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