Still Alive (just about!)

It’s been a turbulent few months for me, and poor Mr. Blog has suffered. I’m sorry blog, it’s not you, it’s me!

There are some definite reasons though, not least of which is the illness that kept me away from Freakangels for 3 weeks! I feel I owe a bit of an explanation for this, as it wasn’t a straight forward flu or cold, and for round-about reasons I wasn’t actually physically ill whilst I was taking the break.

Firstly, it wasn’t anything to do with San Deigo, I wasn’t there at all and the interlude message was just a joke about how contagious con-disease is. What really happened though? A few months ago I had a couple of random dizzy spells, the third of which was quite alarming: I felt light headed, sort of disembodied, my limbs were tingling and my heart was pounding. I phoned NHS Direct, and they thought the symptoms were serious enough to send an ambulance. After a good few hours in A&E, growing more and more anxious as various tests were done, I was eventually sent home and told that nothing was wrong. When I did get home though, I felt terrible: I could barely eat, my bowels were going crazy, I couldn’t sleep, and when I did drift off, I’d wake up suddenly at about 3.00am with the same symptoms that took me into hospital. I felt weak and miserable – sitting down to work literally gave me the shakes (not great when trying to draw). After seeing a number of local GPs it was established that I was suffering from panic attacks and the effects of extreme anxiety.

This was hard to deal with – I’d never had a panic attack in my life, and it all came on so suddenly. Apparently it was brought on by stress, and made worse by the medical worries that I had developed after being taken to A&E. It took over a week for my symptoms to settle down, but as I learned to cope with the panic attacks, and (more importantly) accept that that’s what they really were, I started to feel more normal. The doctor strongly recommended that I take as long as possible off work to help reduce my background levels of stress.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve suffered from something that might be seen as a mind to body problem rather than a body to mind one, and it’s very disconcerting. Panic attacks, (unlike my previously casual understanding of them) are not just someone getting in a twist because they can’t cope with a situation, they’re a frightening altered state of perception that can turn on without warning when our natural flight-or-fight responses are triggered in the absence of physical danger. The only way to cope with them is to recognise them for what they are (extremely hard when you’re in the middle of one convinced you’re having a stroke or something), breathe slowly and shallowly to bring your blood-CO2 levels back up to normal, and remind yourself that what you’re feeling isn’t life-threatening. The only way to stop them from happening in the first place is to remove the feelings of stress and anxiety that cause them, which again is no easy task.

So, this is why I had a three week break! I was literally trying to calm myself down, but smack bang in the middle of this break was SETIcon, a convention that (as anyone who reads my blog would know) I had been looking forward to for months! I had to talk carefully with my doctor about whether it was wise to go whilst trying to recover, but in the end he recommended that I attend. It was something that would lift my mood, and one of the few things I still felt excited about (I’d slumped into a bit of a depression after all these events). I went in the end, and I’m incredibly glad I did! Despite a tough time on the plane and some problems adjusting to the new time-zone, I had an incredible time. It really boosted my mood, and since my recovery has to mostly happen in the mind, that was invaluable.

I want to write a separate entry on the con itself soon, but before I do I felt that this was a necessary precursor. It was awkward being at a convention for personal pleasure whilst on medical leave: I felt truly guilty, like a kid faking a cold so they can play video games instead of go to school. I hope this explains the circumstances.

It’s now good month or so back into the FA schedule, I’m feeling a lot better. I haven’t had a panic attack for weeks, and I’m not feeling so anxious any more. I’ve enrolled in a course for managing medical anxiety to help reduce what worry remains, and I’m trying to strip down my workload and focus on just Freakangels plus one or two manageable things on the side. Before my hospital visit, it had got to the point where I had a huge list of projects I was engaged in, and I think the whole episode was brought on by a massive deadline collision coming just a week before SETIcon. I hadn’t given myself a day off for months and looking back, I’m amazed I was managing it all and staying sane. There’s certainly no way I could have managed it all without Kate’s help (both on Freakangels, and in general).

It’s also been announced by Warren that Freakangels will be ending on volume 6, and I think this helps too. Even with a project as engaging and high profile as Freakangels, it’s daunting not knowing when it will end. Having a definite goal to work towards will make the weekly deadlines look more friendly and purposeful.

