experiences, I’ve received some lovely messages, with many saying “..you are so brave and strong.” Please let me reiterate that I’m really very ordinary and not at all ‘brave’ or ‘strong’. I’m just trying to live my life… and sometimes it feels like I’m not doing a very good job.

Boxes

After that first panic attack, my mental health spiraled down rapidly as I was experiencing attacks almost daily (albeit more minor) as I tried to pack boxes and clean out cupboards while also dealing with Conveyancers, demands from the buyers, Property Managers and driving around looking at rental possibilities…some of which made me cringe with the awfulness of them.

By now I had (sensibly, I think) put aside the idea of looking for a new house to buy. At this stage my priority was to simply find a place to rent, move my stuff and feel safe again. Time later to find a more permanent home.

I quickly became exhausted as the sleepless nights and frenetic days caught up with me. All my carefully built up, positive habits flew out the window as my daily walks and healthy exercise became less frequent, and reaching for the wine bottle and sleeping tablets took their place. And healthy meals? How about cake instead. 😦

TRYING TO TURN THINGS AROUND

The morning following that first panic attack, I rang my doctor and told her what had happened, and that I needed to talk to someone. Calling her was the first thing that came to mind but I do believe that reaching out for help when you desperately need it is a brave thing to do. (OK, maybe that does make me a little bit brave. 🙃)

“Having a panic attack is said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences in a person’s life.”

Medical News Today: What to know about panic attacks

Unfortunately, she explained that a combination of living in a small town and the demands on mental health services caused by the pandemic meant that professional help was going to be at least 10 days away….and only available via video-chat. I was going to end up waaay down this frightening road if I waited for that.

FIGURING OUT WHAT WOULD HELP

Firstly, I decided that some serious self-care was essential. I had to put down some of the balls I was trying to juggle. I couldn’t put down anything related to the move but I decided to step back from the work I was doing in a local volunteer role. That helped take off a little bit of pressure.

Me on the phone

Next, I couldn’t access the professional help yet but I knew I had to be totally honest with everyone around me. I had to share what was actually a feeling of INTENSE FEAR that was consuming me. Fear of being homeless. Fear of not being able to pack up in time. Fear of not having the physical stamina to do everything that needed to be done. Fear of getting sick. Fear of…well….fear of all the worry and more panic attacks.

I decided that it was urgent that I make contact with friends and family. Importantly, when they said “How are you going?” I didn’t respond with my usual smile and “I’m fine”. Instead, I told the truth and said “Actually, I’m not doing so great”. In each case I couldn’t stop the tears as I broke down and admitted that I felt like I was falling apart.

It helped. It didn’t make the fears and worries go away, nor the physical exhaustion caused by overwork and lack of sleep, but it did help a lot with the feeling of being utterly alone.I think that old saying ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ has a lot going for it. 🥰

Me meditating

There was something else that has really helped too. I used meditation to get me through the first night after Norbert died, and I have relied on it again. Part of my normal wellness routine has been a meditation on most days, but I upped that to at least 3 times a day.

I found one that was an ‘SOS’…designed to be used during a panic attack and helpful for slowing down the heart rate. Also, when I was feeling overwhelmed with too much to do, I made myself sit down (even for 5 minutes) and listen to a recorded, calm voice ‘talk me down off the cliff’.

FINALLY…GAINING UNDERSTANDING

All the above helped a lot, but it was a conversation I had with an incredibly insightful woman which was the ultimate revelation for me.

She admitted that she had never personally experienced a panic attack, but understood that they were caused by the body pumping out adrenaline in what is essentially a ‘fight or flight’ response. Useful if you’re about to be attacked by a wild animal. Less so in my situation.

This clever lady went on”You are a flight person. It is not a bad thing and there is no judgement, but your preferred path is flight. “

Hmmm…that’s true when I think about it. My run last year to escape accumulated stressors, and even a recent road trip to escape from the pressure of ongoing home inspections. Gee…when I thought about it…I even ended my first marriage by running away!

Looking through the windscreen

This smart lady went on….“When Norbert died your world crashed down around you and you couldn’t run away. You were forced to deal with something huge and scary. You had no choice but to fight. That is why the panic attacks started at that time.”

Wow….my mind ticked over. She’s right! When I re-read some of what I have written in the past, I actually use the words ‘trapped in a nightmare’ to describe how I was feeling.

“And that is why the panic attacks have come back” she concluded. “With a settlement date coming up, having to make all the decisions plus the physical efforts and no partner to share the burden, your mind and your body badly needs to adopt flight mode’ and run away for a break. But you can’t.”

The penny dropped and it became clear in more ways than one. For me, it also explains why meditation has become so important and why I find it helpful. It’s because it allows me a temporary escape from the worries for my future. It allows me a ‘little holiday’.

Oh wow, (I’m on a roll here…😋) when I really think about it, it also explains why it was important for me to write the post How to take a break from grief. Again…needing to run away!? Or maybe not running away but taking a necessary break to help me cope.

IT’S NOT ABOUT BEING BRAVE – IT’S ABOUT SURVIVING

Despite my obviously basic need to adopt ‘flight’ as a mechanism for self-preservation, I realise that I have survived the mental shock of losing my soul-mate so tragically. I’ve survived needing to rebuild my life, and develop what is essentially a new identity. I’ve even survived the anxieties of solo travel…including forgetting to pack my walking shoes! 😁

Anxiety

Realising that I have gone against my nature and actually pushed through and survived a number of ‘fights’ in the past has given me assurance that I can do this. Right now is not the time to be considering the benefits of panic attacks (heaven forbid) but I’m actually pretty sure that I will look back on this time and see it as part of an ongoing period of mental growth.

