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I am a 29 year old woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 and also suffer from general anxiety and panic attacks. I have only been recently diagnosed but have been ill since I was a teenager. I tend to have mixed-manic episodes, hence the name of my blog. I am a regular guest blogger for Black Dog Tribe. I am not a mental health professional. I am just writing from my own experiences with mental illness. If you wish to use any of my blog content please contact me at lababup@gmail.com. Visit me on twitter @lababup

Monday, 19 January 2015

How anxiety ruined my holiday

Holidays have always been an exciting and relaxing experience for me. My mental illness means that holidays have been especially important. I have no job, no children and a very limited social life. It sometimes seems like I have nothing to look forward to. I have nothing to talk about to people because nothing ever happens to me. I thought going away on holiday would fix this.

With this in mind, my partner and I saved money for ages for a holiday. There were a few doubts I had before I  went about how I was going to cope. Although I have had bipolar disorder for many years now, I had always managed to enjoy holidays in the past. However, it has only been relatively recently that I have suffered from a severe anxiety disorder. 

Having an anxiety disorder is in some (only some) ways more disabling for me than bipolar disorder. With bipolar my symptoms are better at some times than others. I can cope with going away on holiday when I feel better. However, severe anxiety seems to have stayed with me continuously for over a year now. I have had trouble breathing, panic attacks and a crushing feeling on my chest almost every day, sometimes all day. What I should have realised is that these symptoms weren’t just going to go away when I went on holiday. In fact, going on a holiday was likely to make them worse. 

I was really nervous about the flight because having panic attacks has meant that I have a fear of confined social spaces. If I have a panic attack, I need to be somewhere where people won’t see me. I need to be able to escape quickly so as not to embarrass myself. Cinemas, buses, supermarkets and other crowded places are all tricky locations for me. A plane is the worst possible place. People are packed on like sardines and there is no place to escape. I was so focused on this fear of the flight that I almost didn’t go. 

I didn’t have a panic attack on the plane. With the help of alcohol and some (very out of date!) diazepam, I managed the journey. However, I had been so focused on my fear of the flight that I hadn’t properly considered how I would cope with the rest of the holiday. We arrived in the city and I was instantly hit with crippling anxiety. 

We were picked up by the guesthouse at the airport. The first thing I had to deal with was the social anxiety. I had to try and make small talk with the lady that fetched us. She was nice enough but I am so unused to talking to strangers that I just couldn’t speak. I could feel the panic rising in me and was worried that she would notice. When we got to our accommodation we had to walk down this hectic alleyway with scooters flying past and I just felt terrified. I used to find this kind of experience exciting but I was just a nervous wreck. 

The roads were mayhem and I was too scared to cross them. The sights and sounds were so unfamiliar and I just felt completely lost. I basically hid in the hotel room for the next few days only popping out for food. When I did I couldn’t eat properly. I am a big fan of eating so this was quite disconcerting! I felt sick and kept feeling my body trembling. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to pass out. I can’t describe properly how I felt because it was so awful that I seem to have partially blocked out the memory of it. All I remember really was how I felt like I was going to die. I just felt this absolute all-encompassing fear. It was how I would imagine feeling if I was hanging off a cliff edge with a rope that was about to break. It seemed like I had only seconds left to live except that the feeling lasted all day. It was relentless. 

It all came to a head after four days where I just broke down and sobbed on the bed. I knew then that I had to go home. Things weren’t going to get better. The unfamiliar surroundings were too much for me to cope with. We had to fork out a load of money to fly home early. 

I felt terrible. My partner was really upset and I knew that I had ruined the holiday for him. This was supposed to be his dream holiday and because of me he was not going to experience it. I feel so guilty. I can’t bring myself to tell my friends about what happened. I know I have to tell them some time because they will ask how my holiday went. I’m not looking forward to the awkward silence or the negative judgements. I know that many of them will say supportive things but I don’t know what they will actually be thinking. Perhaps I am silly to worry about what they will think but I can’t help it. What people think of me means everything to me. It shouldn’t but it does. 

My parents are there to care for me when my partner is at work. I get panicked if I am left on my own so I rely on them to support me. They decided to go away on holiday at the same time as us because they thought they weren’t needed. Now they know I am at home with only my partner to look after me. They are worried and I think they may not be enjoying their holiday anymore. I feel so ashamed that everyone feels like they have to revolve their life around caring for me. 

Holidays should be a time when people with mental health problems get to relax. We deserve some time to try and heal and rejuvenate. I try and tell myself this but it is hard taking my own advice. I thought that I was undeserving of a holiday and this latest incident has made this feeling even stronger. I can’t even appreciate a holiday. Loads of people would love to go away to somewhere but don’t have the money needed to go. I feel so guilty. Why can’t I enjoy things like everyone else?

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