We are truly blessed to have this blog from the wonderful Tilly who is a medical student at Cardiff University and we are proud to partner and work with her on many, many projects.
Sometime during my third year of medical school, I travelled up to London with friends for a weekend away. We were having a really nice day visiting the Tower of London and had booked to get the train back home to Cardiff that evening. All was going swimmingly and then something changed. My friend’s boyfriend, who had accompanied us last minute, offered to drive us all back home in his car. Not only was it a very kind offer, it made ten times more sense than getting the train. There were rail works going on that day and what was normally a two-hour trip was instead going to be closer to four. I should have been grateful. I should have said, “Yes, please. That would be lovely. Thank you very much”. Instead, I got angry and then I cried. How dare he try and change the plan last minute? What about all that money I had spent on the train? Why was he even here in the first place? All these thoughts, and more like them, surfaced uncontrollably in my brain. Irrational and ugly, and yet impossible to ignore. Although part of me knew they were a major overreaction, the other part of me couldn’t stop thinking them. I knew I should say yes. I wanted to say no. I knew I should say thank you. I wanted to say go away. I can’t remember what I actually said. I think perhaps it was something along the lines of “I’ll think about it.”
I felt completely and utterly trapped. I wanted more than anything not to be there. I wanted to be alone. I wanted the rest of the world to just disappear and leave me in peace for once. Everyone could tell I was irritable. Well, everyone except me. Whilst my friend and his boyfriend continued into the Tower of London, probably rather irked by my attitude, I stood at the entrance and sobbed to the friend who’d stayed behind with me. She was used to it by now. It was not the first meltdown I’d had, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
Once I had got it all out of my system, things suddenly seemed to make more sense. I felt like the weight of this impossible decision had been lifted. I got the lift home. I said, “Yes please”. I said, “That would be lovely”. I said, “Thank you very much”.
I said sorry.
Not only did I feel very guilty about crying on my friend’s shoulder again, I felt extremely embarrassed about how I had acted. This was how I always felt after these meltdowns, anxiety attacks… whatever it is you want to call them. Over the last few years, I have learnt to recognise the signs that I am becoming irritable. I can take a step back. I can take deep breaths. I can remind myself that I’m seeing the world through a haze of my own emotions. If that doesn’t work, then I can remove myself from the situation before I boil over.
Of course, every now and then I slip up. In these situations, there is one very simple thing that helps more than I ever could have imagined. It is the one bit of advice I would give anyone in the same situation. Learn to say, “thank you” and not, “sorry”. Now, I’m not saying don’t apologise for things you said or did in the heat of the moment. That is different. If you feel you have apologies to make for that, which I often do, then go ahead and say sorry. However, this is very different to saying sorry for the anxiety attack itself. It is very different from saying sorry for crying on your shoulder again. I’m sorry for being such a nuisance. I’m sorry for being such a burden. There is something about saying sorry that means It was my fault. I have done something wrong. Just the act in itself makes you feel guilty, and the guilt brings your mood down, and it heightens your anxiety, and then you get more irritable, and then you have another anxiety attack, and then you say sorry again…. You get the gist. But you can break that cycle.
Say thank you for being there. Thank you for listening. Thank you for caring.
Remember, you are trying your best. Every week, every day, every hour that you don’t have an anxiety attack is a great achievement. You should be giving yourself credit for that, not punishing yourself for times you can’t quite hold it off.
And anyone worth having around should understand that.