I haven’t gone back to the beginning. It’s all part of the journey.

What are your thoughts? How do you deal with fear? Are you a Fight or a Flight person? Please let me know in the Comments box below…I’d love to hear from you. 🥰


UPDATE: Want to skip ahead and find out how things turned out? Read my post Moving house and surviving. Spoiler alert…it all turned out well. 🙂


Putting the Sold sticker outside my home
Getting ready for the next stage in my new life

Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

6 Comments
  • Linda Cotten says:

    Hey Marlene, I’m glad to catch up with your current life! I am also a flight person, simply because I don’t tolerate stress well any more. Or maybe it’s because I don’t WANT to deal with the stress. I have enough health issues that I just know it’s not good for me physically. However, flight let’s me get away and straighten things out. I get away via my small RV. Unfortunately the one I currently own is a real lemon, so I’m selling it (with full transparency), and I’m in the hunt for another. This is my fourth RV, and it makes me happy to go places, get out in nature (mostly that means sitting at the campsite and just reading!!), and see new things and perhaps meet new people. I am in several FB groups with campers, and many women have vans they have had converted, etc. So this doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. I have no desire to actually live in my RV, as I also enjoy my home (though I’m also thinking of moving!!!.
    I think the world of you and your honesty in the struggle. You don’t have to be brave!! Just keep on keeping on, breath deeply and be nice to yourself. Talk to the Lord, who will lead you a good path. I’ve definitely put you on my prayer list. Love you bunches and truly enjoy your posts. Take care and come visit here when Covid leaves!! Linda in Alabama, heart of the South!

    • Marlene says:

      Thank you so much for your wonderful words of support and encouragement Linda. I can just picture you sitting next to a little fire at a campsite…what a lovely vision. Maybe I’ll do that too seeing as international travel is likely shut down for quite some time. In the meantime, I will follow your advice ti take care of myself and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. So far this has worked….with a couple of trip-ups. 🙂

  • Terry says:

    Hi Marlene,
    Sending hugs. I also experienced a panic attack when I made a major move – found myself overwhelmed at the new grocery store. Very scary experience. You have done so well to find ways to talk yourself down.
    If you don’t mind a comment, ‘demands from the buyers’ jumped out at me from your summary. I also tried to accommodate the sellers by delaying our move-in date and other now obviously unreasonable ‘requests’. It resulted in a post-move melt-down for me.You are a lovely person and inclined to help but please look to what’s best for you now not others.
    If you can afford it, put your things in storage; get a couple of safety deposit boxes at the bank for your valuables; arrange for a long stay at a BnB and just pause for a bit.
    Self-care and stepping off the hamster-wheel stressor of selling your home is not easy when we are used to handling everything competently and independently. Take a breather. We are all holding you tightly in our thoughts and hopes for your wonderful future.

    • Marlene says:

      Terry, your words brought a tear to my eye….I feel so supported by my followers on here, and count you all as my friends. ❤️❤️❤️ You are right that I was trying to be agreeable and go along with everything the buyers were asking, but I did reach the end of my tether this week when they wanted to change the Settlement date AGAIN. I said a vehement NO! I’m learning to fight.

      Thank you for sharing your own experience with panic attacks, as knowing others have to deal with this stuff does help a lot. It’s not fun, is it. My future plans are beginning to evolve and as soon as I have anything definite I will be sharing my plans. Stay tuned. 🙂

  • Lucy says:

    Hey Marlene, interesting way to view fight or flight……I’m a fight person but believe me, it’s not necessarily too healthy either! One thing I find really helpful is to re read books about transition …..

    I’ll let you have the title when I find it, of the specific book

    Transition
    “the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.”

    I had a very successful, very demanding job before I retired and moved back to Ireland and completely changed our lives at every level….I used to say to people, I’m in transition, so I don’t know where I am, neither here nor there… I pined for my old life, house, friends and felt like an alien in my country and family of origin for a long time. I was delighted with myself when I found the supermarket in our local town without getting lost on country roads! Me! Who ran millions of pounds worth of mental health service for a huge organisation! Saying “I don’t know where I am or how I’ll be and that’s ok” to myself and others, all the time really helped. It meant I put less pressure on myself to settle in, get the chores done that were needed etc…. the enormity of feeling homeless is fairly mind blowing with all the layers of letting go, being cast adrift etc so you are doing pretty well even with the “little friends” who make your heart race…..
    it took me a couple of years to fully embrace the new life to an ok level and I still pine at times for my old life, all related to my identity….and I had the support of a husband and a sister I could say I hate being here to and not upset her! So keeping putting one foot in front of the other….. you’re doing ok and that’s got to be enough for now!! Best hugs Lucy xx

    • Marlene says:

      Thank you for sharing your story Lucy…it helps a lot to know that others have gone through difficult times, and survived. 🙂 I agree with you that retirement is a huge transition too. Like you, I had a whole identity connected with my work, so it was hard to move to just ‘being me’. The hardest of all though, was going from wife to widow. I’m still getting used to that change but the occasional ‘flight’ helps a lot. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.