Saturday, May 5, 2012

The day I forgot to breathe

It was a fairly normal week here in Victoria's Backyard - training on new production system for work, going to hear Alan Titchmarsh and friends talking about garden visiting at the Garden Museum, doing the supermarket run, the washing, the gardening, staying up late to watch UK local elections coverage, getting up early to watch yet more UK elections coverage, going to work to cover UK elections, staying late because of gremlins in the London mayoral count, going to choir practice this morning, setting off for the Crocus open day ...
And then I hit the buffers.
My neighbour Ruth was driving us to Crocus, which is at Windlesham in Surrey about an hour from us, and before we'd got very far, I started to feel incredibly faint. I came out in a cold sweat, I felt nauseous, I had chest pains, my legs were shaking, my toes had pins and needles. I think it was a panic attack.
I've had one before, and was most insulted when the doctor told me what it was. "Excuse ME," I said indignantly, "I don't DO panic attacks!"
The doctor patiently explained that you didn't actually have to be consciously panicking in order to have a panic attack. They can strike at random - sometimes even when you're looking forward to something. It's the body's way of saying: "Enough, already!" in response to too much work, or stress, or excitement.
Here's the thing. I like to fit a lot into my life. I like to take advantage of the opportunities I have to meet people, go places, experience things. I think that's a healthy approach to life.
But I have also become aware that I find it difficult to switch off. If I'm honest, I feel slightly guilty about saying no to things, or sitting around "doing nothing". (In other words, relaxing.) I've got past the stage where I wait for someone else to give me permission to rest (I'm not that pathetic), but I don't always remember to tell myself to take five.
I feel a bit ashamed that, even at my advanced age, I still haven't worked out how to have a life, while also having a rest.
"Do you have a busy week next week, can you take some time off?" asked Ruth, as I clambered out of the car to gulp some fresh air for the umpteenth time while we made our painful way home.
"I'll be fine," I said, "I'm not in on Monday, and Tuesday is a really easy day - I'll do a couple of hours at work, then I've got to go to the London Press Club awards ceremony in Knightsbridge at lunchtime, and then I've got choir dress rehearsal at 4pm, followed by the performance at 7pm [We're doing the Messiah]."
"That's your idea of an easy day?" said Ruth. "Yeah," I said. "Bit of a skive, really."
Ruth, who is a former television producer and knows all about the work/life balance, just gave me The Look.