Well, with that all said, I’ve got a large stack of things I want to write about, so time and stress-levels allowing, I’ll be posting more entries soon! Hope there are still a couple of people round to read them! XD


  1. nana says:

    Blimey Paul! I’m glad to hear that you’re better now but that sounds like quite a bad episode. ;_;
    Do take care of yourself. Work may come and go but you only have one body! Hopefully you’ll probably get better at reading the signs and stop before things go too far. :)

  2. Kate says:

    What Nana said! It gets easier to learn the signs once you know more about your own body & mind… unfortunately, it often means you need to suffer like this in order to know! :(

  3. h4nchan says:

    o plau! love to you! look after yourself and continue to feel better xxx

  4. tysiu says:

    Speaking as someone who is dealing with panic attacks for the last 3 years, I can assure you that things will get even better. You’ll probably have to keep an eye on it for the rest of your life, but you’ll see that the panick will diminish, anxiety will too, and soon enough you’ll be able to function on a normal level.

    What worked for me was to do something other then the things I was doing, like sports (I like to swim) or going back to school (I’m deep into my masters right now, studing my ass off).

    So, yeah, be well, man. I know you’ll be all right in no time. And if you learn a formula to relax, let me know, will ya? Thanks!

  5. @Nana
    “Work may come and go but you only have one body!”
    So true, I really ought to look after mine better! Thanks for the kind words ^__^


    :) Thanks dude.

    :D I’ll try, I promise!

    It’s really hard to deal with, knowing that it’s altered your life like that and will never go away completely. I’m trying some of the things you mentioned, getting out more and trying sports. Hopefully it’ll work.

    I haven’t found that magic relaxing formula yet, I wonder if it even exists..? I’ll certainly let you know if I do find it though!

  6. Rainbow says:

    I’m glad you’re feeling well, now. And I’m awed at the beauty of your work. Take care, a great big hug from me!

  7. Mark, says:

    I’m glad you’re back and thank you for sharing this.

    Hope you keep feeling better!

  8. pixieface says:

    Sorry to hear about this, dude! Unfortunately, I know all about this. (As does Polly. Do you know Polly? Or is she one of those peripheral friends that never had the worlds colliding thing happen? God, I can never remember. Anyway, she’s a doll, lives up in Newcastle now I think.)

    Glad you’re feeling better. Remember that there’s no right answer for everyone – what works for you works for you, so do it, don’t hesitate and don’t ever, ever say “oh my god I need to do X that means Y bad thing”. It takes bravery and courage and bloody-mindedness, but often that isn’t enough and some people need meds, and that isn’t a weakness, that’s just brain chemistry for ya. Fucking brain chemistry. Other people benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy – lots, actually, it’s supposed to be the most successful treatment of all, and you can get books so negating the need to see a quack. Still others turn to god, which I guess is their prerogative. There are all kinds of roads out.

    Here’s a link you might find helpful (I’ve found it helpful on occasion):

    You have to wade through quite a lot of random crap which may or may not be helpful (but is based on CBT), but several sections in there’s a bunch of recordings of a nice lady with an Australian accent doing soothing semi-hypnosis things that I found bloody marvellous. Meditation is good stuff, and that site can teach you good techniques – I highly recommend it.

    Exercise also helps, as well as distraction activities – if you find yourself feeling a twinge of anxiety, stop what you’re doing, acknowledge that it is there (don’t try to ignore or deny it or you’ll worry about whether it is or isn’t and work yourself up into a state)… then say to yourself, “anxiety, I notice you’re there, but you can’t hurt me and I’ve got better things to do”, and then move through it and go do something totally different that occupies your mind entirely.

    Lots of people find reading helps. Walking or doing chores while listening to music helps. Sometimes a change of scenery or meeting up with a friend who will take your mind off it with random chatter can help immensely.

    Just… don’t obsess. I know that’s difficult. I think artists are naturally obsessive! :P But don’t let yourself do it.

    And keep feeling better. :)

    Oh, and dude? I know we’ve barely been in touch in the last few years, and that fucking sucks. But if you ever need an ear to bend or anything, don’t hesitate to email me. I think you’ve still got my email addy. I’ll give you my cell number too if you want to chat. Or whatever. Just an offer, ya know.

    – Liz

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